Prebiotic, anti-inflammatory and protein-packed - they’re not the prettiest to look at but boy, do they pack a nutritional punch. Here’s what you need to know about these health-boosting beans

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Super healthy foods aren’t exactly the sexiest item you’ll find on your supermarket shelf. However, often what they lack in the looks department, they more than make up for with their nutritional content - case in point, the humble lupin bean.

A valuable member of the legume family and cousin of equally fugly foods, the chickpea and the lentil, lupin beans have long been a popular snack in South America and Mediterranean countries and are set to make their mark on our shores too thanks to a string of studies over the last couple of decades shedding light on their roster of health benefits - of which there are many…

Their benefits broken down

1. They’re high in fibre

But not just any fibre, gut-friendly prebiotic fibre  to help your good probiotic bacteria  thrive. “The benefits of including various different types of fibre from a wide range of sources, including lupins, is that you’ll be feeding different types of bugs in your gut,” says nutritionist and chair of BANT (British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine), Miguel Toribio-Mateas . “This will likely increase the diversity of your gut flora, which has been seen to correspond with better chances of the rest of your body staying healthy too.”

The fact that they’re low in starch gives them an added point of difference to other fibre-rich foods. “This is very unusual for a bean and is particularly interesting for those following a lower carbohydrate lifestyle,” says Miguel. Why? “Because starch is basically a long chain of glucose (sugar) molecules joined together in a way that makes it very easy for the it to be broken down into glucose again not long after you eat.”

This could be especially appealing to shoppers concerned about recent headlines surrounding low carb diets. “If you’re confused by the study that claimed those on low carb diets are likely to have shorter lives, so that you know, this study didn’t take into consideration groups of people who have low starch diets that are rich in fibre and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) from a rich diversity of plant-based foods,” points out Miguel. “So the fact that lupins don’t add to your starch load is fantastic.”

2. They’re anti-inflammatory...

...due to their beta-glucan content. “Beta-glucans are natural compounds present in other plants such as oats and mushrooms, and are known for their anti-inflammatory activity and for regulating the immune system,” says Miguel. “It’s what scientists call ‘immunomodulating.’”

This coupled with their antioxidant content gives them impressive protective qualities. “Lupin seeds also contain some interesting antioxidant molecules, including some quirky types of polyphenols, but also some funky amino acid configuration that gives the actual protein in lupins free-radical scavenging power.”

3. They’re high in protein

Which makes them a valuable for those who follow a meat-free diet . “Lupins provide around 35 per cent protein,” highlights Miguel. “This, compared to chickpeas at 11 per cent, makes them a good bean choice for vegans.”

Furthermore, the quality of the protein that they provide is pretty impressive too. “Apart from methionine and cysteine - two sulphur-based amino acids that are in shorter supply in lupin seeds, the rest are abundant. To get over that shortfall, you can eat foods like nuts, beef, lamb, cheese, yoghurt, milk kefir, turkey, pork, fish, shellfish, soy, eggs, and other beans, e.g. kidney or lentils in order to achieve a more complete amino acid profile. This makes the protein more usable by your body. Scientists call this protein bioavailability.”

The best ways to eat them

They’re extremely versatile, with the easiest and cheapest options being eating the whole beans raw or cooked. “You could just use the whole bean in casseroles or soups,” says Miguel. “In Spain, where I am originally from, beans are cooked, cooled-down and then gently pickled in salt and vinegar. They’re then eaten as a snack. If you want them ready-cooked, Biona , £2.10, has them in a glass jar and they’re not too dear.”

They can also be ground down using a coffee grinder to make flakes or if you have a little extra cash, you can buy them ready-made from Revolupin  for £12.99. Designed to be added to smoothies, muesli, porridge, curries and more, a 320g bag contains enough lupins for an eight day supply based on the recommended 40g per day guideline (which breaks down to 34 per cent NRV protein and 49 per cent NRV fibre).

Who shouldn’t eat them

Those prone to stomach or bowel issues. “If you bloat with high fibre foods, e.g. with highly sensitive irritable bowel syndrome  where you’ve experienced bloating or discomfort with other high fibre foods, then start very gently with only a few beans and assess how you respond to them,” recommends Miguel. “There’s never a rule of thumb as different people react differently to different foods.” If you suffer from IBS, Miguel also recommends considering a daily  multi-strain poly-biotic , shown to have a beneficial effect on symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating and wind.

It's worth noting too that lupin bean products have been associated with allergic reactions in those with nut allergies, (particularly to peanuts), so make sure to be cautious of this too.

Who stands to benefit most from incorporating them into their diet

Vegans, vegetarians and also, as Miguel highlights, anyone looking to include more varied sources of fibre  into their diet. “Your gut will thrive when you eat a varied, colourful diet that contains as many colours from fresh foods as possible, on a daily basis,” he says. “Perhaps the best example of this is the Mediterranean diet , which many health experts agree is one of the most nutritionally balanced plans out there.

“Plant-based fibre and protein are abundant in the Mediterranean dietary pattern, have been associated with improved microbial diversity that correlates with improved mood, cognition and cardiovascular measures, as well as enhanced blood flow to the brain, among other benefits.” His advice is to enjoy and have fun experimenting with a diverse range of colours and flavours on your plate every day, as adopting a few new ingredients every month could make a huge difference to your gut health and general feeling of wellbeing too. Miguel also recommends considering a daily multi-strain poly-biotic food supplement, to help rebalance your gut flora.

Lupin beans may not be the prettiest of foods, but with a nutritional profile that packs a punch, we wouldn’t be surprised if they started popping up in kitchen cupboards up and down the country very soon indeed.

Read more: This budget veg is your multi-vit and protein powder in one

Follow Miguel  @miguelmateas  and Ayesha  @ayesha_muttu .