The Mighty Mung Bean
By William Gamonski
The expression “good things come in small packages” certainly holds true for mung beans. With its dense phenol content and broad array of nutrients, the mung bean forges an impressive defense against several chronic, age-related diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
Mung Bean’s Tale
Archeological evidence suggests that mung beans (Vigna radiata) were domesticated in India as early as 1500 BC before spreading throughout Asia and finally to the United States.1 Their medicinal properties, such as protection against heat stroke, and high nutritional content have been valued for centuries. These tiny, oval-shaped beans are available in several forms, with the peeled spilt version popular in Indian dishes, and the processed version of bean sprouts and starch noodles more common in Asian cuisine. Although mung beans have been cultivated in America since the 1830s, 75% of the 15-20 million pounds of mung beans consumed in the US each year are imported.2
Combating Heart Disease
Oxidized LDL cholesterol is one of the most powerful predictors of future cardiovascular events.3 It accumulates within the endothelium (inner lining of blood vessels) and triggers a series of inflammatory events that result in the formation of foam cells, a key factor in the early development of arterial plaque.3 In a study published in the journal Human and Experimental Toxicology, scientists discovered that mung beans are highly effective at inhibiting LDL oxidation due to their potent free-radical scavenging properties.4
The versatile mung bean has also been shown to target another significant cardiovascular disease risk factor in high blood pressure. Hypertensive rats supplemented with mung bean sprout extracts for one month experienced significant reductions in systolic blood pressure.5 This antihypertensive effect might be related to mung bean’s high concentration of protein fragments known as peptides, which act to reduce the activity of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) that constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure.5
Magnesium deficiency is widespread among Americans, with an estimated nearly seven out of 10 adults consuming less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA).6 This is alarming data since a recent study involving more than 58,000 men and women aged 40-79 revealed that those with the lowest intakes of dietary magnesium had a 51% increased risk of heart disease mortality, compared to those with the highest intakes.7 Replacing processed foods with magnesium-rich ones like mung beans is a simple strategy for improving your magnesium status and averting cardiovascular and other health consequences.
Low-glycemic index foods are ideal for people with type II diabetes, since they cause a small, slow rise in postprandial (after-meal) blood glucose levels. This prevents dangerous rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin that impair vascular health and increase cardiovascular disease.8 When human volunteers ate a 50-gram portion of low-glycemic beans like mung beans, they exhibited a 45% lower glucose response than when they ate an equivalent amount of other carbohydrate foods, such as grains, breads, pasta, and breakfast cereals.9 Other research shows that adding beans to a meal with a high-glycemic food lowered overall postprandial glucose response in individuals with type II diabetes.10
In a study reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, type II diabetic mice supplemented with mung bean extract daily for five weeks resulted in significant reductions in blood glucose levels and plasma C-peptide, an indicator of insulin release, thereby producing measurable improvements in glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Researchers also noted that elevated triglycerides, a common lipid abnormality among type II diabetics, were also significantly decreased.11
Advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) form as the result of the chemical reaction between glucose and proteins in the body. These dysfunctional molecules damage tissue in the kidneys and retina, which accelerates the diabetic complications of kidney dysfunction and blindness.12 When Chinese researchers analyzed the AGE inhibition activity of sixteen legumes, mung beans ranked second only to the common bean.13 This positive effect is believed to be attributed to their two main constituents, vitexin and isovitexin.14
A recent study reported in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that mung beans suppress the growth of human liver and highly aggressive cervical cancer lines through multiple mechanisms, including cytotoxicity, inducing anti-cancer cytokines, halting cancer cell cycle, and triggering apoptosis (programmed cell death).15
These beneficial modes of action might be responsible for mung bean’s protection against other cancers as well. Korean researchers compared dietary factors in 213 stomach cancer patients with an equal number of controls. Those who consumed a modest amount of mung bean pancakes daily exhibited a lower risk of stomach cancer.16
Harvard School of Public Health researchers studied the relationship between phenolic-rich foods and the risk of breast cancer, one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among American women.17 They reported that consuming beans like mung beans at least twice per week slashed breast cancer risk by 24%.17
Mung beans contain a high amount of insoluble fiber and resistant starch, which undergo bacterial fermentation in the large intestine to produce butyrate. This short-chain fatty acid provides substantial protection against colon cancer by inhibiting DNA damage and cutting off the blood supply tumors require for growth.18 In one study, daily bean intake was associated with an up to 42% reduction in colon cancer risk after researchers adjusted for several potential confounding factors including age and gender.19
The one-two punch of fiber and protein makes mung beans one of the most effective dietary foods to combat obesity and enhance weight loss. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers observed that a single test meal with high-fiber beans produced a two-fold greater increase in the satiety hormone cholecystokinin (CCK), compared to a control test meal without beans.20
To investigate whether this short-term satiety effect translates into reduced food intake and weight loss in the long-term, scientists conducted a randomized controlled trial in 173 obese men and women. Subjects were assigned to a high-fiber, bean-rich diet containing 1.5 cups of beans daily or a low-carbohydrate diet for 16 weeks. Both groups did not restrict calories intentionally. At the end of the intervention period, the bean group decreased its body weight by over 9 pounds on average, results that were similar to the low-carbohydrate diet group.21
Substituting processed foods with mung beans fits the bill perfectly for filling in the nutritional gaps of the standard American diet, while substantially decreasing the risk for age-related diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
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- Available at: http://database.prota.org/PROTAhtml/Vigna%20radiata_En.htm. Accessed October 25, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.nda.agric.za/docs/Brochures/MbeanpGUDELINS.pdf. Accessed October 25, 2013.
- Meisinger C, Baumert J, Khuseyinova N, Loewel H, Koenig W. Plasma oxidized low-density lipoprotein, a strong predictor for acute coronary heart disease events in apparently healthy, middle-aged men from the general population. Circulation. 2005 Aug;112(5):651-7.
- Chung IM, Yeo MA, Kim SJ, Moon HI. Protective effects of organic solvent fractions from the seeds of Vigna radiate L. wilczek against antioxidant mechanisms. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2011 Aug;30(8):904-9.
- Hsu GSW, Lu YF, Chang SH, Hsu SY. Antihypertensive effect of mung bean sprout extracts in spontaneously hypertensive rats. J Food Biochem. 2011;35(1): 278-88.
- King DE, Mainous AG 3rd, Geesey ME, Woolson RF. Dietary magnesium and C-reactive protein levels. J Am Coll Nutr. 2005 Jun;24(3):166-71.
- Zhang W, Iso H, Ohira T, Date C, Tamakoshi A. Associations of dietary magnesium intake with mortality from cardiovascular disease: the JAAC Study. Atherosclerosis. 2012 Apr;221(2):587-95.
- Mah E, Noh SK, Ballard KD, Matos ME, Volek JS, Bruno RS. Postprandial hyperglycemia impairs vascular endothelial function in healthy men by inducing lipid peroxidation and increasing asymmetric dimethylarginine:arginine. J Nutr. 2011 Nov;141(11):1961-8.
- Jenkins DJ, Wolever TM, Taylor RH, Barker HM, Fielden H. Exceptionally low blood glucose response to dried beans: comparison with other carbohydrate foods. Br Med J. 1980;281(6240):578-80.
- Thompson SV, Winham DM, Hutchins AM. Bean and rice meals reduce postprandial glycemic response in adults with type 2 diabetes. Nutr J. 2012 Apr;11:23.
- Yao Y, Chen F, Wang M, Wang J, Ren G. Antidiabetic activity of Mung bean extracts in diabetic KK-Ay mice. J Agric Food Chem. 2008 Oct;56(19):8869-73.
- Peppa M, Vlassara H. Advanced glycation end products and diabetic complications: a general overview. Hormones. 2005 Jan-Mar;4(1):28-37.
- Yao Y, Cheng X, Wang L, Wang S, Ren G. Biological potential of sixteen legumes in China. Int J Mol Sci. 2011;12(10):7048-58.
- Peng XF, Zheng ZP, Cheng KW, Shan F, Ren GX, Chen F, Wang MF. Inhibitory effect of mung bean extract and its constituents vitexin and isovitexin on the formation of advanced glycation endproducts. Food Chem. 2008;106(2):475-81.
- Hafidh RR, Abdulamir AS, Bakar FA, et al. Novel molecular, cytoxical, and immunological study on promising and selective anticancer activity of Mung bean sprouts. BMC Complimentary & Alternative Medicine. 2012 Nov;12:208.
- Lee JK, Park BJ, Yoo KY, Ahn YO. Dietary factors and stomach cancer: a case-control study in Korea. Int J Epidemiol. 1995 Feb;24(1):33-41.
- Adebamowo CA, Cho E, Sampson L, et al. Dietary flavonols and flavonol-rich foods intake and the risk of breast cancer. Int. J. Cancer. 2005;114:628-33.
- Hamer HM, Jonkers D, Venema K, et al. Review article: the role of butyrate on colonic function. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Jan;27(2):104-19.
- Kato I, Tominaga S, Matsuura A, Yoshii Y, Shirai M, Kobayashi S. A comparative case-control study of colorectal cancer and adenoma. Jpn J Cancer Res.1990 Nov;81(11):1101-8.
- Bourdon I, Olson B, Backus R, et al. Beans, as a source of dietary fiber, increase cholecystokinin and apolipoprotein b48 response to test meals in men. J Nutr. 2001 May;131(5):1485-90.
- Tonstad S, Malik N, Haddad E. A high-fibre bean-rich diet versus a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2013 Apr;12118 .
- Available at: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4349/2 Accessed on August 6, 2013.