Fab is in the name, but what exactly is the brilliant faba bean bringing to the table? Let’s have a look.
Sometimes known as broad beans or fava beans, the faba bean is in the same species as the green broad beans we see a lot of in British cooking. Faba beans are the fully mature dried version of broad beans – the bean must mature, the plants and pods dying, drying, and blackening, before the beans are harvested.
As a dried seed from a legume, they’re similar to a pulse – a bit like another ingredient in Huel, the powerful pea (a pea pod is a legume, but the pea inside the pod is the pulse).
Faba beans are some of our oldest crops and have been cultivated for the past 10,000 years. They were one of the first crops introduced to Britain by Neolithic farmers around 5,000 years ago and were a big part of peasant diets through the Medieval ages - a nutritious and protein-rich food that could be stored and eaten all year round.
Faba beans have drawn interest in recent years due to their standing as a particularly eco-friendly crop.
Faba beans are one of the world's most powerful nitrogen fixers, you see, and have the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into a form that can be used by plants. This reduces the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which are energy-intensive to produce and can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, researchers from the University of Cambridge found that manure and synthetic fertilisers emit the equivalent of 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year – more than global aviation and shipping combined.
Faba bean plants also have deep roots that help improve soil structure and promote soil health by increasing soil organic matter and enhancing water retention, which can lead to better crop yields and reduced erosion.
Faba beans are considered high in protein and are composed of around 28 percent of the macro. They have a higher protein content than peas and most pulses, such as beans (22.17%), lentils (22.15%), and chickpeas (19.53%). They are lower in protein content than soy though (40.0%).
This makes them an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans looking to increase their protein intake, although they are not a complete protein so you would have to include other protein sources in your diet.
As well as being high in fibre, faba beans, like most plant foods, is high in fibre. One cup of faba beans contains around 9g of fibre. It’s important to include plenty of fibre in your diet - the current recommendation is that adults should eat 30g of fibre a day.
Fibre is what forms the bulk of our poop, feeds our gut bacteria, and helps with gut motility. It also helps fill you up, which can come with a whole host of benefits around weight management.
High-fibre foods can also potentially help reduce cholesterol levels, with the soluble fibre within them binding to and removing cholesterol from your body. Lower cholesterol levels can in turn lower your risk of heart disease.
There’s little research on faba beans and cholesterol levels specifically, although a review of 10 studies focussing on the effect of fiber-rich legumes on cholesterol levels found that diets rich in said legumes, were associated with modest decreases in total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
Faba beans also contain a range of vitamins and minerals, including folate, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
Folate is a B vitamin that’s important in the formation and function of red blood cells. It helps a whole host of bodily functions including supporting your immune system and reducing feelings of tiredness and fatigue, which magnesium and iron can also help with.
Faba beans are a low glycemic index food, which means they can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Generally, we are advised to choose low GI sources of complex carbohydrates (starchy carbs) as they are digested slowly and thus raise blood glucose in a controlled and regulated way.
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