Lori Zanteson

Green beans and other shell beans, or "common beans," are traced to a common ancestor in Peru. The beans traveled through South and Central America via migrating Indian tribes and then to Europe by way of Spanish explorers home from the New World. Once rare and expensive, the slender vegetable became more widespread around the 19th century, first appearing in French cuisine. They are known by the French as haricots verts, which translates literally to "green beans," and also are commonly called string beans and snap beans.

Identified by the same scientific name (Phaseolus vulgaris) as other shell beans, such as black beans, pintos and kidneys, green beans are unique in that they are picked very young, when the inner beans are just forming in the pod, and they are typically eaten fresh with the pod, rather than from a dried form. Green beans are rich in a diverse supply of antioxidant nutrients, including flavonoids and carotenoids, as well as vitamins C and A. One cup of cooked green beans packs 20 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C, 17 percent DV of vitamin A, and 25 percent DV of bone healthy vitamin K -- all in just 44 calories.

Though red and yellow vegetables are most associated with health-promoting carotenoid pigments, green beans also belong to those ranks. A study in the February 13, 2009 American Journal of Applied Sciences identified the presence of the carotenoids neoxanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, and beta carotene in green beans. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of green beans have been highlighted in studies such as the June 24, 2010 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Green beans also are a good source of absorbable dietary silicon, an important mineral in connective tissue and bone health, according to the September 2009 British Journal of Nutrition.

Green beans are at their best all summer long -- May to October -- though they're available fresh, frozen and canned year round. Pick through a selection at a farmers market or open store bin to choose those that are the most vibrant green color, with no browning or bruises, smooth to the touch, and firm to ensure a fresh "snap." Refrigerate them unwashed in a plastic bag up to seven days. Boiling and steaming retains the best color and flavor, though they may also be roasted, sauteed or served raw as a snack or appetizer.

Notable Nutrients

Green beans, 1 cup, cooked

Calories: 44

Vitamin C: 12 milligrams (20 percent DV)

Vitamin K: 20 micrograms (25 percent DV)

Vitamin A: 875 international units (17 percent DV)

Manganese: 0.4 milligrams (18 percent DV)

Dietary fiber: 4 grams (16 percent DV)

Folate: 41 micrograms (10 percent DV)

Beta-carotene: 525 micrograms

Lutein + zeaxanthin: 866 micrograms

DV=Daily Value


Green Beans with Lemon

Serves 8.

2 pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon shallot, minced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt (optional)

2 tablespoon slivered almonds or walnuts, toasted

2 teaspoon lemon or lime zest

1. In a large pot fitted with steamer basket, bring one inch of water to boil.

2. Place green beans in basket and steam, covered, 5-7 minutes, until just tender. Remove from heat and submerge in ice water until cool. Drain and gently pat dry with towel.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, shallot and freshly ground black pepper.

4. Toss green beans with vinaigrette, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt, almonds and zest.


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Health - Green Beans: Fresh and Packed with Nutrients