Lima beans are affordable, delicious, and one of the most popular legumes.
However, what do they offer nutritionally?
This article explains the potential health benefits of lima beans and examines their complete nutritional properties.
What are Lima Beans?
Lima beans have the scientific name Phaseolus lunatus, named after the bush on which they grow (1).
Also commonly known as butter beans, lima beans are a legume belonging to the Fabaceae family of plants.
Lima beans are among the most popular legumes humans use as food, and they feature in a diverse range of recipes.
Lima beans grow worldwide, but in 2021, the three biggest exporters were Mexico, China, and the Netherlands (2).
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the lima bean is named after the capital of Peru, where the beans have grown for more than 9000 years (3).
Lima beans are available to buy at different stages of maturity:
- Immature lima beans: these beans are small and still green and fresh.
- Mature lima beans: older mature lima beans have a creamy beige color and are sold in dried form.
- Baby limas: smaller lima beans picked at a younger age are smaller and sometimes known as ‘baby limas.’
- Large lima beans: lima beans left to mature on the plant for longer are larger.
All lima beans have a good nutritional profile and are a significant dietary fiber and protein source.
Benefits of Lima Beans
Here is a summary of lima beans’ health benefits.
1) High In Fiber
Lima beans are a significant dietary source of fiber.
Here is the fiber provision of lima beans depending on the serving size and form of large lima beans:
- 5.1 grams of fiber per 100 grams of canned lima beans (1)
- 9.44 grams of fiber per 185-gram cup of canned lima beans (1)
- 19 grams of fiber per 100 grams of dried lima beans (2)
- 33.8 grams of fiber per 178-gram cup of dried lima beans (2)
- 7 grams of fiber per 100 grams of cooked lima beans (3)
- 13.2 grams of fiber per 188-gram cup of cooked lima beans (3)
Large observational studies consistently show higher fiber intake is associated with positive health outcomes.
- 11-15% lower risk of all-cause mortality
- 18-23% lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality
2) High Protein Content
In addition to fiber, lima beans provide a substantial level of protein compared to most other plant foods.
Here is the protein content for different serving sizes of large lima beans:
- 5.86 grams of protein per 100 grams (canned) (1)
- 10.8 grams of protein per 185-gram cup (canned) (1)
- 21.5 grams of protein per 100 grams (dried) (2)
- 38.3 grams of protein per 178-gram cup (dried) (2)
- 7.8 grams of protein per 100 grams (cooked) (3)
- 14.7 grams of protein per 188-gram cup (cooked) (3)
As these data show, adding a cup of lima beans to a meal is a simple way to increase protein content.
3) An Excellent Source of Minerals
Lima beans provide a broad range of minerals in moderate to high amounts.
To illustrate this, a 188-gram cup serving of cooked lima beans provides more than 10% of the recommended daily value for copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc (3, 6).
Among these minerals, lima beans contain high levels of copper, manganese, and potassium.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, potassium is an under-consumed nutrient of concern (7).
4) Resistant Starch
Lima beans contain a type of carbohydrate known as resistant starch.
Unlike most carbohydrates, resistant starch escapes digestion in the upper gastrointestinal tract and passes through to the large intestine (bowel).
In the large intestine, gut microbes ferment the resistant starch, which releases potentially health-promoting metabolites such as butyric acid. Additionally, the more resistant starch (and fiber) a carbohydrate-rich food has, the smaller the glucose release will be (10, 11).
Cooked lima beans contain approximately 4-5% resistant starch by weight (11).
5) Higher Legume Intake Is Associated With Positive Health Outcomes
While there is no research specific to lima beans, an extensive range of studies supports legumes promoting positive health outcomes for human health.
Here are some key findings from recent, high-quality studies:
- A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis reviewed fourteen studies involving 367,000 people and 18,475 cases of cardiovascular disease. In this population, the highest consumers of legumes had a 10% decreased risk of CVD compared to the lowest consumers (12).
- A 2022 systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis analyzed 26 studies on the association between legumes and cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease CHD), and stroke. The total sample size was 1,703,121 participants aged between 19 and 83. When comparing the highest legume intakes to the lowest, high legume intake was associated with a 6% reduced risk of CVD and a 10% reduced risk of CHD. There was no association between legume intake and stroke (13).
- A 2021 4-week randomized crossover study involving 73 adults examined the effects of daily canned beans compared to white rice. Over 30 days, LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) significantly decreased by 8% in participants consuming 180 grams of beans daily compared to participants consuming white rice (14).
What Nutrients Do Lima Beans Provide?
We have already looked at some of the primary nutrients in lima beans.
However, the following data shows the complete nutritional properties of cooked large lima beans per 188-gram cup serving.
The source of all nutritional data is the USDA’s FoodData Central Database.
Based on a 2000-calorie diet, daily values (% DV) have been calculated using USDA data and the FDA’s daily values.
Here are the full nutritional values for a 188-gram cup of cooked large lima beans (3).
|Name||Amount||% Daily Value|
|Carbohydrates||39.3 g||14.3% DV|
|Fiber||13.2 g||47.1% DV|
|Fat||0.714 g||0.9% DV|
|Saturated||0.17 g||0.9% DV|
|Protein||14.7 g||29.4% DV|
- Biotin: 0% DV
- Choline: 11% DV
- Folate: 39% DV
- Vitamin A RAE: 0% DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamin): 25% DV
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 8% DV
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 5% DV
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 16% DV
- Vitamin B6: 18% DV
- Vitamin B12: 0% DV
- Vitamin C: 0% DV
- Vitamin D: 0% DV
- Vitamin E: 2% DV
- Vitamin K: 3% DV
- Calcium: 2% DV
- Chromium: 0% DV
- Copper: 49% DV
- Iodine: 0% DV
- Iron: 25% DV
- Magnesium: 19% DV
- Manganese: 42% DV
- Molybdenum: 0% DV
- Phosphorus: 17% DV
- Potassium: 20% DV
- Selenium: 15% DV
- Sodium: <1% DV
- Zinc: 16% DV
Lima beans contain a range of phytonutrients (compounds capable of having a biological effect on the body).
The main compounds found in lima beans are ferulic acid and p-Coumaric acid (15).
Cooked lima beans are 70% water by weight (3).
According to the University of Sydney’s glycemic index tool, cooked lima beans have a low glycemic index of 33 (16).
Dried vs. Canned Lima Beans
A common question about lima beans is whether or not there are any key differences between dried and canned products.
Firstly, one significant difference is that canned lima beans have been precooked.
However, there is no major nutritional difference between cooked lima beans (from dried) and canned lima beans.
That said, there may be some slight differences in texture. This is because canned lima beans have been soaked in water for a long time.
Once both are cooked, canned lima beans tend to be softer and mushier than beans cooked in raw, dried form.
One difference is that buying lima beans in their dried form tends to be much cheaper than buying canned beans.
In contrast, raw lima beans take a long time to cook, whereas canned beans only need reheating for a few minutes.
This article shows that lima beans have a wide range of nutritional benefits. However, they do have some potential downsides to be aware of too.
Firstly, raw lima beans contain a ‘cyanogenic glycoside’ compound called linamarin. When eaten raw, this can release hydrogen cyanide, a harmful toxin (17).
In short, people should not consume raw lima beans. Furthermore, lima beans should be thoroughly cooked at a temperature above 176°F (80°C) (20).
Note: it is possible to eat canned lima beans raw or reheat them for only a few minutes as they have been cooked before canning.
How To Cook Lima Beans
The best way to cook lima beans depends on the form of the beans:
- Dried: dried lima beans take a long time to cook. To cook them on the hob, bring them to a boil and then reduce the heat. Then cover and simmer the beans for approximately 1.5 hours or until they reach the desired tenderness.
- Canned: since they have been precooked, canned lima beans need reheating on the hob or in a microwave for just a few minutes. They can also be added directly into dishes like curries, soups, and stews.
- Immature: immature lima beans are typically sold frozen and require cooking. However, they do not need to cook for as long as mature (dry) beans. To cook them, bring them to a boil on the hob and then reduce the heat and simmer for approximately twenty minutes or until they reach the desired tenderness.
How To Eat Lima Beans
Lima beans are adaptable and provide a versatile ingredient for use in the kitchen.
What are some of the best ways to eat them?
Here are some ideas:
- Curries/soups/stews: add a cup of cooked/canned lima beans to a curry, soup, or stew. They can provide a nice difference in texture and absorb the dish’s flavors.
- Stir-fry: mix the (pre-cooked) beans into a stir-fry. They will start to break and turn mushy with too much heat, so adding them for the last minute of stir-frying is best.
- Lima bean hummus: hummus recipes work equally well with lima beans instead of chickpeas. There is an excellent recipe available here.
- As a side: it may sound bland, but adding some lima beans on the side of a meal plate is a great way to increase the nutrient content. Sprinkle some Parmesan or nutritional yeast on top to enhance their flavor.
- In a casserole: there is a wide range of lima bean casserole recipes available online – look for one that sounds good.
Lima beans have a mildly sweet and buttery flavor.
They are also quite soft when fully cooked, which is most notable in the larger-sized beans.
These taste qualities make them good at soaking up flavors from the sauces and dishes they are used in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here is some extra information about lima beans, designed to answer commonly asked questions.
There is no difference between lima beans and butter beans; they are the same food. ‘Butter bean’ is just a common alternate name for this legume. However, the term is only used for dried/canned products, not immature (green) lima beans.
Technically, lima beans, as with all beans, are legumes rather than a vegetable. The beans have some unique nutritional properties compared to most vegetables, such as their high protein content. However, the immature green variety of lima beans looks somewhat like a vegetable, and people often use it in a similar culinary way.
There is no need to soak lima beans before cooking. However, soaking the beans overnight can help reduce the cooking time.
Lima beans are moderately high in carbohydrates, but a significant amount of their carbohydrate content is fiber and resistant starch. A 188-gram cup serving of cooked lima beans contains 26.1 grams of non-fiber carbohydrates and 39 grams of total carbohydrates.
Lima beans contain less protein than meat, seafood, and legumes like soybeans and lupin beans. However, they are one of the best plant-based protein sources, with a cup serving of cooked beans offering 14.7 grams of protein.
Lima beans are nutritious and delicious and have the added benefit of being relatively cheap and versatile.
A cup of these beans is a simple way to consume a ‘package’ of fiber, protein, and a good range of vitamins and minerals.
Although raw lima beans contain toxins, if properly cooked, this should not be an issue.