Enjoying Limitless Health With Lima Beans

Lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), also known as butter beans, are legumes. They share the genus Phaseolus with common beans ( green snap beanspinto beansheirloom beans, Great Northern beans, kidney beansblack turtle beans, and navy beans) tepary beans, runner beans, slimjim beans, and spotted beans. All of these beans belong to the the family Fabaceae, along with edible-pod and mature peassoybeansfava beansblack-eyed peasjicamaadzuki beanslentilspeanutschickpeas, carob, and licorice. The family also includes broom, gorse, and kudzu.

Lima beans have been cultivated in Peru for more than 7,000 years. The Moche people cultivated them throughout their empire along what is now coastal Peru. They often depicted images of beans on their iconic pottery. Limas were an important staple, along with potatoes and quinoa, during the period of the Inca empire in the Andes.

A second, smaller-seeded variety, the sieva, was developed later, probably in Central America and Mexico around 500 years ago. Portuguese mariners introduced lima beans to Africa.

When the Spanish exported the beans to Europe and elsewhere in the Americas, the labels on shipping crates stated the origin as the Peruvian capital, Lima, giving the beans their name even though they are pronounced differently in English. The Spanish introduced the sieva to the Philippines and other parts of Asia. These smaller beans were grown at lower elevations from Argentina into Mexico, but they also became known as Lima beans because of the similar shape and color. Lima beans were dietary staples among the Aztec populations in Central America.

In 1862, the U.S. government passed the Homestead Act, which gave free land to Americans that would settle the West. Homesteaders went west, made a claim and paid a fee to the federal government, then stayed on their land and improved it over a period of five years, and received 160 acres free. In the 1880s, pioneers came to the coastal North San Diego County area around Encinitas, California, to homestead. Many thought that the land would be arable for all sorts of crops. In reality, the soil was not particularly rich and the local climate was semi-arid desert. Consequently, the crops that many pioneers first grew failed. Those who stayed after the crop failures needed a crop that they could dry farm (without irrigation) and was hearty enough to survive long stretches without much moisture. Farmers found that lima beans grew readily along the coastal strip, because they used the moisture from the foggy ocean air during parts of the year.

Lima beans can:

  1. Detoxify sulfites. Lima beans are an excellent source of the trace mineral, molybdenum, an integral component of the enzyme sulfite oxidase, which is responsible for detoxifying sulfites. Sulfites are a type of preservative commonly added to prepared foods like delicatessen salads and salad bars. People who are sensitive to sulfites may experience rapid heartbeat, headache, or disorientation if they consume sulfites. If you have ever reacted to sulfites, it may be because your molybdenum stores are insufficient to detoxify them.
  2. Improve glucose metabolism. Lima beans have a low glycemic index rating, which means that they cause your blood sugar to remain normal after a meal. They’re good for people with irregular glucose metabolism, such as diabetics and those with hypoglycemia for two reasons: the protein in lima beans slows absorption, and their high soluble fiber content absorbs water in your stomach, forming a gel that slows down the metabolism of the bean’s carbohydrates.
  3. Reduce cholesterol. The fiber in lima beans binds with the bile acids that your body uses to make cholesterol. Fiber isn’t absorbed, so when it exits the body in the feces, it takes the cholesterol-containing bile acids with it. As a result, your body ends up with less cholesterol, which your liver then pulls from your blood to make more bile, lowering your cholesterol levels. Eating a high-fiber diet not only reduces your total cholesterol, it also reduces your triglyceride levels, and your  Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL–the most dangerous form of cholesterol) levels.
  4. Improve digestion. Lima beans contain insoluble fiber, which helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation, and also helps prevent digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.
  5. Lower your heart attack risk. The fiber in lima beans lowers your risk of heart disease. Folate in lima beans helps lower levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Potassium in lima beans regulates muscle contraction, including heart rythym, and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Magnesium in lima beans is a calcium channel blocker that relaxes your veins and arteries, which reduces resistance and improves the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients throughout your body. A deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attack but that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium promotes free radical injury to the heart.
  6. Give you energy. In addition to providing slow-burning complex carbohydrates, lima beans can increase your energy levels by helping to replenish your iron stores. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells, and is also part of key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism. Copper in lima beans works together with iron in the formation of hemoglobin and red blood cells, is important for the production of thyroxine, a hormone that keeps your thyroid gland functioning normally, helps preserve the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects your nerves, and helps your mitochondria produce energy. Phosphorus in lima beans helps you use carbohydrates and fat and synthesize protein, and helps with energy storage, muscle contraction, heartbeat, and nerve conduction. Thiamine in lima beans maintains your energy supplies, coordinates the activity of nerves and muscles, supports proper heart function, and is critical for brain cell and cognitive function.
  7. Fight free radicals. Lima beans are a very good source of the trace mineral manganese, which is an essential cofactor in a number of enzymes important in energy production and antioxidant defenses. For example, the key oxidative enzyme superoxide dismutase, which disarms free radicals produced within the mitochondria (the energy production factories within our cells), requires manganeseCopper in lima beans also  helps form superoxide dismutase and is important in a number of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant enzymes.
  8. Build strong bodies. Lima beans provide protein without high calories or saturated fat. Potassium in lima beans regulates muscle contraction, including heart rythym, regulates nerve transmission; stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, promotes regular muscle growth, maintains proper electrolyte and acid-base (pH) balance; lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance, and maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss. Copper in lima beans helps synthesize collagen and elastin, the substances that provide structure, strength, and elasticity in blood vessels, bones, and joints; helps your body produce the pigment called melanin, which gives hair and skin its color. Phosphorus in lima beans helps in the formation of bones and teeth.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Cooked Lima Beans



Daily Value


141 µg



13.15 g



0.97 mg



156.04 µg



14.66 g



955.04 mg



4.49 mg



0.44 mg



208.68 mg



80.84 mg



0.3 mg


vitamin B6

0.3 mg



39.25 g






1.79 mg



16 µg


pantothenic acid

0.79 mg



0.1 mg



0.79 mg



31.96 mg



0.71 g



3.76 mg



0 mg


Fresh lima beans are in season in the summer and fall. You can sometimes find them at farmers’ markets or specialty grocery stores. Choose beans that are firm, dark green and glossy, and free of blemishes, wrinkling and yellowing. If they have been shelled, you should inspect them carefully since they are extremely perishable. Look for ones that have tender skins that are green or greenish-white in color and do not have any signs of mold or decay.

Store fresh lima beans whole, in their pods, in the refrigerator crisper where they will keep fresh for a few days.

Dried and canned lima beans are available throughout the year. Dried lima beans are generally available in packages as well as bulk bins. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing the lima beans are covered and that the store has a good product turnover to ensure maximum freshness. Make sure that there is no evidence of moisture or insect damage and that the beans are whole and not cracked.

Store dried lima beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place where they will keep for up to six months. If you purchase the beans at different times, store them separately since they may feature varying stages of dryness and therefore will require different cooking times.

If you purchase frozen lima beans, shake the container to make sure that the beans move freely and do not seem to be clumped together.  Frozen lima beans do not need to be thawed before being cooked.

Before washing dried lima beans, spread them out on a light colored plate or cooking surface to check for and remove small stones, debris or damaged beans. After this process, place the beans in a strainer and rinse them thoroughly under cool running water.

Note that most of the phosphorus in lima beans is in a storage form of phosphate called phytic acid or phytate. Seeds are how most plants reproduce. When they are eaten by animals, it is beneficial to the survival of their species if they can pass through the animal’s digestive system intact to be deposited, encased in fertilizer, elsewhere. In order for the plant to reproduce, it’s necessary that the seed pass through the digestive tract whole (undigested). Many plant seeds have developed defense mechanisms to make them more difficult to digest, including enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion and other natural substances that block nutrient absorption. Phytic acid prevents premature germination and stores nutrients for plant growth. Unfortunately, it also reduces the absorption of the important minerals calciummagnesiumiron, and zinc, and reduces the digestibility of protein. This applies not only to the minerals and protein in the food containing the phytic acid, but also the food that you eat with it. Over time, these phytates can lead to mineral deficiencies, allergies, and irritation of the intestinal tract. Only about 50% of the phosphorus from phytate is available to humans because we lack phytase, the enzyme that liberates phosphorus from phytate.

Traditionally, humans soaked, sprouted,  or fermented beans before eating them, processes that neutralizes phytates and enzyme inhibitors so that all the nutrients are more available.

When a plant seed undergoes germination, changes occur that provide the growing plant with needed nutrients. These changes include the breakdown of phytic acid, the inactivation of protease inhibitors, and the increased availability of vitamins and minerals, all of which increase the nutritional value of the seed and improve its digestibility. In nature, germination typically occurs when a plant seed encounters conditions that are favorable for growth, and that typically involves water. You can easily initiate the germination of lima beans by soaking them in 2-3 cups of water per cup of beans. Soaking reduces phytic acid in about 12 hours. Soaking can also increase the content of some vitamins and help break down complex carbohydrates such as raffinose-type oligosaccharides (sugars associated with causing flatulence). Cooking also deactivates natural plant toxins that may still exist after soaking.

To prevent lima beans from absorbing chemicals from the water or container that they’re soaking in, consider using a glass or ceramic container and filtered water. It may also be beneficial to use lukewarm water and increase its acidity with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice or vinegar. Soak lima beans for 12 to 24 hours in water with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice. Rinse well and cook as usual in 2-3 cups of fresh water per cup of dried beans.

Soaking seeds is easy; it just takes takes a little discipline. In the evening, put your lima beans in a bowl and cover them with filtered water. By the next day, the beans are ready to cook.

You can cook lima beans either on the stove top or in a slow cooker. For the stove top method, add three cups of fresh water for each cup of dried beans. The liquid should be about one to two inches above the top of the beans. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially covering the pot. If any foam develops, simply skim it off during the simmering process. Lima beans generally take about 45 minutes to become tender using this method.

Regardless of cooking method, do not add any salt or acid (like tomatoes) until after beans have been cooked; adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time. To aid in digestion, you can add to your cooking beans a four-inch strip of the sea vegetable kombu, available dried in the Asian specialty section of grocery stores. Also try adding a teaspoon of epazote per pound of beans. Epazote is a traditional herb of central America that is believed to help with digestion.

Do not add any seasonings that are salty or acidic until after the beans have been cooked since adding them earlier will make the beans tough and greatly increase the cooking time.

As cooked lima beans are very perishable, they will only keep fresh for one day even if placed in a covered container in the refrigerator.

Lima beans pair well with cilantromintparsley, and sage.

Some serving ideas:

  • If you can find whole lima beans in the market, you can serve them as an appetizer sprinkled with seasoning just like edamame.
  • Mix puréed lima beans with chopped garlic and your favorite fresh herbs, and use this spread as a sandwich filling or a dip for crudités.
  • Add lima beans to a soup that features root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, beets, and rutabagas.
  • Blend lima beans with corn to make succotash, then top with chopped tomatoes, avocado, and scallions.

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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