Green beans — also known as string beans, snap beans, French beans, emotes, or haricots verts — are a thin, crunchy veggie with small seeds inside a pod.
They’re common on salads or in dishes of their own, and some people even eat them raw.
Yet, because they’re technically legumes, some people worry that they contain antinutrients that may be toxic if eaten raw — while others claim that raw green beans are healthier since cooking them leads to nutrient loss.
This article explains whether you can eat green beans raw.
Like most beans, raw green beans contain lectins, a protein that works as an antifungal and natural insecticide for plants (
Yet, if you eat them, lectins are resistant to digestive enzymes. Thus, they bind to the surface of cells in your digestive system, causing symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and bloating if consumed in high amounts (
They may also damage your gut cells and affect your gut’s friendly bacteria. Furthermore, they interfere with nutrient digestion and absorption, which is why they’re known as antinutrients (
Certain beans pack higher amounts of lectin than others, meaning that some may be mostly safe to eat raw (
Still, research suggests that raw green beans harbor 4.8–1,100 mg of lectin per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of seeds. This means that they range from relatively low in lectins to exceptionally high (
Thus, while eating small amounts of raw green beans may be safe, it’s best to avoid them to prevent any potential toxicity.
Raw green beans contain lectins, which may trigger symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, or bloating. As such, you shouldn’t eat them raw.
Some people claim that cooking green beans leads to nutrient loss.
Indeed, cooking may reduce their contents of some water-soluble vitamins, such as folate and vitamin C, which help prevent birth abnormalities and cellular damage, respectively (5,
However, cooking offers several benefits, such as improved taste, digestibility, and increased bioavailability of various beneficial plant compounds.
Furthermore, most of the lectins in raw green beans are inactivated when boiled or cooked at 212°F (100°C) (
Research shows that cooking green beans may increase antioxidant content — particularly levels of powerful carotenoids like beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin (
Antioxidants protect your cells from unstable molecules called free radicals, high levels of which may increase your risk of disease (
Additionally, cooking may boost the bioavailability of green beans’ isoflavone content. These compounds are linked to multiple health benefits, including protection against heart disease and a lower risk of certain cancers (
Overall, the benefits of cooking this veggie likely outweigh the downsides.
Cooking green beans may reduce the content of certain vitamins, but it increases their levels of antioxidants like carotenoids and isoflavones. Notably, cooking also inactivates harmful lectins.
Green beans are available in many forms, including fresh, canned, and frozen.
You can prepare them in multiple ways. As a general rule, it’s best to rinse them before cooking, but there’s no need to soak them overnight. You may also want to trim the tips to remove hard ends.
Here are three basic, easy ways to cook green beans:
- Boiled. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Add the green beans and simmer them for 4 minutes. Drain and season with salt and pepper before serving.
- Steamed. Fill a pot with 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water and place a steamer basket on top. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. Place the beans in and lower the heat. Cook covered for 2 minutes.
- Microwaved. Place the green beans in a microwave-safe bowl. Add 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of water and cover with plastic wrap. Microwave for 3 minutes and test for doneness before serving. Be careful with the hot steam when removing the plastic.
They’re great on their own, tossed into salad, or added to soups, stews, and casseroles.
Boiling, steaming, and microwaving are great ways to cook green beans in under 5 minutes. Eat them on their own or in salads or stews.
While some recipes call for raw green beans, eating them uncooked may lead to nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and vomiting due to their lectin content.
As such, it’s best to avoid raw green beans.
Cooking not only neutralizes their lectins but also improves their taste, digestibility, and antioxidant content.
Green beans are very easy to prepare and can be enjoyed by themselves as side or snack — or added to soups, salads, and casseroles.