Nov 162004
Authors: Stephanie Lindberg

Several CSU students said they eat a serving of beans zero to two times a week, according to a new survey looking to prove that beans could be helpful in preventing cancer and adult diabetes.

"They're good for you, but they're not tasty," said T.J. Matteo, a freshman computer science student.

Makenzie Martinez, a senior studying marketing, said she eats beans if they are part of a certain dish.

"I usually only eat them if they're in Mexican food or something like that," Martinez said.

Black beans are usually the beans of choice for Suji Shealey, a junior studying biology.

"I like beans, but not all the time," Shealey said.

Although beans are not overly popular among some students, Mark Brick a professor in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences and Henry Thompson, a professor and director of the cancer prevention laboratory are about six months into an 18-month survey that looks at 15 types of dry beans to analyze if they alter the rate of cancer and diabetes in animals.

Ten types of beans are market class, meaning they are regularly found in supermarkets and have been improved through breeding techniques. The other three strains of beans in the study are classified as land-race beans, unaltered strains cultivated by Native Americans.

"We will compare (land-race beans) to market beans to determine: Has breeding improved the quality?" Brick said.

Cancer, or uncontrolled cell growth, is caused by mutation in a gene that causes rapid cell division.

"Free radicals in the body cause mutation," Brick said. "If you can reduce free radicals you can reduce cancer. Antioxidants basically neutralize free radicals."

The beans used are cooked, canned and freeze-dried before they are studied. The shells of dry beans contain anti-nutritional compounds that interfere with natural digestion and in order to digest the bean properly it is cooked to soften the shell. After they are cooked, the beans are analyzed for their antioxidant properties, Brick said. Colored beans, due to their pigment are thought to be more helpful in disease prevention.

"Everyone believes that colored beans are better but nothing's been done with a feeding trial," Brick said. "Our project is unique because it includes lab studies, animal studies and my part in it, genetics."

Thompson said the study will involve pre-clinical and laboratory models for diabetes and a study for breast cancer and will feed the rodent subjects diets that include beans. The diet will include the whole bean, not just an extract of the bean, Thompson said.

"We'll see if some beans have no effect, we hope for that, and if some are better," Thompson said. "We hope for wins and losses and finding why one bean is better than the other."

Rodents will be used as the diet subjects because they mirror the development of disease in humans.

Thompson said he hopes he and Brick will have some findings of a correlation between beans and disease prevention by the end of the 18 months. Brick said to maximize the quality of beans it might take a few more years to further improve the beans through breeding.

Thompson said he encourages "variety and moderation within the choice of diet."

"And dry beans should be one of the whole foods that should be chosen," Thompson said. "Don't just pick the white ones or the red ones. Any beans are really a good source of nutrition. A half a cup a day is a good solid recommendation. That's pretty easy to do."

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