Treasures of Greek land : fava beans of Santorini

Treasures of Greek land : fava beans of Santorini

We consider split peas a perfect shared dish for party, and not just a hummus like cream topping on our bread.

Split peas or fava beans (Lathyrus clymenum) are very nutritious legumes containing large amounts of fiber, plant protein, vitamins and metals, whereas are poor in fat. Thus, they are considered beneficial to cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems, as well as helping indirectly to control body weight.

Fava beans of Santorini originate from a specific plant named Lathyrusclymenum L. that is cultivated on the island. These legumes have a distinct bright yellow color and unique taste, as a result of Santorini’s special climate.

Nutrient content and health effects

Specifically, fava beans are good source of thiamine (vitamin B1), iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium; thus providing about 10-19% of daily energy needs in each 0.25 cup of cooked product (1).

Just bear in mind that thiamine is essential for neurological health, and iron is crucial for oxygen transport to tissues, whereas copper along with iron participate in red blood cells formation. Phosphorus and magnesium have significant role in maintaining bone health, as well as magnesium and potassium help to control blood pressure (1).

In addition, fava beans are rich in folate which is essential for red blood cell production, and immune and cardiovascular health, whereas the containing manganese participates in protein, carbohydrates, and cholesterol metabolism.

Intestinal and cardiovascular effects

Besides the above, fava beans are rich in soluble fibers providing 9 grams per 0.25 cup; thus they help to improve cholesterol and glucose blood levels (1).  Soluble fibers are quite effective in lowering LDL cholesterol. In addition, fava beans contribute in maintaining normal intestinal function without causing any irritation, thus being useful in treating certain clinical cases.

Indirect weight loss aid

Note that fava beans contain great amounts of plant protein, providing 10 grams per 0.25 cup. According to recent study (2), overweight or obese volunteers who followed controlled energy diet, high in protein and fiber lost more body weight, and lowered both total and LDL cholesterol more than those who followed a high carbohydrate and low in fat diet. The proportional high content in protein and fiber is thought to be responsible for this beneficial effect.

Improving mood

As Kathrynne Holden claims, fava beans are a good source of levodopa (3), which our body converts into dopamine that alongside with serotonin and norepinephrine help to alleviate emotional state. Scientific bibliography indicates that low blood serotonin levels are partially responsible for evolving depression. That is why some antidepressant agents come to increase dopamine, alongside with serotonin and norepinephrine.

If your take antidepressants

Nevertheless, consumption of fava beans may decrease these depressive symptoms. Be careful though, there’s no need to overeat fava beans, mainly because excessive levodopa uptake can cause exhaustion and vitamin B6 deficiency (4). The latter leads to depression development on its own.

In case of receiving monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), fava beans consumption should be avoided, due to high tyramine content (5). Since MAOIs block an enzyme that minimizes excess tyramine in blood, fava beans may cause hypertyraminaimia and subsequently abrupt increase of blood pressure.

Rarely allergenic

As with many foods, fava beans may rarely cause an allergic reaction. Nevertheless, proper cooking of split peas significantly decreases this risk (6).

Bottom line

All in all, fava beans are quite unique legume; apart from being very nutritious, they favor healthy function of immune, cardiovascular, bone, and haemopoietic systems. They can even alleviate your mood! What else is there to ask for?

By George Milessis, MSc RD Clinical dietitian


  1. Geil PB, and JW Anderson. Nutrition and health implications of dry beans: a review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition 1994; 13(6)
  2. Morenga LT, Williams S, Brown R, Mann J. Effect of a relatively high-protein, high-fiber diet on body composition and metabolic risk factors in overweight women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov; 64(11):1323-31.
  3. Holden K. Fava Beans, Levodopa, and Parkinson’s disease. SSNV; available at:
  4. Footitt EJ, Heales SJ, Mills PB, Allen GF, Oppenheim M, Clayton PT. Pyridoxal 5′-phosphate in cerebrospinal fluid; factors affecting concentration. J Inherit Metab Dis. 2011 Apr; 34(2):529-38.
  5. Flockhart DA. Dietary restrictions and drug interactions with monoamine oxidase inhibitors: an update. J Clin Psychiatry. 2012; 73 Suppl 1:17-24
  6. Mur Gimeno P, Feo Brito F, Martín Iglesias A, Lombardero Vega M, Bautista Martínez P. Allergic reaction caused by a new hidden food, broad bean flour. Allergy. 2007 Nov; 62(11):1340-1.