Legumes are a group of veggies that includes peas, beans and lentils. They’re certainly among the most nutritious and versatile foods available. Other examples of the group also include tempeh and chickpeas.
Legumes contain soluble and insoluble fibre, zero cholesterol and are low in fat. They do contain appreciable amounts of beneficial fats, folate, and minerals like potassium, folate, magnesium and iron. They’re also a good substitute for meat because they’re packed with protein, which is rare for a vegetable.
Health Benefits and Advantages of Including Legumes in Your Diet
1. Sustain energy levels. Legumes give your body a sustained source of glucose to be used as energy. They’re great if you plan to go on a SLOW carb diet (no insulin spikes). Legumes have also been found to improve blood glucose control and reduce cardiovascular risk among people diagnosed with diabetes.
2. Legumes are a very good source of all 3 recognised forms of dietary fibre (resistant starch, insoluble fibre and soluble fibre). Resistant starch is a term given to a controversial 3rd type of starch which gives some of the benefits of both insoluble and soluble fibre. More specifically, resistant starch helps the good microorganisms in your gastrointestinal tract thrive. Fibre equates to protection against colon cancer, lower risk of developing digestive disorders, improvement of weight control, reduction in inflammation and enhanced immune function.
3. Protein for those on a plant-based diet. If you’re on a plant-based diet, legumes are a good source of your protein intake which make you feel full. Consider beans (different varieties), lentils (different varieties) and peas when increasing your protein intake.
4. Let’s not forget the other nutrients. Legumes also provide you with modest amounts of manganese, magnesium, copper, molybdenum, selenium and antioxidants. They’re also high in iron and folate. In order to avoid the effects of phytic acid (this acts as an antinutrient by binding with nutrients and preventing their absorption) it’s ideal that you soak then boil your legumes properly.
5. You can go organic and grow your own legumes at home. Legumes are considered the crop that keeps on giving because their yield can reach up to 2kg per plant over a long time. They can also fit into any of your outdoor spaces easily because they grow up as opposed to spreading out.
6. Legumes contain natural phytoestrogens which may exert a balancing action on your endocrine system. Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) are oestrogen-like substances found in plants. They can exert mild oestrogenic effects on your body which may provide a balancing effect on your hormones, for example when women are going through menopause.
Legumes and Their Shortcomings
You may not realise it but legumes have their own detractors and shortcomings too. Here are some of the important ones:
1. Legumes contain oligosaccharides which cause intestinal gas. Eating a lot of legumes, particularly the harder ones like navy and kidney beans can put a lot of stress on your digestive system and can contribute to excess flatulence. There’s a recommended way of cooking with legumes to neutralise their gut irritating and gas producing properties.
2. Legumes can flare-up autoimmune diseases. All legumes contain variable amounts of lectin (a carbohydrate-binding protein). Lectin has been implicated by stimulating certain antigens on the surface of your cells. Among the autoimmune diseases included are rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple sclerosis, numerous allergies, and formation of peptic ulcers.
3. Due to time constraints around the preparation of legumes, many people settle for canned alternatives. Most can linings contain bisphenol-A (BPA), a potent endocrine disruptor among humans. Bisphenol-A has been linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, miscarriage, abnormal reproductive development among children and erectile dysfunction.
Cooking Tips with Dried Lentils, Peas and Beans
Wash / rinse thoroughly under cold water
SOAK The longer they are soaked the less cooking required and the easier legumes are to digest!
Place beans in a bowl or pot and cover with 4 times their volume of water
Ideally leave the beans to soak for at least 8-10 hours
Soaking overnight would be ideal
Larger beans (such as kidney beans or chickpeas) will require more soaking
time than smaller beans (such as lentils or peas)
You will know they are ready for step 3 when they feel uniformly tender to bite and have doubled or more in size
BOIL This can take as long as 2 hours
Discard the water beans were soaking in and refill with fresh water – twice as much water as beans
Bring to a boil in a pot with lid on
Leave to boil for at least 10 minutes
Reduce to a simmer allowing some steam to escape by tilting the lid
Legumes will be done when they are tender and soft
How to tell if the beans are cooked adequately? Cut one bean in half – if the colour is consistent, it’s done. If there’s a lighter patch in the middle, it needs to cook longer.
Add salt during cooking, or try adding some stock to the boiling pot for extra flavour!
Beans are an inexpensive food and dried beans store well. They’re a great way to make a meal go further!
According to the New Zealand Food Guidelines, 4 to 5 servings of legumes per week will improve our health. One serving is equivalent to a cup of beans, lentils, peas or tofu (organic Tofu of course!). Like many foods out there, legumes have their ups and downs. But if you’re in search of some new protein sources and some variety in your diet, how bout you give legumes a go? They’re readily available these days in most supermarkets and health food stores and the health benefits tend to outweigh the negatives, so c’mon get soaking!