It’s really only been in the last few years that I have developed a bit of a ‘thing’ for legumes!
Prior to this I had occasionally thrown a couple of red kidney beans into a Shepherds Pie or lasagne and popped the odd chickpea into a salad.
Otherwise, even though I was familiar with their excellent nutritional value I hadn’t experimented widely with all types of legumes.
The legume family consists of beans, peas and lentils and are often known as pulses.
Examples of these are:
- Kidney beans
- Red, green and brown lentils
- Split peas
- Black beans
- Cannellini beans
- Baked beans
- Four bean mix
- Soy beans (edamame)
Health benefits of Legumes
Legumes are an excellent sources of protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates. They have a low glycaemic index and therefore help to stabilize blood sugars following a meal as well as creating a feeling of fullness for a prolonged period of time.
The insoluble fiber in legumes helps to improve bowel function and prevent constipation. It may also play a role in preventing bowel cancer.
The soluble fiber content helps to balance blood sugar and lowers cholesterol.
Legumes are an inexpensive source of quality plant protein and can be a good alternative to animal proteins minus the saturated fats. Unlike red meat, most lentils , apart from soybeans are an incomplete protein but eating a balanced diet that includes some whole grains , nuts or seeds will provide the complete complement of amino acids. A handy note to make if following a mostly vegetarian diet.
Recipe courtesy of Australian Healthy Food Guide.
1 cup of cooked lentils provides approx:
37% of RDA of iron
90% of RDA of folate (important for pregnancy)
18% of RDA of magnesium
21% of RDA of potassium.
Legumes are a great source of antioxidants and as with vegetables, it’s the more colourful ones that are the highest sources.
Soybeans are a complete source of protein. One such example is the Edamame which is a young green soybean.
As well as having a similar nutritional value to other legumes, soybeans also contain high amounts of isoflavins.
Isoflavins are phyto nutrients that can have cancer preventive effects.. These phytonutrients also resemble oestrogen (female sex hormone) and in some women may reduce some of the symptoms of menopause eg. Hot flushes, as well as have a protective effect against osteoporosis.
(please note in this recipe, I omitted the bacon and replaced with brown lentils)
Add a bean or two to these foods!
Lentils can be thrown into many different foods. I often pop a few brown lentils into a roast vegetable or pumpkin soup to increase the protein content and make it a more filling meal.
Chickpeas can be added to stir-fries, curries and salads and used to make hommus dip.
Pinto beans are the ingredient used for re-fried beans for Mexican dishes
Green lentils for slow cooking, burgers and salads
Brown lentils for rice salad, soup, Indian curries, bolognaise sauce
Red kidney beans: Use in baked potatoes as chilli con carne, in salsas, shepherd’s pie and lasagna. Mash and use in a Mexican inspired dip!
Mixture of beans: Minestrone soup, vegetarian burgers.
Borlotti beans: stews and pastas
Four bean mix: add a can to some corn for a really simple side salad. Also makes for a delicious vegetarian pasta!
Legumes can also be mashed (think mashed baked beans) or pureed to make the introduction easier for small children.
Worried about gas?!
Legumes are often known for their unwanted side effects in the form of gas!
To reduce flatulence qualities of legumes:
- Introduce them to your diet gradually.
- Soak overnight. The water absorbs some of the gas producing sugars.
- Use canned beans. The canning process eliminates some of the gas producing sugars.
- Look for low salt options when buying canned varieties and drain and rinse well.
Legumes feature in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating as a component of the vegetable food group. The recommendation is 5+ serves of vegetables a day. Including legumes as one of the serves 3 – 4 times a week may be a good way to increase vegetable intake while stocking up on all the nutrients that legumes have to offer.
1 serve is just ½ cup of legumes.
These little guys are so versatile and I’m so glad I have started playing around with them more often in the last few years.
Even the kids are getting the hang of them!