A bag of peas in the freezer makes a perfect addition to a favorite stew. That can of kidney beans in the pantry screams for a batch of crockpot chili. Legumes add heartiness to our favorite comfort foods, but these versatile seeds are more than just a recipe filler. A rich source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, legumes are a no-brainer nutrition choice that may prevent chronic diseases down the road.
Legumes come in many different varieties, including peas, soy, beans and peanuts. The fruit of these plants are pods filled with seeds. When the seeds mature, the pods split open. All legumes are rich in protein and fiber, but mature legumes, such as beans and peas, have many of the same nutrients as vegetables. Due to this versatility you can count beans and peas as vegetables or proteins, depending on your needs. If you get your protein from meat, fish, eggs or other sources, count your beans and peas toward your vegetable servings. If beans or peas are your major protein source for the meal, count them toward your daily protein needs.
Legumes are an excellent low-fat protein source. One cup of cooked black beans provides 15 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fat. Soy is a complete protein source and contains all of the amino acids your body needs to function. Other legumes, however, contain low levels of certain essential amino acids. This isn't usually a concern if you are meat-eater or a vegetarian who eat eggs or dairy, because animal products are complete protein sources. If you are a vegan, however, add rice to your day. Rice contains the amino acids that beans lack, so rice and beans make a complete protein.
Legumes contain both types of health-boosting fiber. Insoluble fiber promotes bowel regularity and prevents colon cancer. Soluble fiber controls cholesterol. Women should eat at least 25 grams of fiber each day. Add just 1 cup of peas to your meal for an extra 9 grams of fiber. Throw a cup of lentils into your soup, and you'll add 15 grams of fiber. Beans have a reputation as a musical fruit due to gas-producing sugars. To reduce this side effect, change the water several times when soaking the beans and cook thoroughly. Canned beans are often less gassy than dried beans, because the canning process removes some of these sugars.
Legumes provide a rich source of iron, a crucial mineral that transports oxygen through your blood. These nutritious plant foods also contain folate, which helps to produce healthy cells. For pregnant women, folate helps to prevent developmental problems in the baby. A diet high in legumes may also offer preventative effects against chronic diseases. A study published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" in 2012 found that a diet high in beans decreased obesity and heart disease risk factors in mice. A human study published in "Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice" in the same year showed that adults who frequently ate beans and whole grains had fewer risk factors for diabetes.
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Beans and Peas are Unique Foods
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: What are Legumes?
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Beans, black, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt
- Mayo Clinic: Guide to Beans and Legumes
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Peas, edible-podded, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt
- Mayo Clinic: High-fiber foods
- Mayo Clinic: Beans and Other Legumes: Types and Cooking Tips
- Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice: High Intake of Whole Grains and Beans Pattern is Inversely Associated with Insulin Resistance in Healthy Korean Adult Population.
- The British Journal of Nutrition: Edible Dry Bean Consumption (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) Modulates Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Diet-induced Obesity in Rats and Mice.
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.