The Health Benefits of Legumes & Beans
Mature legumes are excellent sources of protein and fibre. It’s no secret that most people depend far too much on processed foods and far too little on whole foods, to fulfill daily energy needs. A diet that emphasizes nutrient-dense foods, or those that deliver a wide range of nutrients for relatively few calories, does more than provide energy, it nourishes your body and supports good health. Legumes are a low-fat, high-protein source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidant compounds and dietary fibre.
Types of Legumes
The legume class of vegetables is extremely broad, encompassing some 13,000 varieties of beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes can be divided into two general categories: immature and mature varieties. Immature legumes, often referred to as “fresh” legumes, include all types of edible pod beans and peas and shell beans that haven’t yet been dried. Wax beans, snow peas, edamame and fresh lima beans are all immature legumes. Mature legumes are harvested from the pod in their fully developed, dried form. They’re commonly known as “dried” beans and peas. Black beans, kidney beans, lentils and split peas are all mature legumes. Nearly all legumes provide protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and potassium, but mature legumes tend to be particularly rich sources.
As an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber, legumes are a highly satiating food. This means that for a relatively low amount of calories legumes make you feel fuller longer and, therefore, help prevent the hunger that can lead to unhealthy snacking and unwanted pounds. For about 115 calories, a 1/2-cup serving of cooked lentils provides about 9 grams of protein, 20 grams of mostly complex carbohydrates and less than half a gram of fat. It also supplies nearly 8 grams of fiber, or 31 percent of the recommended daily value. Most legumes contain significant amounts of insoluble and soluble fiber. Eating legumes several times a week promotes bowel regularity and helps keep blood sugar levels in check.
Legumes are sometimes called “poor people’s meat” because they’re an inexpensive source of quality plant protein. They truly are an ideal meat substitute, however, because the vitamin and mineral profiles of legumes and meat are comparable. Whereas meat is also a source of cholesterol and saturated fat, however, legumes are a cholesterol-free food that contains virtually no saturated fat. For just over 110 calories, a 1/2-cup serving of cooked black beans delivers 32 percent, 15 percent, and 14 percent of the daily values for folate, magnesium, and thiamine, respectively, and about 10 percent each of the daily values for iron and potassium. Opting for legumes instead of meat two or three times a week promotes healthy cholesterol levels and helps protect against heart disease.
Legumes and whole grains are considered complementary proteins, meaning that while neither contains all nine essential amino acids, they form a complete protein when consumed together, or at least in the same day. Many legumes — including fresh and dried varieties — also contain significant amounts of antioxidant compounds. As with fruits and vegetables, more colorful legumes tend to be higher in antioxidants. Small red kidney beans are a better source of antioxidants than fresh blueberries, according to the “Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.”
Toss cooked split peas with home-made tomato sauce, sautéed kale and home-made whole-grain pasta for a hearty, nutritious meal. Use whole-grain couscous, barley, or bulgur to bring texture and flavour to a three-bean stew. Puree cooked lentils with roasted garlic and spread it on whole-grain toast. Make sure your whole-grain breads are made from organic stone-ground flour and made at home without preservatives and additives.
Fibre in Legumes & Beans
Beans are a great source of fibre, as well as vegan protein – with the average cup of beans providing 14grams of fiber or 56% of the daily value for fiber. Navy beans provide the most fiber per calorie with 19grams (76% DV) in a single cup cooked. The current daily value (%DV) for fiber is 25 grams. Legumes Ranked in order of highest to lowest fibre content.
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