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December 21, 2018 Dr Ana Baranda By Dr Ana Baranda My Articles

Legumes and their benefits

Legumes, like lentils, beans and peas, are one of the best plant-based sources of protein. There are multiple health benefits associated with legumes. Discover what they are and why you should include them in your diet.

Legumes as a plant-based source of protein

Legumes – a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas, and lentils – are some of the most versatile and nutritious foods we could eat. With an impressive nutritional profile, legumes provide a wide range of essential nutrients including protein, carbohydrates, dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins. Legumes are naturally low in fats, and importantly, practically free of saturated fats. Also, as they are plant foods, legumes are naturally cholesterol-free. Even more impressively,  legumes are one of the best sources of plant-based protein.

However, except for  soybeans, all legumes contain protein of low biological value – this means that they don’t contain all the essential amino acids that the body needs. So it’s combining legumes with other foods that we can compensate for the lack of some amino acids in a very manageable way.

The nutritional profile and benefits of legumes 

Legumes contain resistant starch, a nutrient that combined with their high fibre content helps keeping a low blood sugar level. Fibre, protein and carbohydrates which are digested slowly are all found in legumes which may aid to their ability to create satiety. Lentils and beans contain an impressive range of B vitamins (B1, B3 and B6). The folate content of chickpeas is also as commendable.  Other beneficial minerals provided by legumes include calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc.

Zinc helps to maintain the immune system and neurons, boosting our memory and concentration levels. Among other functions, magnesium helps to keep good muscle function. Legumes help to lower blood pressure as they are rich in potassium, magnesium, and fibre, the necessary nutrients for blood pressure management. Moreover, legumes have been linked to  colon health and to reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. Finally, as well as not acting as a source of cholesterol, legumes can help lower the body’s cholesterol levels. This is why it’s recommended to eat legumes  2 to 4 servings per week. 

Some general recommendations on legumes consumption

  • Raw legumes contain anti-nutrients , compounds that can interfere with the digestion and absorption of other nutrients. Proper preparation methods (soaking, sprouting, and boiling) reduce the levels of these compounds.
  • Excepting black-eyed peas and lentils, all dried beans and legumes require soaking in water at room temperature. This will rehydrate them quicker, and more effectively than when boiling them. For proper rehydration, soak them overnight.
  • To reduce the flatulence-inducing quality of legumes changes the water several times during the soaking process. Do not use the soaking water to cook the beans, it will have absorbed some of the gas-producing indigestible carbohydrates.
  • Store dried legumes in food containers with tight-fitting lids. Keep them in a cool, dry place and away from sunlight.
  • Incorporate legumes into the diet easily by adding them to soups,  purees or salads. One great example is hummus, a chickpea dip, which can be used as a spread. 

Legumes are an ideal way to include plant-based protein to your diet. There are many ways to eat legumes as they can easily be added to  a variety of dishes and combined with other products. 

What is your favourite legume? Tell us in the comments!

Do you want to receive information and advice about how to improve your food habits and choices? Check our partners’ website ASSIST: Towards a smarter shopping list.

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References

  1. Faris, M. E. A. I. E., Takruri, H. R., & Issa, A. Y. (2013). “Role of lentils (Lens culinaris L.) in human health and nutrition: a review”. Accessed 22/6/2020
  2. Hylla, S., Gostner, A., Dusel, G., Anger, H., Bartram, H. P., Christl, S. U., ... & Scheppach, W. (1998). “Effects of resistant starch on the colon in healthy volunteers: possible implications for cancer prevention”. Accessed 25/6/2020
  3. Martín-Cabrejas, M.Á. (2019) “Legumes. Nutritional Quality, Processing and Potential Health Benefits” Accessed 22/6/2020
  4. Pittaway, J. K., Ahuja, K. D. K., Cehun, M., Chronopoulos, A., Robertson, I. K., Nestel, P. J., & Ball, M. J. (2006). “Dietary supplementation with chickpeas for at least 5 weeks results in small but significant reductions in serum total and low-density li
  5. Polak, R., Phillips, E.M., & Camptbell, A. (2015) “Legumes: Health benefits and culinary approaches to increase intake”. Accessed 23/6/2020