The Benefits of Legumes and Beans
Legumes include dried peas, lentils and every variety of dried bean, from the tiny adzuki bean to the huge fava bean. They have long made up part of the human diet, and caches of lentils have even been found in Egyptian tombs. Whether you buy them canned or purchase them in bulk, they store easily and have a long shelf life. Legumes provide plenty of health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
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.
Eating beans as part of a heart healthy diet and lifestyle may help improve your blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease. Adding beans to your diet may help keep you feeling full longer.
Drain canned beans in a colander and rinse with water to remove some of the excess salt; or buy canned beans with no salt added if they have them at your store. Or, you can make your own salt-free beans from scratch.
There are lots of easy ways to add beans to your meals and reap the healthy benefits of the lovely legume.
- Famously, the English eat beans on toast, and beans and rice is an everyday dish in many of the world’s cuisines.
- Tuck beans into whole-grain tortillas or pita bread.
- Add them to soups, salads, and pasta dishes.
- Toss beans into sautéed veggies or mix them with cooked greens and garlic.
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