LEGUMES – WHAT ARE THEY?!
A few years ago if you had asked me what a legume was I wouldn’t have even had a clue you were talking about a type of food. It was not a word I was familiar with nor a food group I had often encountered during my younger life. But these days’ they are a regular food in my diet, and I love them not only for their taste and versatility but also the many amazing health benefits they have!
If you’re still not 100% clear on what legumes actually are, that’s totally understandable! Legumes can be a little bit hard to define in words, but basically, they are those foods you tend to think of as beans and peas. Here’s a list of the most common legume varieties:
- kidney beans
- black beans
- lima beans
- fava beans
- green peas
- split peas
- black-eyed peas
So What Makes Them So Good For You?
Probably the most commonly talked about benefit of legumes is their high protein content. Most legumes are packed full of protein and are actually one of the very best sources of plant-based protein! Many people these days are looking for ways to increase the amount of protein in their diet, or to improve the quality of their protein consumption. Using good sources of plant protein is a great way to achieve this! The great thing about plant-based sources of protein (aka legumes) is that they not only have a high protein content, but they also contain significant amounts of dietary fibre and other important micronutrients!
Foods that are high in protein can help to promote satiety (feeling fuller for longer), making protein an important macronutrient to consider when planning a meal. Protein also burns more energy during digestion than carbohydrates or fats (this is known as the thermic effect of food). This increased energy requirement for digestion means that fewer calories from the high protein food are actually available to the body for use or storage; therefore high protein foods can actually assist with weight-loss or weight management. Another benefit of eating legumes is that they are a great source of fibre! Dietary fibre is known to be very important for good digestive health and promoting regularity. Dietary fibre is the term used to describe the indigestible fibres in food that cannot be broken down for energy by our bodies. So instead they move slowly through the digestive system adding bulk to the stools. Increased intakes of fibre can also help to promote satiety thereby assisting in weight loss or weight management. The indigestible fibres in foods also play an important role in good gut health. ‘Prebiotics’ are specific types of fibres found in foods that promote the growth and health of the good bacteria in your gut!
As well as being high in protein and fibre, legumes tend to be extremely nutrient dense. This means that they are relatively low in energy/calories but still contain lots of nutrients (vitamins and minerals). Nutrient dense foods are an amazing way to increase your daily intake of certain vitamins and minerals without also adding significant amounts of energy to your diet. More nutrients for fewer calories means you can afford to eat more of these foods, while still promoting health, weight loss and feeling satisfied/full.
How Should You Eat Them?
Since legumes are such a broad and diverse food group, the ways in which they can be used are endless! Firstly, you can either buy dried legumes and soak/cook them yourself, or you can buy canned pre-prepared ones. Obviously from a cost and health perspective soaking/cooking your own dried legumes will be slightly better, but from a convenience perspective, canned legumes win almost every time for me! Canned legumes are still super affordable, and if you buy the low-sodium varieties or just drain and wash them thoroughly before eating, they are still super healthy! I personally love the taste of almost all legume varieties, but chickpeas, black beans and lentils are probably my top three picks. I always have cans of these (plus dried lentils) in my pantry, and they can easily be thrown into almost any meal. I always make sure to thoroughly rinse the canned legumes in fresh water until all the brine and bubbles are gone. This helps to remove excess sodium from the brine and also prevents bloating/gas or any other digestive discomfort that some people may have experienced when eating legumes! I use legumes in so many of my favourite recipes, and will definitely be posting them for you guys to try too! Check out my Pumpkin and Chickpea Curry recipe for one example!
SO TO SUM IT ALL UP…
Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas etc.) are amazing sources of nutrition! They are cheap, healthy, tasty and filling! Packed full of protein, fibre, and nutrients while being low in calories, and containing little/no saturated fat or cholesterol, they are a great addition to any diet. Increasing your intake of plant-based protein is a great way to increase the protein content of your diet without needing to consume extra animal protein, which may cause issues if consumed excessively! If you are unfamiliar with eating/cooking legumes, just give it a go! They are extremely versatile and you will find hundreds of recipes online using them in delicious and nutritious ways. You can use beans/lentils etc. to either substitute or bulk up meat dishes since they are cheap, low in calories and high in all the good stuff! Try a few different types and find which ones are your favourites. Don’t knock them till you’ve tried them!