The health benefits of eating a whole plant based foods are undeniable. A diet consisting primarily of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes is linked to significantly lowering the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and chronic kidney disease. One nutrition powerhouse that should be consumed daily to promote overall health is the legume.
By definition, a legume is an edible dry fruit that is contained within a pod. Some of the most common types of legumes include kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, white beans, chick peas, peanuts, soybeans, and lentils. According to archeological findings, the domestication of legumes date back well over 10,000 years. Legumes are one of the most important crops grown and eaten throughout the world. It is estimated that 18.7 million tons of beans alone are harvested every day in 150 different countries.
Legumes are packed with beneficial nutrients. They are rich in protein, fiber (soluble & insoluble), complex carbohydrates, folate, potassium and iron. Legumes are also naturally low in fat and like all plants contain zero cholesterol. One serving of legumes (1/2 cup) will generally provide about 115 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat, and 8 grams of fiber. Along with its high nutritious value, there’s evidence that legumes play an important role in the prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and hyperlipidemia. Legumes also contain many phytonutrients such as polyphenols, phytosterols, isoflavones, lignans, saponins and alkaloids that have anticancer and antioxidant properties.
For people with diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels are extremely important. Chronic high blood sugar levels can lead to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, retinopathy, and neuropathy. New research shows that consuming legumes not only helps diabetics control their blood sugar levels better, but can decrease the risk of non-diabetics from developing diabetes. Legumes appear to improve insulin sensitivity even if diets are high in total carbohydrate. It has also been reported that legumes not only reduce blood glucose levels immediately after they’re eaten but also at a next meal later in the day.
One of the main concerns people have with eating legumes is the potential for flatulence. Flatulence can create embarrassing situations in public places. The reason behind the flatulence is due to the oligosaccharides (carbohydrates) found in legumes. Healthy bacteria in our gut eat these oligosaccharides and produce gas as a byproduct. Tthe amount of oligosaccharides in legumes can be reduced by soaking them overnight in water and discarding the water before cooking. Soaking legumes overnight has an additional benefit of reducing the cooking time.
Ways Legumes Can Be Eaten
- Beans and rice
- Added to a salad
- Eaten in a chili
- Used as a meat replacement in a wrap
- Made into a patty and eaten as a burger
By Jennifer Segal
Total Time: 30 Minutes
- 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
- 3 ears fresh cooked corn, kernels cut off the cob
- 2 red bell peppers, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots, from one medium shallot
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, best quality such as Colavita
- 1 teaspoon lime zest (be sure to zest limes before juicing them)
- 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
- 2 Hass avocados, chopped
Combine all ingredients except for avocados in a large bowl and mix well. Cover and chill for a few hours or overnight. Right before serving, add avocados and mix gently, being careful not to mash avocados. Garnish with a more chopped cilantro if desired. Serve at room temperature.
- Messina, V. (2014). Nutritional and health benefits of dried beans. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 100(Supplement 1), 437S-442S.
- Polak, R., Phillips, E. M., & Campbell, A. (2015). Legumes: Health benefits and culinary approaches to increase intake. Clinical Diabetes, 33(4), 198-205.
- Kouris-Blazos, A., & Belski, R. (2016). Health benefits of legumes and pulses with a focus on Australian sweet lupins. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition, 25(1), 1-17.