Legumes usually grow in pods and are an affordable source of protein, fibre and vitamins that offer many health benefits. They include but not limited to nuts, lentils, peas, soy, chickpeas and beans. Legumes offer various health benefits according to Amanda Tumwebaze, a freelance nutritionist.
Beans contain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein and help build muscles. Protein is a vital nutrient that plays a key role in every bodily activity. Tumwebaze says, “Soybeans contain all the nine essential amino acids so these make an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. They are also lower in calories and saturated fat than some other protein sources, such as dairy products.”
Nutrient dense food
Legumes contain several vital nutrients, including folate which can help prevent a mother from becoming irritable as well as developing neurological defects in a foetus during pregnancy.
It is better to cook beans in their dried form because they contain more folate in their dry state. They also contain nutrients such as zinc, iron, magnesium and fibre. They are also rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant which fights the effects of free radicals that contribute to physical aging, cancer and inflammation. “Chickpeas for instance are high in protein, containing around 14 grammes per cup. They are also a rich source of many minerals such as calcium, iron, copper, zinc, and manganese. They also contain vitamin K for blood clotting as well as vitamin A, and folate,” she says.
Beans may help stabilise blood glucose levels or even prevent diabetes. Soybeans also support the healthy functioning of pancreatic cells. The pancreas produces insulin, which regulates blood sugar. Beans are high in fibre, which can help lower blood glucose.
“Legumes are rich in minerals and fibre without the saturated fat found in some animal proteins. Incorporating legumes such as beans into your diet, therefore, improves your heart health and may help improve your blood cholesterol, a leading cause of heart disease,” she says.
Most legumes, especially black beans, enhance gut health by improving intestinal barrier function, and increasing the number of healthy bacteria. They also add bulk to stool thereby enhancing increased bowel movements. This may help prevent gut-associated diseases. The high fibre content in peas improves bowel health and peristalsis.
The fibre and healthy starches in beans can help prevent food cravings. Adding beans to your diet may help keep you feeling full longer, thereby helping you in your weight loss attempts.
Also, legumes such as beans and peas are great plant-based sources of fibre and protein. These will often make you feel satisfied to reduce hunger-driven sugar cravings.
If you have not been eating something such as beans, it might be hard knowing where to start. Educate yourself on the best ways to cook and maintain flavour or consult an expert for all the information you need.
It is important to note that some people are allergic to beans or members of the legume family. Peanuts, for instance, are a legume and a common allergen.
Despite the abundant nutrients in green peas, they contain anti-nutrients which can cause bloating in some people and may interfere with the absorption of minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc and magnesium.
“It is unsafe to eat beans so often because they contain proteins called lectins that can lead to gas and intestinal discomfort. These are not dangerous but can be unpleasant and even painful for some people,” Tumwebaze warns.
A person can reduce the risk of gas and other intestinal problems by hot-soaking beans and discarding the water used for soaking, or sprouting, boiling, or pressure-cooking them. Digestive enzymes can also be taken to improve digestion of beans.