When it comes to foods with impressive nutrition qualities, legumes are high on the list. Belonging to the extensive Fabaceae family, all legumes produce seed bearing pods and these seeds can be dried (then often referred to as pulses). Think white beans, chickpeas, borlotti beans, adzuki beans black beans and lentils.
So, what makes them so special?
Legumes nutritional profile is unique. They are packed with dietary fibre (both soluble and insoluble), are a valuable source of plant protein and rich in several nutrients including B vitamins, zinc, iron, magnesium and potassium to name a few. It is this impressive nutrition profile that rewards them places in both the vegetable and protein rich food groups, with half a cup of cooked legumes considered a serve of veg, and one cup a serve of protein. Their winning high fibre and protein combo also helps provide increased satiety, that is a feeling of fullness, which is why legumes are known to assist weight management. Likewise, legumes are considered low GI, releasing glucose slowly into the bloodstream and promoting sustained energy levels throughout the day. Legumes are also an excellent and cost- effective source of plant protein, especially for vegetarians and vegans, containing up to 30% protein.
How do you prepare them?
Legumes can be purchased dried or canned. Dried legumes need to be soaked overnight (lentils are the exception to this rule) and then rinsed and cooked (in boiling water) the following day. When cooking dried it is best to make a big batch and freeze the extras with a little of the cooking liquid for later (clip lock bags are perfect for this). Canned are convenient and an invaluable pantry staple. They simply need to be rinsed thoroughly and are then ready to add to salads, soups, stews etc. Nutritionally speaking there is negligible difference between dried and canned, just make sure you choose those with no or little added salt when using canned.
Legume boosting tips.
- Swap half the meat in curries, Bolognese and braises with a can of legumes.
- Try roasted chickpeas as a delicious and high protein snack
- Switch mayo on sandwiches with hummus and try hummus as a snack with veggie sticks
- Add a handful of green lentils to your rice or quinoa while cooking for a protein and fibre boost.
Note: Some people can experience digestive discomfort after eating legumes (such as wind and bloating). Therefore, try adding small amounts slowly so your body can adapt. Canned lentils (up to ½ cup) chickpeas (¼ cup) are generally well tolerated even in those with irritable bowel syndrome.