Legumes and the edible pulses and beans inside of them are nutrient powerhouses. Few foods offer the vast array of nutrients and are (bonus!) quite as versatile in the kitchen. The terms legume, bean and pulse are often used interchangeably, and though they each have their botanical definition, in nutrition we can hone in on:
Dried beans (black beans, red kidney, cannellini, navy, etc.)
Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans)
Lentils (red, green, black, etc.)
Peas & Lima Beans
Legumes are a good source of plant-based protein, fiber, and essential nutrients such as antioxidants, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, zinc and calcium. Their health benefits are abundant. Research has proven those that include legumes in the diet have lower risk of heart disease and overall mortality, healthier cholesterol, blood pressure and weight and even improved gut health. Even more impressive, studies have shown that consuming legumes not only benefits the blood sugar response at that meal, but also subsequent meals up to four hours later!
Legumes are nutrient dense, beneficial and delicious. From protein and phytochemicals, to fiber and calcium, you can't go wrong adding legumes to the diet. Aim for 1 - 3 cups of legumes each week, balancing legumes with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and quality proteins.
The benefits of plant-based proteins are clear: lower disease risk and improved health and well-being. Legumes offer protein and provide health benefits lacking in animal sources. They're also void of the saturated fat and dietary cholesterol found in many animal proteins. One ounce of animal protein provides approximately 7 grams of protein which is equivalent to 1/2 cup serving of most legumes.
Source Protein in 1/2 cup serving
Soybeans/Edamame 14 grams
Lentils 9 grams
Garbanzo beans/Chickpeas 7 grams
Black, Pinto, Navy Beans (general) 6-8 grams
Make it Work in the Kitchen
Swap beef and chicken for delicious meatless meals at least two times each week to improve health without sacrificing protein needs. Try (like the English) beans on whole wheat toast, or another famous combination, red beans and rice.
You can also explore bean burgers, adding lentils to soups or salads, tossing beans with sautéed veggies or mix them into wilted greens and garlic. Try your hand at homemade hummus or bean dip to spread on sandwiches or enjoy as a dip with whole-grain crackers and fresh vegetables. You can also get creative with chickpeas by roasting them in the oven with your favorite spice mix.
Work legumes into your meal plan from dried, jarred or canned, being sure to check the nutrition facts label for added sodium. If a canned product has added sodium, give the beans a rinse before using them to wash away some of the salt.
Moderation is essential for successful dietary changes. Make small shifts towards plant-based meals; complement a filet of salmon with a side of lentils. Add ½ cup of beans or hummus in addition to a variety of colorful veggies to your steak salad.
The soluble fiber in legumes is proven to reduce disease risks. One study found for every eight grams of fiber eaten daily, total death and incidence of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer decreased by five to 27 percent.
Legumes are sustainable, eco-friendly crops because they have a low carbon footprint, support soil health, and use less water than animal protein. By adding legumes to your diet you are supporting a healthy and diverse farm and food system.
Have Some Cakes, Too
Lentils make a great base for a plant-based burger. Try your hand at this flavorful main dish! Serve lentil cakes atop a leafy salad or tucked into a whole wheat pita with curried yogurt sauce. They pair perfectly with your favorite grain bowl, too. The possibilities are endless, and they freeze well for a perfect weeknight dish.
Fresh & Clean Dried Beans
Even dried beans can get old. Stash legumes in the pantry no longer than two years.
Before using dried beans, spread them into a single layer and pick out any debris, twigs, stones or broken beans. Then give them a good rinse.
Creamy Coconut Lentil Curry
1 TBSP coconut oil
1 TBSP each: cumin seeds, coriander seeds
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
2 TBSP ginger, chopped
1 TBSP turmeric
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 c dried brown lentils
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, optional
3 cup of water
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
A few handfuls of cherry tomatoes
1 cup chopped cilantro
Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the cumin and coriander seeds and toast until they start to brown, about 45 seconds.
Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, and salt and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add lentils, cayenne pepper, and water and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, simmer for 35-40 minutes, until lentils are soft. Stir a couple times and if the curry starts to look dry, add an extra 1/2 cup of water.
Once the lentils are cooked through and the curry is thick, add the coconut milk and cherry tomatoes and bring the pot back to a simmer for a couple minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.
Did You Know?
Oh! The Iron!
One cup of lentils provides anywhere from 2 to 10 mg of iron. Iron is a mineral needed for growth and development, as well as for red blood cell creation. It's also a crucial player in some gastrointestinal processes, immune function and body temperature regulation.
Ditch Diabetes Risk
Studies have proven those with a higher intake of legumes were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate small amounts or no legumes. Of all types studies, lentils were most closely linked with type 2 diabetes risk reduction.