Legumes, are fruits or seeds of the plant family Fabaceae. The seeds are also known as pulses. They include lentils, beans, chickpeas, beans, soybeans and peas. Legume consumption has been associated with a multitude of health benefits, and is a food category that many of us may benefit from including more of in our diets.
Legumes can be a great source of both fibre and plant protein in the diet. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends getting your protein from plants where possible. The “protein package” is important, referring to the other nutrients that the protein is packaged with based on the food source. For example, some animal sources of protein may be packaged with saturated fat and/or sodium, whereas the protein package from lentils includes fibre and antioxidants.
Dan Beuttner, an explorer, and journalist researched places in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. These regions were dubbed “Blue Zones” and Beuttner published a famous article on these regions in National Geographic. He also wrote a book on the subject. One of the common traits across all of the 5 Blue Zones studied, along with a diet based on predominantly plant-foods, was legumes being a central part of the diet. As stated on the Blue Zones website, beans are the “cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world”, and people in the Blue Zones eat “at least four times as many beans as Americans on average”.
Legumes and Fibre
As well as beans being a great source of protein, slow releasing complex carbohydrates (beans have a very low Glycemic Index), a valuable source of micronutrients and antioxidants, and being generally low in fat, the fibre in beans is also fermented as fuel by the beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut. When such bacteria digest the fibre that we consume, they produce short chain fatty acids such as butyrate and propionate. These have been associated with multiple health benefits. These are used by our large intestine as fuel, and the short chain fatty acid propionate may also have a role in appetite suppression. Propionate has been shown to have a role in slowing down gastric emptying and blunting the blood sugar effect of the following meal. So, if you have beans for lunch, this can reduce the blood sugar effect of the dinner you eat four hours later.
Due to the previous factors discussed, beans and lentils are excellent food sources to include in a calorie controlled and satisfying healthy eating plan. There are the other health benefits. Research also suggests that beans can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
What to Eat?
The culinary possibilities to increase your legume consumption are endless with so many delicious choices such as bean and lentil chili, bean burritos, bean soups, lentil soups, bean salads, lentil salads, hummus, dahl, chickpea curry and bean burgers to name but a few.
There are countless recipes online to try. Below are some recipes from my site to help get you started.
The take away message is simple. Many of us can stand to benefit by finding ways to include more legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas etc) in our diet to improve both the nutrient quality of our diet and our overall health.