Many of us include legumes in our daily diets without fully appreciating the nutritional power in these little pods. Find out why I love them and why you should include more of them in your dishes.
WHAT ARE LEGUMES
A legume is classified as a fruit, seed, or pod from the legume family of plants. Some examples are chickpeas, lentils, peas, beans (navy, black, and kidney beans), and dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. They can often be referred to as "pulses."
Also read | The unsung recipes with ‘urad dal’
WHAT ARE THEIR BENEFITS
Legumes seem to tick every box when it comes to being heart-healthy, diabetes-friendly, immune-boosting, bone strengthening, and even helping us age gracefully. According to an article titled Legume Proteins and Peptides as Compounds in Nutraceuticals: A Structural Basis for Dietary Health Effects, regular consumption of legumes has shown to "reduce the risk of several cancers, such as colon, prostate, gastric and pancreatic." And the American Diabetes Association tells us that legumes are an integral part of the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) as legumes are registered low (between 10-40) on the GI scale. This means that legumes can help fill you up while maintaining your blood glucose levels. As a staple inclusion of a Mediterranean-style diet, legumes are low-fat and virtually free of cholesterol, making them the perfect addition to a heart-friendly diet.
Your gastrointestinal system also loves legumes which can improve your gut motility and microbiome. Legumes are often feared because although they are action-packed with amazing nutrients, they contain a relatively higher amount of carbohydrates that would make someone doing a keto diet's eyes water. However, this isn't a bad thing, as a lot of the carbohydrates contained in legumes are fiber, which our bodies desperately need to help keep things moving along.
The goodness doesn't stop there. They are rich in the B-group vitamins (folate, iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium), and they are the perfect addition to your diet if you are gluten intolerant, as they are naturally gluten-free.
HIGH IN PROTEIN
I notice with my vegan and vegetarian clients that their natural preference to "bulk" up their diet to feel fuller is to include lots of fiber via grains (rather than high-fiber vegetables). Grains tend to be lower in essential amino acids; however, legumes are not! Legumes are rich in amino acids, particularly lysine, which grains don't contain.
To put this into context – legumes are packed with protein and fiber compared to rice. One cup of cooked lentils has about 230 calories, 17.9g of protein, 39.9g of carbs, 15.6g of fiber, and 0.8g of fat, while chickpeas have 269 calories, 14.5g of protein, 45g of carbohydrates, 12.5g of fiber, and 4.3g of fat.
On the other hand, 1 cup of cooked rice has 4.5g of protein and 45.8g of carbohydrates, and 3.5g of those are fiber. (Source: Food Encyclopaedia, Precision Nutrition).
Of course, rice and daal are the perfect dinner companions, so you can slightly increase your lentil portion while decreasing your rice to achieve a better balance.
WHAT ARE THE DOWNSIDES
With every good thing, there is sometimes a downside, and legumes are no exception, especially if you have an uncle that can clear a room after a legume-heavy meal. Legumes, by nature, can lead to the formation of intestinal gas. While this is entirely normal, it can be an uncomfortable (and slightly embarrassing) consequence of eating legumes. Other people, who may not suffer from gas exclusively, may have an intolerance to legumes stemming from their lectin component. A lectin intolerance may lead to painful stomach aches or nausea after eating them. However, according to an article titled All About Lectins published by Precision Nutrition, if someone has Crohn's disease or another gastrointestinal inflammatory condition, lectins can sneak past your gut barrier and into the bloodstream. A weak security system in your gut lining can mean unwanted particles and toxins can wreak havoc on your body and health. Adopting a lectin-free diet may be helpful for those suffering from a painful condition such as this.
Luckily, our ancestors must have had the same issues because they have discovered that using the correct preparation before cooking may make all the difference. Soaking, cooking, and sprouting all help dramatically reduce the number of lectins in our legumes.
Soaking legumes before cooking can deactivate the gas-producing indigestible carbohydrates. A key feature of soaking legumes is changing the water several times and not using the same water for cooking the beans.
According to the Mayo Clinic, in their article Beans and Legumes: Cooking Tips, another alternative to minimizing legumes' seismic gas effects is to try canned beans – the canning process can also deactivate the gassiness. However, please rinse your canned beans a few times underwater; this can minimize the sodium found in canned beans by up to 41%, according to the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council.
People may also turn to digestive aid solutions, such as Beano, which works inside your body to deactivate your internal nuclear reactor.
Even your lifestyle habits can improve how your body responds to legumes. By consuming lots of water and getting plenty of activity, your digestive system will be better primed to deal with the effects of the increased dietary fiber.
If you're not a legume-believer and consumer at the moment, you may want to consider finding a way to include at least 1 cup of cooked legumes in your diet each day. This is particularly important if you're a vegan or vegetarian who could benefit from the high protein and amino acid content.
It's very tempting to assume that because food items such as hummus and peanut butter are healthy because they are made of chickpeas and peanuts, it's the dose that makes the poison. Food items such as these are made with a great deal of processing and can contain higher levels of sodium, sugar, and oil – so they should be eaten in smaller quantities.
Also read | Four Punjabi chefs show how to make dal