Health Approach
The Goodness of Legumes

The Goodness of Legumes

In every healthy diet plan, you will almost always find legumes listed as a food to eat. Throughout history, this has been a solid food base for many cultures around the world. This is because they are nutritious, inexpensive, shelf-stable and easy to use. Despite numerous tips for eating them, most people do not exactly know what they are or how to incorporate them into their meals. If this notion is true then you will find this article helpful.

Beans, peas and lentils are all part of the legume family. Sometimes they are also called pulses, which is just another word for edible seeds. Legumes are nutritious, low-fat and low-calorie foods. In total there are over 13,000 different varieties.

Legumes are categorized into two different categories, immature legumes and mature legumes. Immature legumes (also known as “fresh” legumes) are edible beans and peas and green beans that have not yet dried such as green beans, peas, edamame, and fresh lime beans. Mature legumes (also known as “dried” beans and peas) are harvested from the pod in their fully developed dried form. Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas are examples of mature legumes.

All the different types of legumes have two common properties: they are excellent sources of protein and they are high in fiber. In fact, after meat, poultry and fish, legumes provide more protein per serving portion than any other type of food. They also have the advantage of being cholesterol-free and containing virtually no saturated fat.

The fiber in legumes helps reduce “bad” cholesterol (LDL) by eliminating cholesterol compounds from the system and naturally helps promote regular bowel movements. This also provides protection against colon cancer by preventing cancer-causing toxins from settling in the colon.

The combination of fiber and protein makes legumes an excellent source of complex carbohydrates so they can serve as a healthier alternative to carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and potatoes. Like complex carbohydrates, they help stabilize blood sugar levels so you get a steady supply of energy throughout the day. Legumes also make you feel full for longer and thus help you slow down unhealthy snacking.

Although the nutritional benefits vary from one legume to another, they are generally low in fat, low in calories and an excellent source of vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals (iron, magnesium, zinc and potassium). They are also an excellent source of vitamin B17 (or laetrile), which is the controversial anticancer compound that is said to target sugar-starved cancer cells by giving them a dose of cyanide. Vitamin B17 tastes bitter and is generally lacking in our modern Western diets.

Many legumes also contain significant amounts of antioxidant compounds that help fight cancer-causing free radicals, but as with fruits and vegetables, more colorful legumes tend to contain more antioxidants. Small red beans are actually a better source of antioxidants than fresh blueberries.

Legumes are sometimes called “poor man’s meat” because they are a cheap source of quality protein. One type of legume itself does not make up a complete protein of all nine essential amino acids, but when a variety is consumed together, they provide high-quality plant-based protein without the cholesterol and saturated fats found in meat. So picking legumes over meat a couple of times a week promotes healthy cholesterol levels and helps protect against heart disease and cancer.

List of Legumes

Below is a list of popular legumes. Most are dried or canned, but some are unripe and can be eaten fresh. Almost all of them are available at your local grocery store. If you can’t find them there, try a specialty store or ethnic grocery store.

  • Adzuki beans
  • Black beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Cannellini beans
  • Cranberry beans
  • Fava beans
  • Garbanzo beans (Chick peas)
  • Green beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Mung beans
  • Peanuts
  • Pinto beans
  • Red beans
  • Snap peas
  • Snow peas
  • Soybeans
  • Split peas
  • White beans (Navy beans)

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