Healthy Eating 101: Legumes

Learn About Legumes

What are legumes?

Beans: The most common varieties of legumes are beans. These include adzuki beans, black beans, soybeans, Anasazi beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans and lima beans.

Nuts: Some legumes are inappropriately called “nuts.” The most common example is the peanut, with other examples including soy nuts and carob nuts.

Peas: A number of legumes are labeled as peas, including green peas, snow peas, snap peas, split peas and black-eyed peas.

Lentils: Legumes that are classified as nuts, beans and peas are approximately spherical in shape. With their flat, round shape, lentils differ from this general pattern. Whether yellow, orange, green, brown or black, the nutritional profile of lentils does not change with their color.

Are they healthy?

As an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, protein and fiber, legumes are a highly satiating food. This means that for a relatively low amount of calories legumes make you feel fuller longer and, therefore, help prevent the hunger that can lead to unhealthy snacking and unwanted pounds. For about 115 calories, a 1/2 cup serving of cooked lentils provides about 9 grams of protein, 20 grams of mostly complex carbs, and less than half a gram of fat. It also supplies nearly 8 grams of fiber, or 31% of the recommended daily value. Most legumes contain significant amounts of insoluble and soluble fiber. Eating legumes several times a week promotes bowel regularity and helps keep blood sugar levels in check.

Legumes are sometimes called “poor people’s meat” because they’re an inexpensive source of quality plant protein. They truly are an ideal meat substitute, however, because the vitamin and mineral profiles of legumes and meat are comparable. Whereas meat is also a source of cholesterol and saturated fat, however, legumes are a cholesterol- free food that contains virtually no saturated fat. For just over 110 calories, a 1/2 cup serving of cooked black beans delivers 32 percent, 15 percent and 14 percent of the daily values for folate, magnesium and thiamine, respectively, and about 10 percent each of the daily values for iron and potassium. Opting for legumes instead of meat two or three times a week promotes healthy cholesterol levels and helps protect against heart disease.

 

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