Loving legumes

Good for your health & the environment

Join the cultures around the world that believe eating legumes, specifically black-eyed peas and lentils on New Year’s Day, will bring prosperity and good fortune. At Go Grains Health & Nutrition we know that enjoying legumes on any day of the year will bring more than prosperity and good fortune – good health too! Not only are legumes cheap (tick for prosperity), they are versatile, a great source of fibre, contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates for energy and a great non-meat protein alternative. People who eat legumes have a decreased risk of many diseases such as Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), Hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) and Cancer.

Sometimes known as pulses, legumes are the dried edible seeds of legume plants such as lentils, beans and peas. The main legumes available in Australia include: chickpeas, soy beans, navy beans (more commonly known as baked beans), brown lentils, red lentils, cannellini beans, lima beans (butter beans), broad beans (fava beans), red kidney beans, mung beans, peanuts (yes, peanuts are technically a legume), split peas, black-eyed peas, adzuki beans and pinto beans.

Legumes are a very important contributor to a healthy diet, yet so many people are missing out. Research conducted by Go Grains Health & Nutrition in 2009 found that Australians (n=1700) on average are eating only 1/3 of a serve of legumes (1 serve = 1/2 cup cooked, 75g) a day. Painting an even bleaker picture, research from the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found only 4.9-7.3% of children aged 2-16 years ate legumes the day before they were interviewed for the study.

Legumes are inexpensive, easy to prepare and very nutritious – rich in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, particularly B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, and they are also low in fat! You might already be eating legumes without realising it – baked beans, dahl, hummus and falafels are all made with legumes.

One of the most common reasons cited for not eating more legumes is lack of knowledge about how to cook and prepare them. To improve their nutritional value, digestibility and reduce effects of flatulence you should always soak raw, dry legumes before consumption.

  • Quick soak – add 3 cups of water to each cup of legumes in a saucepan. Bring to boil and remove from heat. Cover and leave for 1-2 hours. Rinse before cooking.
  • Slow soak – soak legumes covered with plenty of water in a cool place for 4-8 hours (overnight is best), then drain and rinse before cooking.
  • Cooking – place soaked legumes into a saucepan and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil and cook for 1 1/2 – 2 hrs until tender. Added salt will prolong the cooking time.

If this is all too hard, then pre-cooked (canned) legumes are very convenient. You could drain and rinse them before cooking to remove excess sodium from the water.

Including legumes in your diet can lead to positive changes, especially in terms of dietary fibre which can help you to feel fuller for longer. Regular legume consumption can help reduce the risk of diseases such as CHD, cancer and T2DM by decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides, high antioxidant content and anti inflammatory compounds along with the positive effects of fibre and blood glucose control. If you are not used to eating legumes, introduce small amounts into your meals initially to give your digestive system time to adjust to the higher fibre content (resulting in less production of gas).

Legumes are good for you and the environment. Legume crops have a positive impact on the environment. Legume roots produce their own nitrogen which is taken from the air and converted into a form the plant can use. When the legume crop is harvested, excess organic nitrogen (a great fertiliser) is left behind and can be used by other plants, making legumes great rotation crops.

For recipes containing the goodness of legumes visit the recipe section of the GLNC website.

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