Loving Legumes!

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At NND we regularly encourage you to eat more legumes (also known as pulses).  With 2016 being the International Year of Pulses, we tell you why we love this great food group and give you plenty of ideas to get started with using them.

A nutritious package. Legumes (dried beans, peas and lentils) are low in fat and high in fibre, containing all three important sources of fibre (soluble, insoluble and resistance starch). They are a good source of plant protein, folate, B-group vitamins and minerals including iron, zinc, potassium and magnesium. They are also a rich source of antioxidants and have a low glycemic index (GI).  In their natural form they are low in sodium, although salt may be added to canned varieties.

Versatile. From soups and salads to Indian curries, Mexican chilli and Asian stir-fries, legumes have many different uses and can be added into many of you favourite dishes.

Economical. Compared to animal foods, legumes are a much cheaper form of protein, with additional health benefits. Even if you don’t want to go vego, replacing a portion of the meat in casseroles, stews or mince-dishes with legumes can help to cut food costs.

Filling. The combination of plant protein, fibre and low GI carbs in legumes make them a very satiating food. This may be one reason why eating legumes regularly is associated with having a lower body weight, and diets incorporating legumes have been found to help with weight loss.

Improve blood glucose and insulin levels – A review combining the findings of 11 studies found that eating up to 1/2 a cup (75g cooked) of legumes per day for at least four weeks significantly reduced fasting blood glucose and insulin levels in people with and without diabetes.

Reduce heart disease risk. Eating legumes regularly (1/2 to 2 cups daily) can reduce heart disease risk by improving cholesterol levels, lowering blood pressure and helping with weight management.  A large US study found that compared to those who ate them less than once per week, those who ate legumes four or more times per week had a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease and an 11% lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Reduce cancer risk. Two studies in women have found that bowel cancer risk is lower in those who eat more legumes and there is some evidence they may protect against some other forms of cancer.

Live longer! A large study published in 2004 found that legumes were the most important dietary predictor of survival in long-lived elderly people from a number of countries, including Australia.  The researchers found that for every 20g/day increase in intake of legumes your risk of dying reduced by 7-8%.

Purchasing and preparation

Legumes can be bought either dried or canned.  Canned legumes are ready to use, while dried legumes need a little more preparation – most need to be soaked before cooking.  The main reason most people don’t eat legumes is because they are not sure what to do with them.  Fortunately they are a really versatile food and can easily be incorporated into meals as we show you below.

Another reason some people avoid legumes is due to their unfortunate reputation for causing wind. The good news is that soaking, and then cooking them thoroughly in fresh water, or rinsing the canned varieties well helps to eliminate the problem.  You can also build up your tolerance by starting with small amounts and gradually incorporating them into your diet on a regular basis.

Want to get started?  Here are our top 6 picks and ways to use them:

Chickpeas. These have a firm texture and nutty taste and make great burgers or patties, or can be used to make your own hummus, by blending them with garlic, lemon juice and tahini. They also go well in salads and stir-fries.  Purchase them canned or dried.

Red Kidney Beans.  A staple in Mexican food, add them to tacos, nachos and burritos, either with mince or as a meat alternative.   They also go well in all types of mince dishes, including chilli con-carne, Shepherd’s pie or mixed into your traditional spag bol. Buy them canned or dried.

Lentils. These come in lots of different varieties including red, brown, green and puy lentils.  They make great curries and soups, and the brown lentils are a perfect mince replacement in meals like bolognaise and Shepherd’s pie.  Puy (also known as French green lentils) tend to hold their shape well and are great for salads.  Lentils are usually purchased in the dried form, but canned brown lentils are also readily available.

Cannellini beans. These soft white beans make a great mash, either on their own or mixed half with potato to lower the GI and increase fibre and protein in your usual mash.  They also make good dips and can even be pureed to make a healthy white sauce for pasta.  Whole, they go well in soups and salads.   Buy them canned or dried.

Edamame. Also known as green soybeans, these are a Japanese delicacy which make a great snack, boiled and eaten straight from the pod or roasted in the oven with a splash of tamari or soy sauce.  They also go well in stir-fries and can be purchased in the freezer in your supermarket or local Asian grocer.

Lima beans. Sometimes referred to as butter beans, these large, flat white bean have a firmer texture making them a great addition to salads but also can also made into soups and casseroles. They can be bought dried or canned (the canned variety are usually called butter beans) and can also be pureed or mashed and used similarly to cannellini beans.

Want some recipe ideas for using legumes?  Check out:

The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council

Sanitarium Health & Wellbeing

McKenzie’s Foods (you can even download your free Pulses Recipes E-Book)


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