According to MedlinePlus, the definition of a legume is a large, fleshy, colorful plant seed. Also known as beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes are cheap, easy to find, taste great, and pack a nutrition punch.
What they provide:
- plant protein
- fiber (about 1 cup = 15 grams of fiber, half of the recommended daily amount)
Beans also contain antioxidants, like many plant foods. They can work to protect your cells, slow aging, and fight off disease.
If consumed regularly, beans may help:
- improve blood pressure and heart rate
- lower blood sugar
- lower cholesterol
- reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes
Added benefits for those with diabetes
Because legumes are a good source of protein, they typically reside in the “protein” food group. However, legumes also contain carbohydrates (giving us energy), and while this may send a red flag up for those with diabetes, the carbohydrate in beans, combined with the fiber, means the “energy” released is a slow burn. In other words, it won’t make your blood sugar spike. It’s a slow and steady release of energy – the best kind for most of us. Additionally, with regular consumption, beans can help lower blood sugar.
Beans are low in calories and are high in fiber, which helps make you feel full.
What about gas?
Here are some tips taken directly from the Harvard Heart Letter to help you:
Soak your beans. Soaking beans can help remove some of the indigestible oligosaccharides. Soak beans for 12 to 24 hours in a few quarts of water, pour off the soaking water, rinse, add clean water, and cook.
Choose wisely. Some beans seem to create less gas than others. These include adzuki and mung beans, lentils, and black-eyed, pigeon, and split peas. Heavy-duty gas formers include lima, pinto, navy, and whole soy beans.
Start slow. Let your body get used to fiber and oligosaccharides by having a small serving once or twice a week. Then gradually increase your intake, either by taking larger servings or eating beans more frequently.
Put your teeth to work. The more thoroughly you chew beans, the more you expose them to natural oligosaccharide-digesting enzymes in your saliva.
Gas-busters to the rescue. An enzyme called alpha-galactosidase breaks down some gas-producing oligosaccharides. The original product, Beano, has since been joined by others with names like Bean Relief, Bean-zyme, and plain old alpha-galactosidase. Taking a tablet before eating beans can reduce gas production.
How to incorporate more
There are so many varieties of legumes that you can create numerous meals without every having to use the same one twice. But how can you get more into your diet? Here are some examples:
Breakfast – make a large batch and heat up a portion each morning – egg whites, beans, low-fat cheese, and salsa
Snacks – experiment by roasting beans and then keeping a ziplock bag with you for a crunch snack. Create your own hummus and use it as a dip for veggies
Lunch – add beans to just about any salad
Dinner – build a soup that caters to your favorite bean – freeze leftovers to reheat when in a pinch for time.
Mandy Seay is a registered and licensed dietitian. She works as a nutrition consultant in Austin, Texas specializing in diabetes, weight loss, lipid control and preventative nutrition. For more health articles and nutrition information, check out Mandy’s websiteNutritionistics.