Beans, peas and lentils or legumes in the nutrition world, have been a food staple in some parts of the world dating back 10,000+ years and they continue to be a regular component of diets to this day in China, India, the Middle East and the Americas. Although they are an inexpensive source many essential nutrients, they are often lacking in most American diets, noting that less than 8% consume legumes on any given day. Research has shown that consuming only ½ cup of cooked dry beans per day provides higher intakes of protein, fiber, folate, iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium and lower intakes of saturated and total fat. For those requiring a low sodium diet, dry legumes are the best option. Should the prep time be a deterrent, the sodium found in canned beans can be reduced by 40% after thoroughly rinsing in water. Discarding soak/cook water and rinsing will also reduce some of the GI discomfort sometimes noted with these nutrition gems.
In the studies which have been conducted, it appears to be a combination of nutrients that is the key to the health benefits that have been attributed to legumes. Due to their rich source of phytonutrients, the consumption of beans has been associated with reduced risk of colon, breast and prostate cancers and with decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II Diabetes, and obesity. Some legumes actually contain more antioxidant activity than some wines, fruits and vegetables. The soluble fiber and resistant starches have been reported as appetite suppressors and praised for their ability to manage blood sugar elevations. The soluble fiber also binds with bile acids in the gut, requiring the liver to take cholesterol out of the blood to make more, thus lowering your LDL Cholesterol. Consuming beans with whole grains offers individuals the capability to use different plant proteins to get all of the nine essential amino acids thus providing a great protein substitute for vegetarians or meatless meals.
Putting the abundance of health benefits aside, beans, peas and lentils just taste good. For bean lovers, the very popular hummus with its versatility and numerous flavor choices has been creeping up the snack favorites charts. Bean burritos seem to be the go-to choice for many vegetarians looking for take-out. For those not too fond of this “magical fruit”, they can be lost or hidden in a big pot of soup with lots of veggies. Generally ½ cup is a serving size and its important to increase intake gradually. Remember the more you eat, the greater the health benefit!