Legumes have gotten some pretty good press lately. Often highlighted as a superfood, they are recommended for helping people lose weight and for helping the planet not be so darn hot (reduced greenhouse gases as opposed to eating meat). It’s hard to argue against adding legumes to your diet as they are often called sustainable, affordable, and nutrient dense.
Let’s review some of the reasons why legumes are a recommended part of your weekly meal plan:
Lower Diabetes Risk
At risk of type II diabetes? Well, consider this: A study of over 3000 adults found that giving up just a ½ serving a day of egg, bread, rice or baked potato and replacing it with legumes reduced the incidence of type II diabetes. In this case, the most helpful legume was lentils, a food that can form the basis of some pretty delicious soups and salads.
Lower Blood Pressure
It’s not only blood sugar that can benefit from legumes. They are also recognized as heart friendly foods that can contribute to reducing blood pressure.
Given how important weight management is for emotional and physical health, it’s nice to see that legumes can contribute! Studies tell us that by adding legumes to your diet, it is possible to lose weight even if you don’t reduce your overall caloric intake. In other words, a calorie isn’t a calorie isn’t a calorie. And legume calories seem to be “lighter” than average. Yep, that’s right. Legumes and weight loss can go hand in hand!
And let’s not forget the nutrient content of legumes. These beauties can offer fiber, protein, phytonutrients (check out the pigment in black beans- always a good thing), and vitamins and minerals galore. Some of the top nutrients offered by legumes include:
- B vitamins
So, given all the reasons for eating legumes (from your wallet, to your waistline, to the weather), why is it that so few American make legumes a regular part of their diet? Some of the possible culprits are the time required to prepare legume based dishes, being unfamiliar with cooking plant based meals and taste preferences. But these barriers are surmountable if you’re really invested in adding a nutritional powerhouse, like legumes, to your diet.
Finding the time: Make soaking and cooking a pot of beans a regular part of your routine. How about every Saturday night you pour the legumes into a bowl with water and let them sit? The next day, boil them until soft and now you have a supply that you can use up during the week. Throw a handful into your pot of rice or make a dip by blending them with garlic and some lemon juice. Nothing fancy required. If cooking beans it outside of the possible, feel free to use a couple of cans – although I suggest you give them a good rinse to reduce the salt content.
Plant based meals: Legumes don’t only play nice with other plants, they can also be added to meat based diets. Throw an extra can into your chili, mash some up and add them to your burger mix – presto beef and bean burgers, or sauté some lentils with onions and shredded carrot, and you’ve got a great dish to serve alongside your baked chicken.
Alternative Pastas: Legumes have been popping up lately in the pasta aisle! Several companies are now offering pastas made from chickpeas, red or green lentils, edamame, and black beans. So it’s as simple as subbing out your pasta for a legume pasta. They cook up the same, are incredibly versatile and can dramatically increase the protein, fiber, and nutrient content of your pasta meal!
Taste: Beans soak up the atmosphere so to speak. So, if taste is the problem, go the sauce route. Add them to spaghetti sauce and they’ll blend right in. Or substitute pureed beans in for some of the butter/oil needed by your chocolate chip cookie recipe. Now you’ve got beans tasting like a sweet treat!
Practice makes better. By committing to using legumes in your meals consistently, over time you’ll come up with bigger and better ways to include them in your life. Once you reach this point, not only will you be reaping the cardiovascular and weight related benefits of eating legumes, but you’ll also have developed an appreciation for how tasty they can be. And you can be a role model for all the other people in your life, children included, that can benefit from a re-vamp of their typical diet.
There’s no time like the present. So, chose a day over the next week and make it a “legumes are part of my life” day. The sooner you start eating them, the sooner legumes can start working their magic for your heart, your weight and your overall health.