There are so many reasons to praise legumes. They are hearty, versatile, affordable and a rich source of protein in plant-forward meals. Warning: you’re about to get excited about beans, peas and lentils.
A HISTORY OF HEALTH BENEFITS
Legumes are edible seeds or pods, such as black beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, black-eyed peas and lentils. They have been a staple food in many cultures dating back to 9000 B.C. and were a common food in ancient Rome and Greece. In fact, in ancient Rome a few prominent families derived their names from beans and peas; for example Cicero is from the Latin word for chickpea.
The long history of eating beans is for good reason - they are linked with a variety of health benefits, especially when used in place of meat as a protein source. They are a rich source of antioxidants, iron, folate, fiber and potassium and contain essential omega-3 fatty acids as well as many trace minerals.
Legumes have the power to:
Decrease the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure
Aid in weight loss
Feed healthy gut bacteria
Decrease cancer risk
To get the most benefit from beans, aim to eat at least one serving daily. A serving consists of ½ cup cooked beans or about 2 tablespoons of hummus or other bean-based dips and spreads.
MANY WAYS TO LOVE LEGUMES
Due to the high fiber, complex-carbohydrate and protein content, legumes are one of the most filling foods you can eat per calorie. Dried beans are the most affordable, while canned and frozen beans are the most convenient. All are equally as healthful as long as canned varieties do not contain added salt.
A Staple: With so many health benefits, legumes are a great centerpiece, so replace meat in a favorite dish with hearty and flavorful legumes. Our lentil taco recipe in the Better app is one of our faves.
Protein-Rich Base & Thickener: Add canned white beans (drained and rinsed) to your morning smoothie or mash them with fresh tomatoes to create a thick and creamy pasta sauce.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND GAS
Beans have been dubbed ‘the musical fruit’ and a few well known rhymes have been penned in honor of their gas producing properties. The gas is caused by a type of fiber, called oligosaccharides, that concentrates on the surface of beans. Humans don’t have the specific enzyme needed to break this down, and as a result, it passes through our intestine and becomes food for our healthy gut bacteria. These bacteria eat the oligosaccharides and release carbon dioxide and other gases as they digest it.
Feeding our gut bacteria with this fiber is a good thing, but unfortunately this uncomfortable side effect leads many people to avoid beans altogether. The good news is, there are many strategies to eat beans daily without unpleasant side-effects.
TIPS FOR REDUCING GAS
Some legumes are more gas-forming than others (eg: chickpeas = high, lentils and yellow split peas = low). Start with the ones that work best for you.
Start with regular small doses and increase your intake over time. Your gut will adapt after a few weeks once you start eating legumes daily.
Rinse canned legumes in warm water until the bubbles disappear and discard any extra water before adding the beans to your food.
Take a walk after meals. Activity helps the gut clear excess gas.
Soak and cook dried beans thoroughly. Poorly soaked and cooked beans are more gas forming. Be sure to discard the soaking water.
If your gut is very sensitive, stick with blended forms of legumes, like soups, dips and smoothies.
If all else fails, use the over-the-counter product Beano. It has the enzyme which digests the fibers that cause gas.
Take a minute to think about the meals you eat where legumes can be easily added. Or, swap out meat for beans, like a bean-based chili.
Though it’s ideal to consume legumes daily, start by identifying three opportunities to add a serving of legumes during the week and gradually build up from there.
Plan the three servings, make a grocery list, pick up your legumes and get cooking.