What are Legumes?
If you’ve ever had lentils, chickpeas, soybeans or even peanuts, you might have wondered if they’re considered vegetables. After all, they look and taste so different from regular leafy vegetables, yet are grown from the ground and still packed with nutrients that we need.
Well, the short answer is yes. However, more specifically, they belong to a group known as legumes. These include all plants that produce a pod containing seeds, including all beans, peas, lentils, and nuts.
Generally, all legumes tend to have high levels of both protein and fiber. They’re regarded as the best plant-based protein sources which are not only healthy but also cheap to grow and harvest.
However, different kinds of legumes actually have slightly different nutritional profiles that bring about different benefits to the human body. Here are three types of them you should include in your diet:
These flat and round seeds first started gaining popularity in Asia before becoming a global phenomenon. They are not expensive, easy to grow and cook, making them a staple in developing countries. Even in developed countries, they’re popular for being a plant-based alternative to meat as they have lots of iron and protein not commonly found in such large quantities in plants.
On top of the basic nutritional profile, lentils are also known for being rich in polyphenols, which are phytochemicals that are helpful to our health. It’s beneficial as it has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects that strengthen our immunity and relieve pain.
Here are the different types of lentils you can find:
- Quick Lentils: This is a type of lentil that was first produced in the U.S., and as the name suggests, are known for being easy to cook. They take much less time compared to other lentils to cook and are often used in recipes at home. You’ll find them in all sorts of dishes from Lentil Curry to Vegetarian Shepherd Pies.
- Castilian Lentils: Coming mainly from Spain, this type of lentil is also known as the yellow lentils for its yellowish-green color. They are also noticeably larger and more sturdy than other types of lentils, with a pleasant nutty and sweet flavor. As such, they are a hot favorite in salads and stews.
- Brown Lentils: Perhaps the most commonly found lentils, these are the lentils you’ll find in the supermarket next door. They are usually brown but can come in dark black as well. Flavor-wise, they are slightly milder with an earthy aftertaste. However, in comparison to quick lentils, they do take longer to cook, roughly about 30 minutes or so.
Beans are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth, with lots of protein, zinc, copper, and vitamins. At the same time, they’re low in calories, meaning that you’ll get all the nutritional goodness without overloading on the calories. They also contain high levels of protein and fiber that make people feel fuller for longer. As such, beans have become a crucial part of diets aimed at weight loss.
That said, some beans do contain toxins that can be harmful without the right preparation. You can get rid of the toxins by soaking, sprouting or simply cooking your beans thoroughly. Some beans are also more toxic than others:
- Kidney Beans: A familiar sight in soups, salads, and stews all around the world, red kidney beans do have high nutrition, but they also contain toxins in its raw form. This is harmful to the human body and can cause vomiting, nausea and abdominal pains. Of course, when cooked well, they make for a nutritional delight and is enjoyed by millions around the world.
- Pinto beans: This form of beans is most popular in the U.S. and in Mexico, and are used in many Mexican recipes for their unique texture and buttery flavor. They can be eaten in cooked or dried form after a good soaking.
- Soybeans: This can be eaten in bean form, but soybeans are generally more popular for its derivatives, including soy milk, soybean oil, soy sauce, and even soy flour. You’ll find them more popular in Asia, though people around the world do use them in snacks and other food dishes.
Some people love them, some people hate them — but whatever your preference, it’s hard to deny the excellent nutritional quality of this legume. They’re packed with lots of vitamins and minerals, even a significant level of fiber. As is typical of the legume family, they are also high in protein with about 4g for a 170g serving. To put that into perspective, that’s four times the amount present in carrots! All this nutritional goodness, for only about 60 calories per serving.
Peas are also known for helping to control blood sugar as they have a low glycemic index, reducing the risk of conditions like heart issues and diabetes. In the fight against heart disease, peas also help by containing minerals such as potassium and magnesium, on top of antioxidants like flavonols.
You can find peas easily in fresh, frozen, and canned form in your local grocery store, and you might even be surprised to see different kinds of peas for sale. Here are some you might come across:
- English Peas: These are round and smooth peas that sit inside a hard pod. The pods are edible, but most people prefer to remove them. A common sight in most places, they are popular in recipes that require them to be boiled or steamed to bring out the sweet, grassy flavor.
- Southern Peas: These tiny peas are identifiable by their black-colored ends, giving them the name cowpeas or even black-eyed peas. They grow well in hot weather, originating from Africa before making waves globally for its distinct smoky flavor.
- Snow Peas and Sugar Snap Peas: These two varieties of peas are quite similar, in that they both have edible pods that people love. In fact, some will eat the pods and discard the peas. The Snow Pea is known for its sweetness, while the latter variety is known for being an interesting blend of the English Pea and Snow Pea albeit with a slightly thicker pod.
These three legumes are some of the most nutritional and healthy varieties that you can find around the world. Add them to your diet today to reap these nutritional benefits and you’ll see that they can be tasty and enjoyable too!