If there’s any group of healthy foods that have snuck under the radar it’s probably Legumes. Legumes come from plants in the Fabaceae family. The major groups of legumes in our diet are Beans, Lentils and Peas.
This section will focus mainly on beans because they can do so much good for our bodies and these some of the benefits have been overlooked for years. For example, Beans have huge amounts of fiber per serving. Some beans even have all your daily fiber needs in just 1 serving. Most Americans do not get anywhere close to the daily recommended fiber intake of 25-35 grams for adults and about 18 grams per day for toddlers and children. Eating the right amounts of fiber per day can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, boost your immune system, and reduce your risk for most, if not all, gastrointestinal cancers.
1 Serving = ¼ cup of uncooked beans or ½ cup of cooked beans
Beans have both soluble and insoluble fiber in them. Insoluble fiber is fiber that remains undigested and it helps clean out our digestive tracts. Insoluble fiber becomes a gel like substance when it mixes with water. The gel lengthens the time it takes for the stomach to empty. That’s one major reason why beans make us feel so full. The slower release time means your body absorb sugars from complex carbohydrates slowly, which can help you avoid blood sugar spikes. It keeps your LDL cholesterol levels lower and reduces your risk for heart disease. The extra bulk keeps food moving through your system and removes toxins as well as possible cancer cells in the colon, reducing your risk for colon cancer. Studies are finding that eating beans, peas or lentils at least twice per week can lower your risk of colon cancer by up to 50%. A compilation of studies are also showing that the higher your fiber intake the lower your risk for breast cancer.
The protein content of beans is another benefit that is highly underrated. Beans can contain as much as 14-15 grams of protein per serving, which is great for building lean muscle when you exercise. They make an excellent substitute for red meat especially if you are vegan or vegetarian.
The starches in beans are unique because we can’t digest some of them. This is good news if you are trying to lose weight because the actual calories we get from eating beans are about one third less than what’s stated on the packaging.
Beans can also make an excellent (and healthier) thickener for soups than flour. They contain more nutrients and are better for your body than wheat flour, which is commonly used to thicken soups.
They are also a good source of minerals and very good sources of folate (folic acid/Vitamin B9).
The only real downside to beans is the gas it creates as it digests in your body. As we all know the gas (and the smell) can be unpleasant. However, there is a way to get rid of most of the compounds that cause the gas. Soak the beans in water for a few hours and dump the water out. Then, cook the beans with fresh water. This is not a guaranteed way to get rid of all the gas causing compounds but it will get rid of a lot of them.
We should be consuming more legumes in our diets every day because there is so much for us to gain from them. Please note that food manufacturers regularly process natural foods, that are healthy, into shadows of their former selves (soy burgers, chips, bars…). Your best bet is to buy dry or canned beans and cook them yourself to get the maximum health benefits.