Almost every plant-based diet and most other healthy diets contain legumes. Legumes are a family of foods. Legume is the term for the entire plant, including leaves, roots, stem, and seeds. When referenced in diets, legumes are the part eaten—the seeds—also called the pulse. The family of legumes includes beans, peas, soy, lentils, and chickpeas. Sometimes, peanuts are considered legumes.
Legumes contain protein and other nutrients.
With prices increasing for all groceries, finding a good source of protein that won’t break the budget is a high priority. Legumes can provide both protein and nutrients, such as fiber, iron, folate, B vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus, but they’re low in cholesterol and fat. While most legumes contain an incomplete protein, soy and soy products, like edamame are complete sources. A complete source of protein contains all the essential amino acids—which are ones the body can’t produce.
Legumes protect the cells with antioxidants.
Antioxidants protect the cells from free radicals that can cause damage or death to the cells. Eating legumes can prevent cell damage and provide nutrients. Adding legumes to your diet can lower the risk of cancer stroke and cardiovascular disease. A meatless Monday or substituting legumes for red meat several times a week can substantially lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Eating legumes instead of meat can increase the micro diversity of the gut. That can lead to better digestion, improved immunity, and many other health benefits.
The nutrients and fiber in legumes provide many benefits.
While legumes are a protein source, they’re also a source of carbohydrates. Unlike sugar and other simple sugars, they are complex carbohydrates. The difference is more than just the chemical structure, it’s also about how quickly the carbohydrate is digested. Complex carbohydrates release sugar into the bloodstream slower, provide long-lasting energy and keep you feeling fuller longer. Carbohydrates are classed as fiber, sugar, and starch. Ones with the most fiber are the lowest on the glycemic index, helping with blood sugar control. Legumes are the carbohydrate highest in fiber.
- Legumes contain antioxidants that protect the cells from damage by free radicals. Consuming legumes regularly can lower the risk of stroke, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
- If you use legumes as a protein source, instead of red meat, you’ll cut down your intake of saturated fat. Choosing legumes instead of meat can also help lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
- Type 2 diabetes is on the rise. One study found that regular consumption of legumes, particularly lentils, lowered the risk of diabetes by 35% in seniors who had a high risk of cardiovascular incidents.
- To create a complete protein, combine legumes with another incomplete protein containing the essential amino acids not contained in the legume. Lentils and rice and corn tortillas with refried beans are examples.
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