Legumes, also known as pulses, are an important group of plant foods that you must add to your daily diet. Legumes are rich sources of proteins, which make them a good replacement for meat.
They are also a good source of dietary fiber and carbohydrates and have a low glycemic index, causing a low and slow rise in blood glucose levels and, in turn, insulin levels. Apart from these, they are also good sources of folate, antioxidants, B-group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and magnesium.
There are different varieties of legumes including beans, peas, nuts, and lentils.
Examples of Legumes
The most common variety of legumes is beans. Some nuts are also legumes. Peas and lentils also form part of the legume family. Here are a few examples of these.
- Beans: Adzuki beans, black beans, soybeans, Anasazi beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans, and lima beans
- Nuts: Peanuts, soy nuts, and carob nuts
- Peas: Green peas, snow peas, snap peas, split peas, and black-eyed peas
- Lentils: Brown lentils, puy or French green lentils, red lentils, and macachiados lentils
Adding legumes to your diet can benefit your health in many ways.
6 Health Benefits Of Adding Legumes To Your Diet
1. Lowers Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
Legumes are rich in fiber and have a low glycemic index. A low glycemic index means that there are no drastic fluctuations in the blood glucose levels. A diet rich in plant-based foods including legumes has shown to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
A study involving 121 type 2 diabetes patients were asked to consume one cup (approximately 190 grams) of cooked legumes every day. After three months, results showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well as systolic and diastolic blood pressure.1
It is also known that the protein in legumes stimulates insulin secretion, extracting glucose from the bloodstream into cells more rapidly compared to other carbohydrate foods.2
2. May Protect Against Cancer
Although there is not enough evidence to support that legumes may protect against cancers, results of a few studies conclude that legumes may be effective in fighting bowel, breast, lung, and prostate cancers.3
Some evidence has been gathered to conclude that high-fiber foods like legumes may protect against colorectal cancer. Certain observational studies found that legume consumption is associated with a reduced risk of bowel cancer.
Certain studies have been conducted to prove that soy consumption can prevent breast cancer and can also lower the risk of re-occurrence in breast cancer survivors.4
3. Improves Heart Health
Those who eat more legumes are at a lower risk of developing heart diseases. Results of a study showed how consuming legumes four times or more a week can reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 22 percent and the risk of cardiovascular disease by 11 percent compared to consuming them once a week.5
Having half a cup to two cups (75–300 grams) of cooked legumes a day may reduce heart disease risk by reducing the bad cholesterol levels and increasing the good, lowering blood pressure, maintaining a healthy glucose level, and managing weight.
4. May Promote A Healthy Gut
Many people don’t eat legumes because of the fear of experiencing stomach discomfort including an increase in gas and flatulence. Legumes contain galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), small unabsorbed carbohydrates (fibers), that cause gas. However, research indicates that these fibers may be a good source for healthy gut bacteria.
In order to avoid this discomfort, it is recommended to gradually increase legumes in the diet so that the body gets used to the high fiber intake. Exercising regularly and drinking lots of water can also avoid these effects of increased fiber. Soaking and rinsing dry legumes before cooking can also reduce these effects.
5. Reduces Blood Pressure
Legumes are rich in potassium, magnesium, and fiber. All these have a positive impact on the blood pressure levels. The result of a study involving more than 500 obese participants showed how legume consumption reduced their blood pressure.
There is also a study that shows eating legumes can reduce blood pressure in people with or without hypertension.6
In another study, 113 obese participants consumed two servings of legumes and four servings of whole grains per day for 18 months. The results showed a significant reduction in blood pressure, triglycerides, weight, and waist circumference.7 Because of the property of lowering blood pressure, legumes may help those with hypertension.
6. Helps Manage Weight
It has been found that legumes also help maintain weight. Legumes are rich in fiber and protein. Due to their low glycemic index, food will be digested by the body slowly, making you feel full for a longer duration.
There was a study conducted on the basis of the data obtained from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999-2002. The results of the study showed that the subjects who consumed beans had a higher intake of nutrients like dietary fiber, potassium, magnesium, iron, and copper, a lower body weight, and a smaller waist size when compared with those who did not consume legumes.8
Tips For Eating More Legumes
Here are some smart tips for adding more legumes to your daily diet.
- Add lentils to your vegetable soup or you can also make lentil patties.
- Add chickpeas or soybeans to stir-fry dishes.
- For snacks, you can try munching on oven-roasted chickpeas.
- Prepare hummus (a low-fat dip made from chickpeas) and serve them with vegetable sticks for a healthy snack.
- Add red kidney beans or soybeans to lasagna or tacos.
- Add legumes to salads and pasta dishes.
- You can also try beans and rice – a staple dish in many cuisines.
|↑1||Polak, Rani, Edward M. Phillips, and Amy Campbell. “Legumes: Health Benefits and Culinary Approaches to Increase Intake.” Clinical Diabetes 33, no. 4 (2015): 198-205.|
|↑2||Legumes and Diabetes. Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council.|
|↑3||Legumes and Cancer. Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council.|
|↑4||Soy and Breast Cancer. Soyfoods Association of North America.|
|↑5||Legumes and Cardiovascular Disease. Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council.|
|↑6||Jayalath, Viranda H., Russell J. de Souza, John L. Sievenpiper, Vanessa Ha, Laura Chiavaroli, Arash Mirrahimi, Marco Di Buono et al. “Effect of dietary pulses on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled feeding trials.” American journal of hypertension (2013): hpt155.|
|↑7||Venn, Bernard J., Tracy Perry, Tim J. Green, C. Murray Skeaff, Wendy Aitken, Nicky J. Moore, Jim I. Mann et al. “The effect of increasing consumption of pulses and wholegrains in obese people: a randomized controlled trial.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 29, no. 4 (2010): 365-372.|
|↑8||Papanikolaou, Yanni, and Victor L. Fulgoni III. “Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 27, no. 5 (2008): 569-576.|