What are Legumes?
Legumes are the edible fruits, pods, or seeds of plants from the pea family Leguminosae. Sounds fancy, but you’ll probably find them in every grocery store, a burrito, or hidden in the back of your kitchen pantry. The Leguminosae family includes beans, peas, and lentils.
Why should I eat them?
Let’s start off with the macronutrients. Legumes are a good source of complex carbohydrates and protein, and have very little saturated fat. Complex carbohydrate foods are fiber-rich, so they take a longer time for your body to break down and use compared to simple carbohydrates, meaning they can provide you with long lasting energy. Pairing complex carbohydrates with protein creates the perfect pair for increasing satiety. Therefore, eating foods such as legumes help promote weight management and healthy eating patterns. Legumes are also considered a heart healthy food when consumed as part of a balanced diet.
Micronutrients that legumes provide include: B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium and phosphorus. These vitamins and minerals play a variety of roles in maintaining health and balance in our bodies. B vitamins are essential in many bodily functions such as converting food into energy and cell development. Potassium and magnesium are minerals that help prevent the development of high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Iron and copper are needed for cellular metabolism and play roles in hemoglobin production, helping prevent anemia. Phosphorus and manganese contribute to bone development, and zinc improves the body’s immune system. The list goes on, but the let’s just agree that legumes are very nutrient-dense.
Beans are arguably the most versatile type of legumes, coming in many shapes, colors, and flavors. They taste good alone, but you can also add them to almost anything– soups, salads, chili, casseroles, and smoothies. The last one might have surprised you, but try adding white kidney beans into your next smoothie for a nutrient boost! Combining beans, oil, and seasoning into a food processor will provide you with a tasty dip for your next party. Try making fresh hummus from a can of garbanzo beans to pair your carrots and crackers with. Planning to grill up some burgers or make meatballs for your spaghetti? Use half the amount of ground meat of the usual recipe, and replace the other half with ground beans. Lastly– dessert! A quick online search for “bean desserts” will pull up a list of recipes for tasty nutritious treats. If you like chocolate, black beans appear to be a good match! Try making a black bean brownie for a guilt-free dessert. “Bean” Appétit!
This blog was written by Ysabel Montemayor, a dietetic intern at the University of Maryland.