Learning to Love Legumes

Guest Post Sally Marchini – Dietitian

When you were a child, were legumes amongst the foods that you really disliked the flavour/texture of? Do you still avoid them?

Just recently I’ve had a few clients telling me that they just can’t stand legumes, and when I dig a bit deeper it’s usually not such a dire ‘hate’ as they imagined. So I thought we’d look at the various types with yummy ways to include them and have a closer look at their fibre and carb/GI levels.

In our last blog about legumes entitled ‘Legumes Rock’ we found out that:

“Legumes are truly amazing plants. They are high in all three types of fibre (soluble, insoluble and resistant starch), they are high in protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates so keep your appetite satisfied for longer, and they are incredibly versatile and inexpensive.  They’re also full of vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals.  Once you start a healthy habit of including them every day, you won’t want to stop.”

So when I ask these clients, “what is it about them that you dislike?”, some say it’s the texture, some say it’s how they look, some say “they’re too dry”. And in every case we’re able to help by making suggestions to try them that might avoid the ‘issue’ they seem to have.

What’s your issue?

When you consider that they’re budget friendly (especially when you buy the dried varieties that take just a little more preparation) and can sit in your pantry for a long time (especially the tinned varieties), they allow you to have on hand the makings of many easy and delicious recipes.

Do you ever wonder “what can I add to this salad to make it more interesting or to add the low-GI carb that I need, or to add the protein/fibre that I need, or even just to make it into a one-pot meal?”? Half a tin (per person) of 80c (Coles own brand price) legumes of your choice could well be the answer.


Learning to love them

If it’s been a while, why not give this a try?

Taking a single creamy coloured cannellini bean from a tin and squeezing it between your fingers, see how the smooth and delicate outer casing protects the bean’s shape and also keeps your fingers clean. The velvety inside squishes with hardly any pressure and shows you how easy these are to mash. Warmed through and smashed together with the velvety richness of extra virgin olive oil the flavours remind me of holidays in Italy.

A great option is to consider replacing mashed potato or rice with them. Fresh herbs also compliment the flavours wonderfully.


Types and descriptions and good ways to use them

The Grains and Legumes Council explains: “Legumes (also known as pulses) include all forms of beans and peas – dried, canned, cooked and frozen. Among the well known legumes are butter beans, haricot (navy) beans, cannellini beans, red kidney beans, adzuki beans, black-eyed beans, soybeans, chickpeas, faba bean,  field pea, lentils,  lupin,  mung bean and peanuts.”

A comparison

This table looks at some of the more popular types so you can see how good they are, remembering that any number under 55 means it’s low-GI.

Type GI rating Carb/100g Protein/100g Fibre/100g
Cannellini beans 31 12.2 6.2 6.4
Chick peas 38 13.3 6.3 4.7
Lentils 42 9.5 6.8 3.7
Red kidney beans 36 14.1 6.6 6.5
Baked beans 40 11.8 4.6 4.8
Field peas (or split peas) 25 6.7 6.6 3.9

The data for this table was taken from the Sydney University GI website, and CalorieKing.com.au.

This comparison demonstrates that the variety of legumes all have similar excellent values from a diabetes point of view.   Therefore, depending on your tastes, you could try them in many different ways and know that they’ll be helping your health.

Some simple ideas to try

  • Cannellini beans – delightfully soft and creamy
    • add half a tin to your omelette or frittata
    • mash as a side with olive oil instead of mashed potato or rice
    • add to salads
    • whizz into a dip with garlic, lemon, olive oil and other yummies
  • Chick peas – slightly firmer texture providing a soft, nutty crunch
    • try them as hummus for your snacks
    • roast them to produce a crunchy snack with added spices for more flavour
    • add them to salads, casseroles and soups
  • Lentils – small in size but they bring so much unassuming value to
    • curries
    • soups
    • dahl (a simply prepared stew based around lentils and other split legumes)
  • Red kidney beans – the colour makes them appealing to add variety
    • often used in Mexican dishes such as Chilli con carne and tacos
    • great in salads, casseroles and soups
    • Baked beans – such an easy staple in any pantry
      • perfect on a slice of multigrain toast (watching the carb serves) with an egg on top
      • even straight out of the tin if you’re pushed for time and inspiration
  • Field peas (or split peas) – cooks down to a pulp-like texture
    • traditionally cooked in soups to add a thickened, creamy texture such as in pea and ham soup.

To finish up I encourage you to look at this resource that is provided by the Grains and Legumes Council called ‘Legumes – tips and tricks to enjoy them more often’, and remind you that for the health benefits to take effect you should be aiming to have a serve (75g or half a cup of cooked) of a variety of different legumes at least four times per week.

If you’d like to know more and have links to some recipes and other ideas, take another look at the first blog on this topic ‘Legumes Rock’.

Hoping I’ve inspired you to give a few of these varieties a try, especially if it’s because you did have an aversion when you were a child. Perhaps it was the way they were prepared, or even just ‘the idea’ of them. As an adult with more mature taste buds it’s definitely time for a re-try. Enjoy!

Sally is owner of her private practice (Marchini Nutrition), and has had type 1 diabetes for close to 40 years and coeliac disease for many years too.