Legumes Rock! – Start your healthy habit today

Guest Post, Sally Marchini, Dietitian

As mentioned in the series of recent blogs through November on the glycemic index, another of my favourite topics to discuss is legumes, otherwise known as pulses or beans.  For us with diabetes, they really are a must have (unless you have an intolerance of course!).

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.

Today we’ll walk through how they fit into the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the health conditions that evidence shows are benefited by legumes, what some of the different types are and the nutritional qualities they provide, and we’ll look at easy ways to include legumes every day.

With the Australian Dietary Guidelines (which we will cover in more detail in a future post) there are 5 food groups that we should all include every day:  vegetables, fruit, grain, proteins foods and dairy (or alternatives).  You would think that most foods fit into just one of those groups, but legumes are special and fit into three of the five: Vegetables (as they are of plant origin), Proteins and Dairy alternatives (soy milk fortified with calcium).  This also means they contain two of the main macronutrients that make up the energy we consume, being carbohydrates and protein foods (see aside two paragraphs down for further explanation).

As a vegetable, one serve is 75g (1/2 cup) cooked dried or canned beans, chickpeas or lentils, with no added salt. As a protein, one serve is 1 cup (150g) cooked dried beans lentils, chickpeas, split peas or canned beans OR 170g tofu, also with no added salt.  And as a dairy alternative,250ml of whole-bean and calcium fortified soy milk is a serve.  Other names of legumes include: butter beans, haricot (navy beans), cannellini beans, red kidney beans, adzuki beans, black eyed-peas, soybeans, mung beans, lentils, split peas, peanuts and chickpeas.

Just as an aside for a moment:  If you consider that all the kilojoules (energy) we consume comes from carbohydrates with a value of 16kJ/gram, proteins with a value of 17kJ/gram, fats with a value of 37kJ/gram and alcohol with a value of 27kJ/gram, it appears obvious that you can eat twice as much quality carbohydrate and protein like those found in legumes, as you can fats or alcohol to meet your daily energy requirements.  Phew! – sorry about the long sentence, but I think it’s a point worth being reminded about.

Back to the health benefits of legumes…  There’s actually a lot of research already done and continuing to be done on legumes as the health benefits are so awesome when they’re enjoyed more often!  The Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council  http://www.glnc.org.au/ summarises these best as:

  • Improved weight management
  • Improved cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk of heart disease
  • Improved blood glucose levels
  • Reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes (for those of us with type 1 or pre-diabetes)
  • Reduced risk of some cancers

That’s an impressive list! And yet research shows that Australians eat on average less than one third of a serve of legumes a week, and only 22% of people eat legumes regularly.

Are you starting to wonder how you can eat them more often yet?

If you’re worried about extra wind caused by eating beans, then you’ll be pleased to know that research here has demonstrated that your body will get used to them as you eat them more regularly and the benefits will far outweigh those issues! There are also preparation tips on the Grains and Legumes Council website that may help you avoid them altogether.

  • In our house we add them to our salads at lunchtime and in our main meal salad for dinner instead of potato.
  • We add one-third lentils to two-thirds lean meat when we make Bolognese sauce.
  • We add them to soups and casseroles.
  • We make delicious dips that can also be used as healthy spreads for sandwiches.
  • Of course we also have baked beans on toast as an easy meal occasionally.

Are you starting to feel inspired? 🙂

You can find loads more recipes at the Grains and Legumes Council website  as well as more information about the health benefitscooking tips and whole lot more.

Do you have any ideas of your own to share with us? We’d love it if you could 🙂

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.