Legumes make up a large variety of foods and refers to plants which develop their seeds in pods. Legumes come in different varieties, with even peanuts and soybeans forming part of the legume family.  The varieties of legumes which have dry, edible seeds within a pod are known as pulses.  The most well-known and commonly consumed legumes include beans, peas, and lentils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nutritional value of legumes:

Legumes are an excellent (and inexpensive) source of the three major macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat – as well as many other essential nutrients, such as minerals, vitamins, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.

  • Protein: Legumes are higher in protein – a good quality protein in this case – than most other plant foods, with about twice the protein content of grains. The protein levels range from 17% to 40%. Soybeans have the highest percentage of protein among legumes.
  • Carbohydrates: Legumes are a rich source of carbohydrates that provide energy to the body, with the added advantage that it has a low glycemic index for effective blood glucose control. (The glycemic index [GI] indicates the effect of carbohydrates on blood glucose levels after eating. High GI foods are rapidly digested and cause short term spikes in blood sugar levels, which are detrimental to insulin production and health over the long term. Low GI foods are slowly digested and absorbed, leading to small fluctuations in blood glucose and insulin levels, while providing the body with a steady source of energy.)
  • Fat: Most legumes are low in cholesterol and fat, and are virtually free of saturated fats. However, peanuts and soy beans have significant levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Beans and lentils do not contain cholesterol. Their fat composition mainly comprises of poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and less of saturated fats, which help in weight reduction and blood pressure control.
  • Minerals: Most legumes are high in calcium, potassium, folate, zinc, iron, phosphorus and selenium. Minerals can be viewed as the building blocks that help to form and maintain, for example, blood, bones and skin.
  • Vitamins: Legumes are excellent sources of B-complex vitamins, including folate.
  • Fiber: Legumes are high in both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber that improve digestion and keep the gastrointestinal tract healthy. Soluble fibers attract water to form a thick gel which digests slowly with a low GI rating, resulting in lower and more stable blood glucose levels. Insoluble fiber provides bulk and promotes regular bowel movements.
  • Antioxidant: Many legumes contain the mineral selenium, which has antioxidant properties.
  • Gluten: Legumes are gluten free and are ideally suitable for people with gluten intolerance or sensitivity.
  • Sodium: Legumes are naturally low in sodium, but canned products may be high in sodium (salt) as it is widely used as a preservative. It is advisable to drain and rinse canned legumes to reduce the sodium content.

 

 Sources:

Legumes – the original superfood.  Article in the Third Quarter 2018 edition of The South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (SAJCN).  (www.sajcn.co.za)

Legumes and nutrition.  Published online.  Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council.  Australia.  (www.glnc.org.au)

Legumes health benefits, nutrition facts.  Published online 16 January 2014.  Healthy Life Info.Com.  (www.diethealthclub.com)

An exhaustive list or legumes and their nutritional value.  Published online and updated 12 September 2018.  Nutrineat.  (www.nutrineat.com)

The nutritional food value of beans.  Published undated online.  FitDay.  (www.fitday.com)

 

HEALTH INSIGHT

December 2018

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