When was the last time you ate baked beans on toast for lunch, or tossed cannellini beans into a salad, or added kidney beans to mince for a taco night? The Australian Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council found that around 28% of Australians eat legumes.
The three main reasons reported for not eating legumes were: a lack of knowledge of how to prepare and cook them; little awareness of their health benefits; and concern over side effects such as bloating and flatulence. This article aims to address these issues and encourage you to rethink legumes.
Legumes are the seeds of plants from the Leguminosae family. Green peas and beans are eaten in the unripe form while dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas are the dried mature seed from the ripe pod of legume plants.
Examples of legumes include:
⦁ Dry beans
⦁ Broad beans
⦁ Red, green or brown lentils
⦁ Kidney beans
⦁ Navy beans (Baked beans)
⦁ Split peas
⦁ Cannellini beans
⦁ Green peas
⦁ Black-eyed beans
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend enhancing dietary variety by increasing the intake of alternatives to meat several times a week. Legumes are a healthy economical alternative to meat or may be considered as a serve of vegetables. Legumes are unique in this way as they fit into two food groups depending on your nutritional needs. The Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council encourages Australians to enjoy half a cup of cooked legumes at least 2-3 times each week.
Legumes are a good source of protein, low Glycaemic Index (GI) carbohydrate, dietary fibre (including high in soluble fibre which promotes healthy bowel function), minerals (iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium), vitamins (high in B-group vitamins, including folate) and essential fatty acids. Emerging evidence is showing that eating legumes regularly can extend life by helping to maintain a healthy body weight, preventing chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as improving gut health. Legumes have a protective effect due to: low saturated fat content and ability to reduce cholesterol in the blood; low GI/high fibre content which reduces insulin responses (improved blood glucose control); and reducing hunger while promoting satiety. Legumes are an integral part of the healthiest dietary patterns studied such as the Mediterranean (lentils, chickpeas, white beans) and Japanese (soy foods) diet.
Legumes can be eaten in many different forms including canned, split, ground into flour, dried, pickled, cooked or frozen whole. Dried legumes are easy to prepare, whether you decide to soak the legume first or just boil and simmer. There is no need to soak lentils.
Soaking and rinsing dry legumes before cooking makes them easier to digest and absorb nutrients as well as helping to reduce the short chain carbohydrate galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) content. Canned legumes are lower in GOS. Rinsing canned legumes also lowers GOS content and reduces the salt content by almost half. GOS is a highly fermentable fibre in the large intestine which is linked to irritable bowel symptoms of bloating and flatulence.
Tips for adding legumes into your meals
⦁ Add your favourite lentils or legumes into a vegetable soup
⦁ Replace half the mince in your spaghetti Bolognese with lentils
⦁ Add one cup of chickpeas or soybeans to stir-fry dishes
⦁ Use lentils or chickpeas to make patties or vegetarian burgers
⦁ Fill out winter casseroles by adding legumes
⦁ Add kidney beans in a mince dish to make chile con carne
⦁ Include red kidney beans in lasagne or tacos
⦁ Snack on oven roasted chickpeas or hummus with vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, cucumber) or baked beans on rice cakes
⦁ Combine four bean mix with lots of colourful vegetables and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
⦁ Mix lupin flour with the usual wheat flour when baking to improve the fibre, protein and glycaemic response (low GI) of the food
Tania Mathewson is an accredited practising dietitian (APD). She works in the community as well as aged care in Canberra and Queanbeyan.
For further individual nutrition advice find an APD in your area by visiting the DAA website at www.daa.asn.au or call 1800 812 942