Well firstly they all come under the heading “Legumes”, yes, even peanuts! I was surprised to discover this as I always assumed (as, I suspect, you did too) that a peanut was, in fact, a nut!
Secondly, these amazing foods are a fantastic source of protein for us non-meat eaters, even though the protein is scientifically “incomplete” due to certain amino acids being missing, don’t worry – this is easily sorted! (Read on!)
Thirdly, they are full of fibre – filling you up and helping to promote a healthy digestive system.
They have other great qualities too; they are easily obtained, there is a huge variety to choose from and many have other essential vitamins and minerals your body requires for good health.
One other fact I have gleaned is that eating legumes could also be of help for anyone trying to shed a few pounds. The American Society for Nutrition discovered, during a recent study, that adding beans and cooked pulses to a diet resulted in a slightly increased weight-loss among the participants than those who ate none.
(You can read the report for yourselves here – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27030531 )
So, now we have established just why they are so important we need to look at incorporating them into our everyday diet.
There are many types of beans, look around any health-food store and you’ll find shelves full of the dried varieties, supermarkets also stock tinned, ready-to-use beans – great for our busy lifestyles.
Don’t forget also the humble green beans, add these whole (chop off the tough ends) to stir-fries, add a handful to a stew or, my favourite way, steam and serve as a side.
Peas too come in many guises, from the sugar-snap pea and the snow pea – both of which can be eaten whole, to the garden pea which needs removing from its pod but then can be eaten raw or cooked and is sweet and slightly crunchy, peas are one of the most versatile foods I know.
Most vegetarians are familiar with lentils but don’t forget to seek out the more unusual varieties (brown, puy, green and beluga) for different textures and uses. One of my staple recipes is a red-lentil bolgnese which I use, as-is, for spaghetti and adapt slightly for lasagne. (I’ll share this in a later post!)
The pea-nut really is a legume but we tend to use it more like a nut – either way they are a great source of protein, Vitamin B6 and Iron but eat in moderation as they are high in calories!
Finally I need to elaborate here a little about the way to “complete” the “incomplete” chain I mentioned earlier. Simply put legumes have some of the amino acids required to make protein and grains have the others. So, the easy way to ensure you are getting “complete” protein (the same as you would get from red meat) is to eat legumes and grains each day. They don’t have to be at the same meal but consider some great combinations you already know – black beans and rice, hummus and pita bread, lentil soup and wholegrain bread.
So, now you know what peas, beans, lentils and peanuts have in common and you know why they are so important to us non-meat eaters! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions and – PLEASE – send in your legume recipes here –