Legumes are delicious, nutritious and super affordable. Whether you’ve heard about legumes or not, I hope this article inspires you to add more into your diet so you can reap the health benefits of consuming them! There are ideas at the end for how to use them, but before that, let’s have a look at what they are and why they’re so fantastic!
What are legumes?
The legume family is a group of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside. This seed is the “legume”, a very nutritious ingredient that can be used in a wide variety of meals. They are also gluten free, which is a bonus for those with a gluten allergy or intolerance.
Common types of legumes include:
- Red, green or brown lentils
- Black beans
- Green peas
- Cannellini beans
- Navy beans
- Kidney beans
- Soy Beans (edamame)
Why should I consume legumes?
- Legumes are a fantastic source of dietary fibre1, which keeps our bowels healthy2, helps us to feel full3 and can help lower blood cholesterol levels (due to the soluble fibre content)4
- Legumes have a low glycaemic index (GI), which means they are processed and broken down at a slower rate by our digestive system in comparison to high GI foods like white bread, sweets and pastries. Low GI foods cause a slower release of sugar into the blood, which is important for maintaining stable energy levels, meaning no burst of energy followed by a crash, which may be favourable for those with diabetes5.
- Legumes are generally low in fat, saturated fat and contain no cholesterol. The combination of legumes being low in saturated fat and high in soluble fibre makes them heart healthy, and protective against cardiovascular disease4. Soybeans are the exception to being low in fat as they contain mono- and poly- unsaturated fats (the kind we want to eat though!).
- Legumes are a great protein source6. In fact, black beans, cannellini beans and lentils all contain 15g protein per cup!7 Protein is important for building and maintaining strong muscles, producing hormones and enzymes to support normal bodily functions and for helping us feel full8. These reasons make legumes a great plant-based meat alternative.
- Nutrients in each type of legumes differ, however they are great sources of multiple vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, folate, thiamine and magnesium1, which are important for overall health and wellbeing.
- Legumes are low in sodium. This is great as having too much sodium in our diet increases the risk of developing high blood pressure5. Canned legume varieties may contain added sodium, however draining and rinsing the beans thoroughly before use can reduce the sodium content of the legumes by ~40%9.
How and where can you purchase legumes?
Legumes can be purchased dried (which need to be soaked before cooking), canned or frozen. Legumes are very inexpensive (e.g. a can of Coles brand chickpeas is less than $1)10, which is great for making budget-friendly meals to feed the entire family! Legumes can be purchased at most supermarkets, bulk food shops and health food shops.
New to eating legumes? Here’s some tips…
The high fibre content of legumes may cause uncomfortable gut symptoms like bloating and gas for some people, so if you’ve never consumed legumes before it is a good idea to introduce them slowly2. Avoid consuming a whole can of chickpeas in one meal; instead, start with a tablespoon per day for a week, then ¼ can for 1-2 weeks and increase from there as your gut adjusts to the fibre from the legumes. (The trick is to eat legumes every day to help your gut adjust to digesting them). A good place to start is eating cooked red lentils (e.g. in a dhal or pasta dish) or pureed legumes (e.g. in dips like hommus), as these will be easier to digest than whole beans straight from a can.
How to use legumes in meals and recipes
- Make hommus from chickpeas
- Snack on oven roasted chickpeas
- Use black beans, kidney beans or pinto beans in mexican dishes like burritos and tacos
- Use lentils or chickpeas to make burger patties
- Add edamame in salads or sushi bowls
- Use chickpeas or red lentils in curries or dhal
- Make chilli with kidney beans
- Enjoy baked beans on toast for breakfast
- Use lentils to make a spaghetti bolognaise
- Use them in soups – eg white beans in minestrone or add red lentils to pumpkin soup
This blog post was written by Courtney Myers, Accredited Practising Dietitan, who sees clients in Shailer Park (Logan area, Brisbane) as well as at the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. You can read more about Courtney or book in for a consultation with her for expert advice on plant-based nutrition.
1. Martín-Cabrejas MA. Legumes: Nutritional Quality, Processing and Potential Health Benefits. 1st ed. Croydon: The Royal Society of Chemistry; 2019.
2. Winham DM, Hutchins AM. Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies. Nutr J. 2011;10(1):128.
3. Slavin J, Green H. Dietary fibre and satiety. Nutr Bull. 2007;32(s1):32-42.
4. Venter C, Eyssen E. More legumes for better overall health. South Afr J Clin Nutr. 2001;14.
5. Venn BJ, Mann JI. Cereal grains, legumes and diabetes. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2004;58(11):1443-1461.
6. Erbersdobler H, Barth C, Jahreis G. Legumes in human nutrition Nutrient content and protein quality of pulses. Nutr Surv. 2017;64:134-139.
7. Food Standards Australia New Zealand (2019). Australian Food Composition Database – Release 1. Canberra: FSANZ. Available
8. Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein – Which is Best? J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118-130.
9. Duyff R, Mount J, Jones J. Sodium Reduction in Canned Beans After Draining, Rinsing. J Culin Sci Technol. 2011;9:106-112.
10. Beans & Legumes 2020. Coles Website. https://shop.coles.com.au/a/fairfield/everything/browse/pantry/canned-foods–soups-noodles/beans-legumes. Accessed June 2, 2020.