It’s almost a given that your childhood is probably haunted by the memory of a mother forcing or – best case scenario – begging you to “eat your beans”. Which makes us think mothers should have a reason for that. In fact, it is more than a reason or two; they have food science on their side.
High in all three types of fibre (soluble, insoluble and resistant starch) and protein, a great source of vitamins B2, B6, B9 (folic acid) and minerals such as copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc, legumes are heralded as a superfood by nutritional experts worldwide.
Considering they are also budget-friendly, it comes as no surprise they are one of the main food categories in diets all over the world, including the Mediterranean.
Plant proteins make them an undisputable substitute for meat dishes. For instance, chickpeas and lentils contain approximately 9 grams of protein per 100 grams, while in soybeans total content of protein can exceed 30 per cent.
Protein absorption is increased when combined with grains, such as rice or dried nuts, while iron absorption is stimulated by vitamin C, for example, by sprinkling lemon on your legumes’ dish.
Due to the low glycaemic index (GI) legumes have, our body breaks down the nutrients slowly, making us feel full for longer and keeping our blood sugar levels stable.
In addition, this makes them a particularly good food for preventing and managing diabetes. They are also low in fat and sodium as well as being cholesterol free.
What’s more, your heart loves legumes. Several studies show that they can help reduce high blood pressure and inflammation markers in the body.
Regular consumption can also favourably affect the risk factors for metabolic syndrome, a key player in the development of cardiovascular disease.
Their high fibre content can help you improve your digestive health. As a matter of fact, a cup of beans packs more fibre than broccoli.
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects offered by certain bioactive plant compounds provide a nutritional wallop to even help fight chronic diseases.
Emerging research confirms that including legumes into your eating plan equips your organs with a ‘protective shield’ against the growth of some types of cancer cells responsible for causing stomach, kidney and bowel cancer.
Trust us when we say you should give this fava recipe a go:
500g yellow split peas
3 red onions, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 litre warm water
juice of 2 lemons
1/3 of a cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1. Rinse the split peas with plenty of water.
2. Heat a large pot over medium-high heat; add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, the chopped onions, garlic and some fresh thyme and sauté.
3. As soon as the onions start to caramelise, add peas and blend. Pour in warm water and olive oil, turn heat down to medium and season well with salt and pepper. Simmer with the lid on for about 40-50 minutes, until the split peas are thick and mushy. While the split peas boil, some white foam will probably surface on the water. Remove the foam with a slotted spoon.
4. When done, pour in the lemon juice and transfer the mixture to a food processor. Mix until the peas become smooth and creamy, like a puree.
5. Serve the fava with a drizzle of olive oil, a tablespoon of diced onion and some capers or chopped parsley.
*Sources: diabetescounselling.com.au, healthaliciousness.com, alive.com, vita.gr, Dietitians Association of Australia, Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council, mygreekdish.com, sbs.com.au, foodandspice blogspot, allrecipes.com.au, zesterdaily.com