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Legumes For A Healthy Source of Protein

Legumes are a class of vegetable that grow in pods, beans, lentils, peas, even peanuts. Highly nutritious, they boast stores of folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. They contain good fats, but no cholesterol. Legumes are lower in the glycemic index than potatoes, and have more fiber, so they make you feel full longer. Navy beans, pinto beans and black beans have the most fiber. Legumes provide many of the B vitamins, and are rich in antioxidants which may prevent cell damage. Soybeans are a source of saponins, an anti-inflammatory compound which may help lower cholesterol.

Not Just For Vegetarians

No other vegetable has as much fiber or protein. They are often used as meat substitutes because, like the protein in meat, they are easily absorbed. They are also one of the cheapest sources of protein available. Combining legumes with brown rice creates a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids your body needs. Soybeans provide more protein than beef and are considered a complete protein, one of the only ones in the plant world.

Benefits for Women

The phytoestrogens found in soybeans and garbanzos give some women relief from menopause symptoms, like hot flashes. Lentil and peanuts are great sources of folate, which doctors recommend for expectant mothers’ to protect against birth defects.

Peanuts Really Are A Nutty Pea

Peanuts are not true nuts.  They are really legumes and as such, have much more protein than most nuts. Peanuts are also the second richest source of the antioxidant resveratrol, right after grape skins.For some reason, boiled peanuts have ten times the amount of resveratrol as peanuts that have been roasted or make into peanut butter.

Versatile and Easy To Prepare

If you can boil water, you’ll have no problem preparing dried beans. After rinsing and discarding any grumpy looking beans, cover in water and boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for a couple of hours, until they are as soft as you would like. You can shorten the cooking time by soaking the beans overnight, but it still won’t be quick. Lentils cook much faster than beans. Usually between 15 and 35 minutes depending on the size of the lentil.

Dried beans keep well in the pantry. Store them in an airtight container and they will be fine for years.  However, older beans may take a little longer to cook.
Beans can be added to hot or cold dishes. They are great added to salads and soups, especially chili. They make terrific bases for dips, like hommus. You can substitute white cannellini beans for some of the potatoes in a mashed potato recipe to make it healthier. Beans can be the main dish too. Many Mexican dishes use beans as the main protein.

Good Luck

In the South, part of the New Year’s Day meal is always black eyed peas. They are believed to bring financial good luck. Apparently you don’t need to eat them to get the luck, some people will slip a few into friends’ pockets to wish them luck.

Jennifer Hawkins is a professional chef who both loves to write and cook with nut recipes. She loves to blog and give tips about cooking and nutrition.

Photo Credit: francoise.bellard

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