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Legumes: not just hot air

Medical & health articles 18 Sep 2017
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There are many easy and delicious ways you can include legumes in your diet.

It's a little rhyme that has been around for generations: "baked beans are good for your heart/baked beans make you …" Yes, well, most of us know how that line goes.

The windy reputation of this humble little bean is, sadly, what they're mainly known for. But did you know that baked beans are also packed with nutrition, like the rest of their food family? Family? That's right – baked beans are a member of the legume family.

Legumes, also known as pulses, include haricot and cannellini beans (both of which can be made into baked beans), chickpeas, dried peas, lentils, soy beans (the basis of tofu), kidney beans, broad beans, mung beans, peas and peanuts.

Legumes are one of the most versatile and inexpensive dietary staples. They can be bought canned or dried, don't need refrigeration and can be stored for ages – perfect for people who live remotely. While pulses have been enjoyed all over the world for centuries, their consumption remains low in developed countries, which is one reason the United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, to try to raise awareness of their benefits.

Dietary benefits of legumes

  • High fibre – this can help with weight management by giving you that 'full' feeling after a meal. It can also help prevent constipation, help maintain healthy levels of blood glucose and cholesterol, and promote good digestive health.
  • High in phytochemicals – these contain antioxidants and other compounds that help to protect the body against disease
  • Low GI (glycaemic index) – this not only reduces the risk of diabetes, but improves blood glucose control and insulin response in those with diabetes
  • High in protein – legumes are an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and vegans. When combined with a seed or grain, legumes are a complete protein. That's why hummus is so nutritious: its two main ingredients are chickpeas and sesame seed paste (tahini).
  • Low in saturated fats – helps with maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and lowers risk of cardiovascular disease.

Fear of FODMAPs

Despite their nutritional benefits, many people avoid legumes, particularly those who have been advised by their doctor to follow a low FODMAP diet.

FODMAPs – which stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols – is a group of carbohydrates and sugars found in some foods that can cause digestive trouble for some people, in particular those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Legumes are usually high in oligosaccharides. While some people may not suffer from IBS, others may simply rather not have the windy after-effects of eating legumes. But Jean Hailes naturopath Sandra Villella says legumes don't need to be avoided completely, as there are ways to lower their FODMAP content.

Fast facts

  1. When combined with seeds or grains, legumes are a great non-animal source of protein
  2. They can be prepared in a way to reduce their 'gassy' effect on the digestion
  3. A serve of baked beans on toast is an easy way to get a serve of legumes.

Canned legumes

Canned legumes or those that have been boiled and drained tend to be lower in FODMAPs, as some oligos 'leach' out into the canning/cooking water and are removed when they are drained and rinsed, says Sandra. "If you drain and rinse canned legumes [which are cooked in the can] before use, that will not only lower their FODMAP content, but also help get rid of excess salt."

Dried legumes

To help reduce the FODMAP content of dried legumes:

  1. Soak the legumes overnight
  2. Drain them, put in fresh water and bring to boil
  3. Once boiling, strain the legumes, put into fresh water again, bring to boil again and cook for about an hour (depending on the bean) until tender.

Sprouting legumes

These include mung beans and mixed lentil sprouts. You can buy them from greengrocers and the produce sections of supermarkets. "When you sprout legumes, you reduce the phytic acid, which makes the minerals [such as zinc, calcium and magnesium] more available," says Sandra. "They're also a handy thing to increase your vegie content." So why not get some of these little powerpods of nutrition on to your menu? You can start with Sandra's new Super-seedy chickpea and sweet potato patties recipe (pictured below).

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Find more tasty recipes created by naturopath Sandra Villella by visiting the Jean Hailes Kitchen.

This article was originally published in vol. 2, 2017 of the Jean Hailes Magazine.