What is a reasonably priced, versatile, nutritional powerhouse food item? The answer is the mighty bean—otherwise known as legumes, peas or pulses.
Legumes have edible seeds within a pod that open lengthwise. They separate into shell and seed. Beans, such as chick peas, black eyed peas, pinto, navy, romano, kidney, lima, soy, peas, lentils and peanuts are all considered legumes.
These plant foods contain a multitude of nutrients and more protein than any other vegetable group. Plus, their low fat nature and high content of fibre offers some beneficial effects on blood sugars and cholesterol.
In general, many people could benefit from increasing the level of fibre in their diet. Eating leg-umes more often will help boost total fibre. Legumes have a high content of soluble fibre. When water is added to a plant food, the soluble fibre thickens and becomes sticky, gummy and gel-like. Soluble fibre helps to slow the digestion of food.
This action can be a helpful way to manage blood sugar levels which is good for people with diabetes. Also, the soluble fibre in legumes can help to lower blood cholesterol levels and can be a great dietary tool to assist people with high cholesterol.
For these reasons, legumes are an excellent addition to the diet for people with diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and bowel issues.
Beans are known for their gassy effects on bowels, however, as the individual becomes more accustomed to eating legumes on a regular basis, the body adjusts and there will be less bloating effects.
Soluble fibre has been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and risk of developing intestinal ulcers. In addition, soluble fibre helps to manage loose stools and will lead to a healthier colon.
Beans can be versatile and therefore they make great additions to many dishes or used as an entree or even a snack.
Canned beans are inexpensive and convenient to use without a need to cook them. Just drain and rinse to remove the gas-forming, salty liquid before adding beans to recipes.
Otherwise, dried beans are also available in grocery stores. They require some work by soaking and boiling, but are great additions to the pantry for a cheap source of protein and fibre for meals.
Some ways to use pulses include adding canned bean medley mixture to salads for crunch, sprinkling cooked lentils or chickpeas on pizza, along with other toppings and adding cooked red kidney beans to rice pilaf for extra flavour and fibre.
Roasted chickpeas make an excellent and convenient, easy to prepare snack. Cooked brown lentils can be substituted for ground beef in lasagna for a plant-based alternative to a meat-dish. Chickpea or white kidney bean hummus is a great dip for vegetables or pita.
Pureed cooked beans added to tomato pasta sauces will offer more body and nutrition. Also, adding lentils to soup helps to thicken it without the need for high fat cream.
Considering that legumes have top notch nutritional benefits of soluble fibre, protein, iron and are low fat in nature, these versatile and inexpensive additions to meals more often will do the body, heart and bowels good.
Sandra Gentleman, RD, is an Alberni Valley-based registered dietitian and steward of Canal Beach.