Around 75% of Australians don’t eat legumes on a regular basis. If you’re one of them, it’s time to start - because they could have important benefits for your heart health and blood sugar levels.
What are legumes?
The word legumes is used to encompass beans and peas of all varieties, including baked beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, butter beans, soybeans, mung beans, lentils, yellow and green split peas, chickpeas and peanuts.
Why should I eat legumes?
Legumes are an important source of both protein and carbohydrate, and are extremely nutritious, containing a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, almost all the essential amino acids, phytoestrogens, antioxidants and plenty of fibre.
Legumes are digested slowly and the combination of protein and fibre they contain has a beneficial effect on blood glucose and insulin levels, especially if you consume them as part of a low glycaemic index (GI) diet. Over the long term, eating them regularly might even help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a study involving 64,191 middle-aged Chinese women who had no history of type 2 diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease, consuming lots of legumes (an average of 65 grams a day) was shown to be associated with a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes.
This effect was observed for all types of legumes, but the association was strongest for soybeans – perhaps due to their rich content of phytoestrogenic compounds such as the isoflavones daidzein and genistein, which are best known for their benefits for menopause symptoms.
How should I serve Legumes?
The health benefits of legumes are very similar regardless of whether you use the tinned variety or cook up the dry beans – but try to avoid tinned products that contain added salt. Here are some tips for introducing legumes into your menu:
- Swap legumes for some of protein sources in your diet that contain saturated fat (such as meat and poultry).
- Combine legumes with whole grains to ensure you’re getting the full spectrum of amino acids. Classic combinations include beans and rice or wholegrain bread with peanut butter.
- Legumes are easy to add to soups, stews and salads. They’re also delicious in dips such as hummus, in burger patties and falafel, in curries and dhal.
These diet and lifestyle tips are intended for normal healthy people. If you have a blood sugar disorder such as diabetes do not take supplements or change your diet or exercise routine unless advised to do so and supervised by your healthcare professional. To do so may interfere with your blood sugar management and medication requirements.