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Legumes: Vegan, Rich, and Nutritious

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Read the article to know all about the types, systemic health benefits, cuisines, and ways to include legumes in diet plans.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Samarth Mishra

Published At December 12, 2022
Reviewed AtJune 28, 2023

What Are the Different Kinds of Legumes?

A high and regularized intake of vegan plant-based food, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, and nuts, is always essential to lower the growing global risks due to unhealthy dietary issues like high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart diseases.

Legumes are popular low-fat, nutrient-dense sources of vitamin B, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus, and they are virtually free from saturated fats. That is the main reason why they have always been deemed the best daily sources for improving one's systemic health. Legumes are inclusive of a wide range of all forms of beans and peas originating from the Fabaceae or Leguminosae families. The legume family of plants also comprises lentils and pulses (the dried seeds of legumes). These are seeds that are used in making thick soups. Other well-known dried legumes are chickpeas, butter beans, haricot or navy beans, red kidney beans, adzuki beans, black-eyed beans, soybeans, cannellini beans, lupins, etc., to name a few varieties.

Globally, the most commonly consumed dried legumes are green beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts. They remain in popular use and are grown in pod form, from which they can be extracted and eaten fresh. However, most legumes are usually dried to prolong their shelf life and storage.

Why Are Legumes Always Part of Healthy Diet Plans?

Legumes such as beans, pulses, lentils, peanuts, and their dried forms can all be used in thick soups, stews, add-ons for side dishes and starters, in salads, or can be steamed or rehydrated by cooking. Legumes have been recommended for several decades as an integral and mandatory part of every healthy lifestyle by healthcare specialists. Ranging from its use in the Mediterranean lifestyle or the DASH (dietary approaches to stop hypertension) eating plans or the vegetarian and vegan diet, legumes offer additional benefits by having a lower-glycemic index (GI) in all these diet forms and patterns.

What Are the Systemic Health Benefits of Legume Consumption?

Clinical research and evidence show the importance of legumes in both preventing and managing several systemic health conditions.

  • Impact on Type 2 Diabetes - Legumes are commonly consumed plant-based nutrient sources, and regular consumption is shown to have a positive impact on patients with type 2 diabetes. Research indicates a lower risk of the onset of type 2 diabetes in individuals who are regular legume eaters and also beneficial to those who have diabetes to improve both their glycemic and lipid profile control.

  • Impact on Hyperlipidemia - Regular consumption of legumes may aid in lowering the total and LDL (low-density lipid) cholesterol levels. They can also be effective in lipid control in hypertensive patients. Being rich sources of potassium, magnesium, and fiber, these nutrient-dense legume forms would be useful in healthy weight loss.

  • Healthy Weight Management - The fiber content, proteins, and slowly digestible carbohydrates aid in satisfying appetite. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), adults who consume a variety of legumes have significantly improved, maintained, and managed body weight and also help to regularize BMI (body mass index) as compared to legume non-consumers. Evidence also suggests that the fiber and monounsaturated fat content is ideal for obese individuals who wish to lose weight.

  • Bring in Antioxidants - Antioxidants found in beans and other legumes help minimize cell damage and premature risks. Based on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, antioxidants can stop or slow down cellular damage, and those who consume a diet high in them have a lower risk of developing a number of illnesses, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.

  • Encourage Heart Health - The American Heart Association (AHA) advises limiting the intake of red meat due to the saturated fat level, which includes beef, lamb, and pork. One may minimize meat consumption and reap some heart-healthy advantages by switching to lentils and beans. Previous studies have shown that consumption of legumes can reduce blood pressure and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

What Is the Availability and Culinary Use of Legumes?

Lentils are available in multiple varieties and colors globally. The most commonly colored legumes are of orange, green, and black forms. Lentils also have a relatively short cooking time and may not require advance soaking always unless they are stored for a long time. Lentils can be steamed or boiled, which requires only just 20 minutes of cooking time. Cooked legumes can be kept in the refrigerator so as to be added anytime to a dish as per choice or requirement.

The best example on a daily basis would be to add one tablespoon of prepared lentils to one cup of prepared rice or quinoa. This will add color and texture, enhance the flavor of rice, and make it a healthier meal option (as rice is starchy and carbohydrate-rich). A squeeze or dash of lemon juice can enhance the flavor of conventional legume dishes like soups, stews, and salads. Yogurt can also be added to legume dishes as it is a good probiotic source.

A basic legume salad comprises any variation or combination of cooked legumes, chopped herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper that packs in a nutrient and vitamin-rich meal. Additionally, when chopped vegetables or fruits or even cheese cubes or slices of tofu, paneer, or chicken breast are added, it can provide individual satiety. Legumes are mainly elaborated as excellent soup ingredients. When all legumes are served with grains, the dietary needs for daily nutrient intake become complete with the presence of essential amino acids. Especially for vegetarian athletes, sports players, and bodybuilders, this diet can be a great protein-packed meal.

What Are the Drawbacks of Legume Consumption?

Despite the health advantages of eating legumes, some people might want to think about these disadvantages before integrating legumes into their diet.

  • Antinutrients: Some individuals refer to the substances found in legumes as "antinutrients." These substances shield the plant from both diseases and animal or insect predation. However, when consumed in foods by people, these substances can bind to vital minerals and block the body from assimilation. Due to this, some have expressed worry that regular consumption of beans and lentils may result in a mineral shortage. Phytates and lectins are among the chemicals in question. Furthermore, soybeans contain phytoestrogens, which may help with menopause symptoms.

  • Flatulence: Beans contain oligosaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates that, in some people, can lead to bloating and gas.

Conclusion:

Despite the numerous and multifarious benefits on general health, global consumption of legumes, according to research data, is still low, which is attributed to the population’s unfamiliarity with the best incorporation of legumes into the daily diet. These nutrient and vitamin-rich legumes are not only easy to identify and cook but can also be regularly consumed to gain the maximum daily nutritional benefit.

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Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop
Dr. Achanta Krishna Swaroop

Dentistry

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