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What Are Legumes?

So just what are legumes and how do we include them in our diet? What about legume nutrition?


Legumes are a class of vegetable such as beans, peas and lentils. They are vegetable types which produce pods which split open along a seam to reveal a row of seeds. There are basically two types of legumes; mature and immature. The mature legumes are the dried seeds which are found inside the pods, whereas immature legumes are harvested (picked) before they mature on the plant. Examples of immature legumes would be green beans and peas. Seed sprouts such as alfalfa and soyabean sprouts are also considered legumes as are peanuts and clover.

I've never understood why people say "beans and legumes, because beans are legumes.

Legumes are extremely healthy and are ideal for a vegan and vegetarian diet as they are high in protein.

To check protein content of various foods, click here.

Legumes are low in fat and are an excellent source of folate, potassium, magnesium, iron and fibre.

Legumes are also rich in phytochemicals which may help to prevent serious disease such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Legumes provide a good source of folate, phosphorus, potassium, iron, zinc, calcium and selenium. If that isn't enough, legumes also contain the B vitamins 1,2,3,5 and 6 - and have a low glycemic index.

More on legume nutrition.

Many vegan and vegetarian replacement products are made out of legumes - think bean burgers and soya products.

Legumes contain no cholesterol either.

The only slight negative with legumes are that they contain fairly low amounts of the essential amino acid methionine. To make up for this - veggies and vegans may wish to serve up legumes with whole grains which are low in the essential amino acid lysine, which legumes provide.

I personally feel that if you include a variety of unrefined legumes, grains, seeds, nuts, fruits and veggies in your diet, you will be able to combine all the particular essential amino acids that your body needs.

How to cook legumes:

When cooking legumes, some chefs may advise not to add any salt until after they have softened as adding the salt at the start may result in toughened legumes. However, I always add a touch of salt at the start and in my experience, it makes little or no difference.

Lentils need no pre-soaking so are quick and convenient. They go great in soups and stews and make a great cold salad. Depending on the variety of the lentils you are cooking, they will take between ten minutes to one hour to cook. Just rinse them well, cover with water or vegetable stock and simmer.

Dried beans need to be pre-soaked in most cases. You can cook them dried but they are quite hard for the body to digest this way. You can buy canned beans for convenience but if you do choose the tinned variety then try to make sure they are canned in plain water.

Soak the dried beans in three times as much water for around six hours (or overnight) before cooking. Drain and rinse the beans, add enough water so that it covers the beans by a couple of inches and simmer for between 60-90 minutes until the beans are tender.

Peas are cooked just like all other vegetables. You can obviously buy frozen and tinned peas, but as always, it is usually better to buy them fresh and simmer gently for a few minutes.

The good thing about a vegan diet is that all of these healthy foods are naturally vegan. Try to mix up your consumption of legumes so that you benefit from their combined nutrients.

It is easy to add legumes to your diet.

You can make a big legume salad with various beans, lentils and peas and store in the fridge for two or three days. Use as a snack or as a side dish to other meals. Or how about making up a big kidney bean chilli or an adzuki bean shepherds pie. Legumes are easy to add to any soup or stew or you can make your own legume burgers (these are easily available in supermarkets and health food shops but you can also make them yourself). You can also puree beans and use them as a base for dips and spreads.

Like I have said on other pages - vegans can eat a variety of different foods but do try to include legumes as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

You can buy the more unusual legumes online but most basic varieties are easy to find in supermarkets and especially health food shops.

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