Delicious, cheap, healthy and sustainable, legumes are a versatile staple. Here's why 2020 should be the year of the legume.
Legumes, also known as beans or pulses, are packed with nutrients, fibre and antioxidants, and they're consistently associated with living longer.
Legumes also have some unique qualities that make them great for sustainable agriculture. They release fewer greenhouse gases than other crops and they help sequester carbon in the soil.
So, how can you include more in your diet and enjoy the benefits?
What’s a legume?
Legumes come in a variety of colours, shapes, and sizes - from adzuki beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, mung beans and soy beans to pinto beans, red kidney beans, black beans and cannellini beans.
Even peanuts are technically a legume. In fact, there are nearly 20,000 different species of legume. The hardy crops grow everywhere except Antarctica, from deserts to plains to the alps.
Why are legumes healthy?
Legumes have a unique nutritional profile and they're:
powered by protein, with one cup (150g) of cooked legumes or 170g of tofu (made from soy beans) providing a serve of protein, and make for a super cost-effective way to eat protein if you’re on a budget
packed with nutrients including B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium
the best foods for blood sugar control and weight loss as they have the lowest GI (glycaemic index) of any food group
full on for fibre which will help to fill you up, lower cholesterol, ease constipation and keep your gut healthy
packed with phytochemicals, which have important health protective benefits
gluten free which makes them a fantastic option for people with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Try to include a serve, around a cup of cooked legumes, 2 to 3 times a week.
Did you know?
Legumes are a great pre-biotic and will help healthy bacteria in your gut to grow. Some people will experience wind when they first start to include legumes, so start including gradually. It can take 2-3 weeks for your gut to get used to them but it’s definitely worth it for all their benefits.
Download our free nutrition fact sheet for more expert dietitian advice on gut health.
How to get more legumes in your life
Legumes are easily available in cans in the supermarket. Keeping your pantry stocked with a variety of canned legumes makes it easy to enjoy more of their benefits.
Cook it up
If you prefer not to use canned legumes, dried legumes are also easy to find at your local supermarket.
Some will need soaking and rinsing. Overnight is best and try to rinse at least once or twice. After you've soaked them, drain the legumes and put in a pot with three cups of water for every cup of legumes. Bring to the boil and cook for 30-60 minutes until legumes are soft.
Not all legumes need to be soaked in advance. Red, yellow, green and brown lentils, and split peas, do not need soaking and are great additions to soups, curries and pasta sauces.
Slow cookers are a no-fuss way of cooking legumes.
Pressure cookers are fantastic for cooking legumes, they can cut your cooking time in half!
Once cooked, freeze legumes in zip-lock bags.
You can buy a variety of tasty, ready-made legume dishes in your local supermarket and deli, including hummus dips, baked beans, tofu, tempeh, minestrone soups, ready made veggie burgers, Mexican foods (such as refried beans), falafel balls and Indian dhals. These are all great ways to include more legumes in your life.
Add a cup of lentils or split peas to soups or casseroles.
Replace half or all of your mince with lentils or mashed kidney beans in pasta sauces or hamburger patties.
For a Mexican taco sauce, use refried beans or kidney beans instead of minced meat.
Use marinated firm tofu in vegetable kebabs and stir-frys.
Add chickpeas to curries or make a delicious Indian dhal with red or yellow lentils.
Use hummus as a dip or sandwich spread.
Add a four-bean mix, lentils or felafels to salads.
Replace dairy milk with soy milk on your breakfast cereal and in cooking.
For more tasty legume ideas, go to Sanitarium’s healthy recipes section.
Try the GLNC's 5-minute chickpea & lentil salad
Want more information?
Our nutrition fact sheets, created by accredited dietitians, provide the latest nutrition and lifestyle information to help you understand which foods are the best to eat. Click here to see the gut health nutrition fact sheets.