Bean There: The Health Benefits of Legumes

Categories Lifestyle


Even the most hardened meat eater should venture to the other side on a regular basis, says Dr. Adam Fraser.

Legumes (or pulses) include chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, cannellini beans, soy beans, borlotti beans and good old baked beans. They are versatile, filling and nutritious, and in these tough economic times one of the cheapest high quality foods available, which explains why they are often associated with university students and hippies.

Legumes are an important part of any healthy eating plan and are well worth eating at least three to four times per week. If you are a vegetarian, you should be eating them daily. Even the most hardened meat eater should venture to the other side on a regular basis. Legumes are low in fat, which means eating them will reduce your saturated fat (bad fat found in meat) intake and therefore will reduce your chances of heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. They are packed full of fibre, which helps you feel full and reduces your chances of colon cancer. Also the soluble fibre in legumes helps to reduce our LDL levels (the bad cholesterol). Legumes are high in iron, which helps our blood carry oxygen and keeps our energy levels high. They are very high in protein, which strengthens your muscles, nails and hair. They have an extremely low Glyceamic Index, which means they slowly release energy keeping you full for longer, sustaining your energy levels and reduce your craving for food. People who regularly include legumes in their diet, have fewer heart attacks, live longer, have lower diabetes rates, and are thinner. Legumes also play the green card. Many crops reduce the agricultural contribution to production of greenhouse gases, through the reduced reliance on meat. With all these health benefits why are we not eating more? Well, they have been known to give people wind, but to stop that, you can do the following:

  • Soak un-cooked legumes to remove the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) from the outer coating;
  • Cook them thoroughly in fresh water (not in the water you soaked them in). Unlike fresh vegetables such as carrots and broccoli, legumes should be well cooked and not at all crunchy;
  • For the canned variety rinse before eating
  • Eating legumes regularly also helps reduce wind as your body becomes used to them.

What do I do with them?

1. Have baked beans on toast for a quick and filling breakfast, lunch or dinner
2. Add lentils to beans to mince, curries, soups and casseroles.
3. Toss some chickpeas or green soybeans in your stir-fries
4. When making a salad throw a can of 4 bean mix, similarly throw in butter beans or chick peas.
5. Add red kidney beans to Mexican dishes such as tacos, burritos and chilli con carne.
6. Try lentil or chickpea burgers in place of meat patties on the BBQ
7. Add a twist to mask potato by mashing cannellini beans to make a lower GI higher fibre mash
8. When having friends over snack on roasted chickpeas and include hummus dip