Many of us know that legumes - e.g. lentils, split peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans - are good for us. And there's no doubt they're nutritional superstars.
Legumes are an excellent source of slow-burning, gluten-free carbohydrate and vegetarian protein and they're one of the highest fibre foods you can eat.
For instance, one cup of lentils delivers 18 grams of protein (the protein equivalent of three eggs or 2.5 ounces of meat) and 15 grams of fibre (slightly more than ½ cup of bran cereal).
Beans and lentils are also and excellent source of folate, a B vitamin linked to a healthy pregnancy and a lower risk of colon cancer. Lentils and beans offer calcium, magnesium and potassium, minerals that help keep blood pressure in check. And they're a good source of iron for vegetarians.
Adding legumes to your diet does more than boost your nutrient intake. Studies suggest that eating beans and lentils at least four times per week helps lower blood pressure as well as the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer.
Legumes are sold dried in packages and already cooked in cans. Dried beans need to be soaked to rehydrate them before your cook them (see below for instructions). Although dried beans have a superior taste and texture to canned beans, they do take longer to prepare.
Canned beans and lentils are incredibly convenient because they're already cooked. They're ready to add to salads, soups, stews, pasta sauces, quinoa, the list goes on. But you do need to drain and rinse canned beans in a colander first to remove excess sodium.
Health professionals - myself included! - recommend eating beans and lentils more often as an alternative to meat to reduce saturated fat and increase fibre intake. My advice: include them in your diet at least four times per week.
12 quick tips to add legumes to your diet
- Add cooked black beans or kidney beans to an omelette.
- Toss cooked lentils into a leafy green salad.
- Add chickpeas to Greek salad for a boost of protein and fibre.
- Toss cooked lentils, chopped bell pepper and chopped red onion with vinaigrette dressing to make a tasty cold salad. Add fresh chopped herbs like parsley or cilantro.
- Enjoy minestrone, split pea, black bean or lentil soup instead of the usual chicken noodle.
- Spread sandwiches with hummus (chickpea purée) instead of mayonnaise.
- Add chickpeas to whole grain side dishes like quinoa, barley and brown rice pilafs.
- Use a variety of beans when making chili. Try chickpeas, black beans and soy beans in addition to kidney beans.
- Add cooked black beans to tacos. Use half the amount of lean ground meat you normally would and make up the difference with beans.
- Add cooked lentils to quesadillas along with other fillings you enjoy.
- Add cooked white kidney beans to a tomato-based pasta sauce for a Mediterranean inspired meal.
- Toss cooked lentils into sautéed leafy greens such as spinach or Swiss chard for a healthy side dish.
How to soak and cook dried beans and lentils
To rehydrate dried beans before cooking, use the quick soak method. Place beans in a large pot with three times the volume of cool water. Bring beans and water to a boil for two minutes and then remove from the heat. Cover and let stand for one hour. After they have soaked for one hour, drain and rinse in a colander.
To cook, add 3 cups of unsalted water for every 1 cup of soaked beans. The water should be two inches above the top of the beans. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to prevent boiling over. Bring the beans to a gentle boil and then reduce to a simmer partially covering the pot. Gently stir beans occasionally during cooking. Skim off any foam that develops during cooking.
Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the legume. Small legumes (black beans, pinto beans, navy beans, lentils) may take 30 to 45 minutes to cook; medium-sized legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, lima beans) can take one to two hours.
Once beans are tender, remove from the heat and allow them to sit in cooking liquid while they cool. This prevents them from drying out. Once cooked, legumes are ready to be used in recipes. Enjoy!
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.