Health Benefits of Legumes

Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on November 14, 2011

Legumes may sound like something French and fancy, but they're anything but. Legumes come from a plant whose fruit forms an edible pod. This pod may be more familiar by its alternative name: bean — a simple, delicious, practical food. Many types of legumes exist today. From vanilla beans to peanuts, all legumes contain vegetable-based proteins, which are a healthy alternative to animal-based proteins. Learn the health benefits of legumes and add them to your diet today.

Versatile and nutritious. The Mayo Clinic gives legumes the honorable distinction of being "among the most versatile and nutritious foods available." Legumes support heart health, as they are naturally low in fat and cholesterol free. The fat that does exist within legumes is the beneficial fat, or high-density lipids (HDL), that help lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Legumes contain high amounts of folate, which is good for women who are or may become pregnant. Legumes also boast high potassium, iron and magnesium levels. If all that isn't enough, legumes offer an excellent source of fiber — both soluble and insoluble.

Types of legumes and where to find them. Legumes grow in a wide array, so it's easy to make them a regular part of your diet without growing bored of them. Common legumes include kidney, Lima, garbanzo and soybeans. Each of these beans contains vital nutrients essential to good health and is readily available at your local supermarket. If selecting dry beans, they'll require a lengthy soak — usually in salted water, overnight. Choose quality, clean, whole and bright looking beans. Canned beans are an excellent, ready-to-use alternative. The nutrition in canned beans is comparable to a dry, soaked bean. Any viscous fluid used to store canned beans may be completely washed away with a good rinse in cold water.

How to incorporate legumes. If you're unfamiliar with legumes and how to eat them, don't worry. Legumes are simple food that's easy to flavor, prepare and serve. Add legumes to any traditional stew, soup or casserole recipe for a boost of nutrition. Why not follow President Bill Clinton's lead and eliminate meat when possible and substitute legumes? AARP reports that the elimination of meat, particularly red meat, from the diet is a healthy way of eating and could even help you live longer. It's important to remember that when cutting out large quantities of animal protein from your diet, you should monitor your protein, zinc and iron intake. Beans can help with that. Lentils, chickpeas and other beans provide all the nutrition of meat and less of the negative health effects and bad fat.