Properties of legumes

Nutritional benefits of legumes


Why is it good to eat legumes?

Legumes are an ideal food for any diet, especially for vegetarians who do not eat meat, because they contain a lot of protein. In India, where a large community of people practice vegetarianism, lentils are a staple, along with peas and chickpeas.

In addition to protein, legumes provide carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins and are rich in minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium and iron.

Proteins from legumes and vegetarian diet

Lentils contain approximately 25% and 30% protein, which places it in second place after soybean protein whose values ​​move between 36 and 38%.

Peanuts or fava beans are also very rich in this component.

Soybeans outperforms other vegetables for its richness in protein and its full range of essential amino acids.

This implies that soy can replace animal meat or milk, so it is a especially recommended food for those who choose to adopt a vegetarian diet or decide to abandon some of the meat in their diet.

250 grams of soy provide 30% of the amount of protein that is recommended daily.

Soya derivatives contain a higher proportions of proteins. Among them tofu takes advantage with up to 65% of its content in proteins.

cooked legumes

We can buy legumes previously cooked, which gives us more time to prepare them. We have to avoid buying to much salted ones.

Disadvantages of legumes as a source of vegetable protein

It should be noted that proteins from legumes are lower quality than animal protein because they have deficiencies in amino acids methionine and cysteine. (The organism can produce cysteine ​​from methionine).

However, the combination of this food group with other foods, such as cereals or seeds rich in the missing amino acids, provides very healthy proteins.

Furthermore the combination of legumes and cereals allows to provide the amino acid lysine, which is abundant in legumes and rather lacking in cereals. Among legumes, soybeans are the food containing the most balanced amino acid composition.

Benefits of legumes proteins

The advantage of proteins from legumes compared to certain proteins from meats like pork is its richness in amino acids with an easier digestion.

The wealth of proteins and nucleic acids of pulses is considered as a natural antidote to aging, to be able to renew the cells of our body. It is considered that the health of hair, skin, nails, muscle strength, and overall vitality, both physical and mental, are enhanced by the consumption of foods rich in these components.

Moreover, it is good to consider that legumes provide protein without the disadvantages of meat, which are rich in saturated fat and cholesterol. In addition, meat may be contaminated with hormones, pesticides or residues of drugs, according to the way the animal has been fed.

In this sense, a varied consumption of vegetables, combined with other plant foods such as cereals and vegetables, is a good alternative to animal protein consumption. The traditional cuisine uses this advice to provide very natural and nutritious preparations, such as rice with lentils, or hummus (chickpea paste with sesame), and other traditional dishes.

Legumes as a source of carbohydrates

Legumes are rich in complex carbohydrates. Its high content of this component provides similar energy to that one of cereals, although with much more proteins.

Beans are rich in carbohydrates and within the different varieties of beans we will stand out red beans. Lentils, chickpeas and dry peas also contain high amounts of this component. Green beans, fresh peas and soybeans contain much smaller amounts.

In general, pulses, are characterized by their ability to pour glucose gradually into the bloodstream. This is obtained by metabolizing carbohydrates.

Legumes for obesity

When we eat legumes, glucose is being added into the bloodstream slowly. The high fiber content of pulses regulates the absorption of their carbohydrates content. This control of blood sugar is very interesting for two main reasons:

First, because they keep the feeling of fullness for a long time. Unlike other foods that cause a sharp rise in blood sugar, forcing the body to burn a lot of sugar in a short time, legumes keep these levels very stable, which determines the body can be full for long.

They are ideal for feeding children, so they can have enough energy in their games, in feeding the people doing some exercise or simply in all people who want to keep satisfied, without feeling hungry after a while of having eaten.

This advantage would justify the routine use of legumes for human consumption, and would face up the view that legumes are fattening. Instead, legumes could be satisfying. By means of eating pulses, we can avoid to eat other “empty food” that would provide only a momentary satiety. Legumes are perfect when you want to lose weight.

Keep in mind that legumes contain very little fat. Rationed properly, legumes “are not fattening ” and what makes you fat is the rest of food you accompany legumes with or if you abuse them. The ideal rule would be to consume them habitually and moderately, almost sparingly in case of obesity.

* Related information:

Legumes makes us fat?

How much legumes a day?

Legumes for diabetes

Chickpea dish with spinach

Chickpea dish with spinach. Fiber helps control the digestion of carbohydrates and makes it suitable for diabetes.

The wealth in carbohydrates and fiber of legumes is also interesting because it keeps the sugar levels very stable. This is very interesting for people who have diabetes and need to control the levels of blood sugar. The consumption of this food may make them less dependent on the supply of insulin.

It is said that people with diabetes should not abuse legumes as their carbohydrate content is very high. However, it has been found that the absorption of sugars of pulses is performed in a slow manner, so that, eaten them wisely, they are suitable in diabetes diet.

Anyway, if you still distrust these foods, you can mix legumes with other vegetables, such as spinach, so the absorption of carbohydrates can be controled better.

Pulses for the brain and intellect

Moreover, we must not forget that sugar is necessary to feed the brain and nerves, so legumes are very interesting not only for people who must make great efforts to provide abundant physical energy, but for students and persons that need to be able to feed the brain properly.

Besides being a source of energy, legumes are high in choline and lecithin, essential nutrients for the formation of neurotransmitters. They are also a good supply of magnesium and vitamin B.

Legumes are rich in fiber

Legumes are rich in fiber, both soluble and insoluble fiber. We know how important fiber is to physical health:

It was found that ingestion of foods rich in soluble fiber reduces cholesterol levels up to 10%. Among the main foods rich in soluble fiber we have the green beans and dry beans.

In addition to controlling cholesterol, fiber is also necessary to avoid constipation. Beans are high in mucilage, a soluble fiber. 100g of this food provide 20% of daily fiber needs.

It has been shown that regular intake of these foods may help prevent some cancers. Through food, besides eating healthy principles, our body also eats a lot of toxins, from the whole process of production and food preservation (see Food poisoning)

Removing promptly all these toxins before they are reabsorbed by the body itself or accumulated in the gut is a good way to prevent the occurrence of many diseases. Studies have shown that people who do a diet rich in fiber are less likely to suffer from colon, breast and lung cancer.

Legumes are rich in vitamins and minerals

Lentils, chickpeas and peas are rich in B vitamins, which, as we know, are appropriate vitamins for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Among all of them, it is worth to highlight niacin or vitamin B3, along with thiamin, pyridoxine and riboflavin, in order to help keeping the nervous system healthy.

chickpeas dish

The legumes dishes are an important source of protein, vitamins and minerals. They are also very cheap and easy to prepare. In the photo, a preparation of chickpeas.

Legumes contain high amounts of folate, which the body converts folic acid (vitamin B9), and whose deficiencies are responsible for the appearance of symptoms of depression or moodiness. Lentils are the richest legumes in this vitamin

Green beans are especially rich in vitamin C. Eating 100g of this food covers 20% of daily needs. The functions of this vitamin are very numerous, but a major one is its ability to neutralize free radicals. This antioxidant helps the body to eliminate the negative effects of free radicals, preventing cell aging and the onset of many degenerative diseases. Along with beans, alfalfa sprouts also a good source of vitamin C.

In addition, green beans are rich in vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene. Vitamin A is another antioxidant very important that plays a key role in the health of the skin, eyes or control the development of cancerous cells.

Legumes are rich in minerals, especially iron, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Lentils, despite his fame, are not the richest food in iron (it has less than beans, chickpeas or soybeans).

We know the importance of iron in the prevention of diseases such as anemia. This food is very interesting also for women who are prone to very heavy periods, for people who usually suffer nosebleeds. Lately it has been found that women who have low levels of this mineral tend to suffer more vaginal infections.

Legumes are rich in calcium. Among them, soybeans are very near to cow’s milk content, so they can bring all the properties of this mineral (see details).

At the same time, legumes are particularly suitable for those who can not tolerate milk well or can not drink it, because they have lactose intolerance. Legumes do not posses lactose. Legumes can be very important for people who have osteoporosis, especially postmenopausal women and older men.

Legumes also have enough phosphorus, a mineral that is very important for the body as it contributes to the formation of bone after calcium and it is involved in the formation of many enzymes, besides being important for the health of nerves and brain function. Beans, lentils and beans are the richest in this mineral. (See calcium content of legumes)

Legumes, rich in magnesium

Considering the content of magnesium in legumes, peas and lentils are those containing more. We know how important this mineral is in the formation of bone and how it contributes to the health of our circulatory system. It thins the blood, preventing thrombus or heart attacks, and controlling blood pressure.

No less important is the mineral in the body’s metabolism. (By activating certain enzymes, it is involved in basic bodily functions, including, for example, protein synthesis, metabolism of carbohydrates, the formation of DNA)

Legumes for cardiovascular health

It has been found that the inclusion of any type of legume in the diet helps prevent heart disease. Proteins, phytates and fiber in this group of foods help lower cholesterol and protect the body against cardiovascular disease.

Advantages and disadvantages of eating legumes

When eaten properly, legumes are a very suitable food. No other food contains such a high percentage of protein with as little fat. At the same time, they provide lots of fiber and plenty of vitamins and minerals. They are also a food with a very cheap price.

For its high content of carbohydrates, they are especially suitable for persons performing heavy physical activity. Still, they must be properly prepared (see “How to cook legumes ” in the listing below). They must also be eaten moderately. For the same reason, obese people and persons performing sedentary work MUST take them in controlled amounts.

Contraindications and toxicity of legumes

Some people have the stomach too delicate or lacking the necessary enzymes to make a proper digestion of this food group. When these people eat legumes, they cause them many problems of indigestion or flatulence so they should refrain from eating. Also people having arthritis or gout should not eat legumes as excessive protein promotes increased uric acid.

In some cases, the inappropriate use of these foods has been causing strong intoxications or have been cases of allergies. Therefore, one should be properly aware about the digestive problems or toxicity that legumes can cause. (More information on this topic in “Problems with legumes“)

Nutritional composition of legumes

The following table shows the composition of pulses per 100 grams. (Click on the image to enlarge)

composicion nutricional legumbres

More information on legumes.

This article was endorsed by Elisenda Carballido - Dietitian nutritionist. Postgraduate in Phytotherapy and master in Nutrition and Metabolism.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

28 September, 2023

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