Focus Foods: Legumes

Let’s talk legumes: lentils, chickpeas, beans, and all the varieties in between.

All it takes is a quick Google search to find yourself hundreds of easy, tasty and healthy recipes that take advantage of this real super-food group. But first, here’s why we should all consider eating them:

  • Heart Health: In a study that followed participants for an average of 19 years, eating legumes 4 times or more per week significantly decreased their risk for both cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. This led researchers to conclude that legume intake might be a key dietary component for preventing this disease.

  • Anti-inflammatory: Legumes are packed with fibre which our gut bacteria digest, creating butyrate, a short chain fatty acid with powerful anti-inflammatory benefits. As inflammation is the root of most diseases, higher intake of daily fibre has been associated with health benefits including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and overall mortality.

  • Gut Microbiome: A healthy microbiome is important to staying healthyIn one study, adding chickpeas to participants’ diets gave positive results in just three weeks. The findings showed that bad bacteria levels dropped, while health-promoting ones increased.

  • Antioxidant activity: Legumes have been shown to have antioxidant effects, with lentils demonstrating the highest. A study concluded that black beans, lentils, soybeans and red kidney beans may help prevent artery plaque build-up due to their antioxidant effect on LDL cholesterol.

  • Blood sugar control: Beans are low GI, meaning they don’t spike our blood sugar and give us a steady energy release. Interestingly, one meal of beans has been shown to blunt a blood sugar spike not only during the meal, but even four hours later, with a second meal!

Do we have to worry about lectins?

Despite a trending fear of lectins in foods, no studies have found that lectins in properly cooked legumes pose a threat to our good health. In fact, just the opposite has been confirmed again and again: eating legumes is strongly associated with lower mortality in cultures around the world. Eat beans, and you may just live longer!

Feel like trying your hand at a new recipe? Here are some tips to introducing these foods into your diet:

  • Soaking legumes overnight cuts down on cooking time.

  • Always soak overnight and cook dried red kidney beans until soft, as they can be harder to digest.

  • Rinse any canned legumes well before eating.

  • If legumes are new to you, start off small with around ¼ cup per serve to allow your microbiome to adjust to the new fibre and protein.

Let’s get cooking!

Red Lentil Hummus (from Love and Lemons, makes 1.5 cups)

Great as a party dip, spread on a wrap or sandwich, or a healthy snack with veggies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried red lentils

  • ¼ tahini

  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves peeled

  • ½ tsp grated fresh ginger

  • ½ tsp cumin

  • ¼ tsp coriander

  • ¼ tsp turmeric

  • ¼ cardamom

  • ¼ tsp onion powder

  • ¼ tsp cayenne

  • ½ tsp salt

  • Freshly ground pepper

Method:

  1. Soak lentils overnight and rinse before cooking. Bring to a boil in water then reduce and simmer for about 15 minutes until tender.

  2. Drain and let cool. Put in blender with rest of ingredients. Add water 1 tablespoon at a time if too think. Blend until creamy!

  3. Best fresh, but will keep in fridge for 4 to 5 days. Thin with a bit of water if it thickens. 

Super Easy Bean Stew (from The Happy Pear, serves 3-4)

Ingredients:

  • 5 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 medium onion chopped

  • ½ thumb sized piece of ginger minced

  • ½ red chilli minced

  • 1 can cannellini beans

  • 1 can chopped tomatoes

  • 1 can coconut milk

  • 3 tbsp tamari

  • 2 tbsp curry powder

  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

  • Juice of ½ lemon

  • 5 tbsp water

  • Handful of chives

  • Pita bread to serve

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a pan and cook the onion, garlic and ginger for 2 minutes while stirring.

  2. Add in coconut milk and chopped tomatoes.

  3. Add the tamari, curry powder and pepper

  4. Add lemon juice, beans, and water.

  5. Bring to a boil and reduce, allowing it to thicken for about 8 minutes.

  6. Finely chop and add in chives.