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5 good reasons to eat legumes

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Popularly touted as a niche food only for vegetarians, legumes are now a key ingredient of modern wholefood living. Here are 5 reasons why these nutrient-dense foods should become a staple part of every healthy balanced diet.

What are legumes?

Legumes (or pulses) are members of the pea family, and are characterised by their fruit, which are seeds in a pod. 

Lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans, butter beans, broad beans, soybeans, split peas, turtle beans, adzuki beans and peanuts are all legumes. 

Why eat legumes?

1. They are high in protein

Legumes are an excellent source of essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are required both structurally and functionally by all living cells and are an important source of energy.

2. They have a low glycaemic index

A low glycaemic index, or GI, food may help you feel fuller for longer. The glycaemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to how much they raise blood sugar levels after eating. 

Lentils have an average GI of about 32, and chickpeas have an average GI of about 32. Foods with a GI below 55 are considered low GI foods, and those above 55 are considered to have a high GI.

3. They are high in fibre, a source of iron, and low in fat

These are three nutritional factors that send legumes to the top of the class for good health. Iron is essential for making haemoglobin, which transports oxygen throughout the body.

Fibre helps with healthy digestive function, normal cholesterol and a healthy waistline. And, a diet low in ‘bad’ fats such as saturated fats is good for heart health.
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4. Legumes are cheap

You can’t argue with the benefits of this point. Lentils, vegetables and rice in combination is one of the cheapest and most nutritious meals there are. If you are a meat eater and want to reduce your meat intake (either due to cost or for good health), add some lentils into your stew, curry or soup to extend your meal and add a new flavour and texture

5. They taste great

Yes, they do! Try out this simple red lentil recipe to get you started:

Slow cooker lentil dahl

  • 2 cups dry red lentils
  • 1 can (800 ml/28 oz) cubed tomatoes
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • A thumb size ginger root piece, grated or chopped
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • ½ tsp dry chilli flakes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Freshly ground black pepper
1. Lightly fry garlic, ginger, curry, chilli flakes and oil on a low heat for a minute or two. 
2. Pour into the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and close the lid. 
3. Cook on Low for about 6 hours or on High for 2.5-3 hours. 
4. Decorate with some fresh coriander and serve with Basmati rice. 
5. Enjoy! (…knowing it’s delicious and good for you)

What is a serve of legumes?

According to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, a serve of legumes when eaten as a meat alternative is 1 cup of cooked (from dried) or canned legumes.
When eaten as a serve of vegetables a serve of legumes is ½ cup. 

Aim to include 2 to 3 serves of legumes each week, particularly for benefits to your heart and to help maintain healthy blood glucose levels.