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Legumes: They are so healthy!

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 372 views

Lentils, peas, beans – legumes provide many nutrients and are therefore an important part of a balanced diet. They also play an important role in vegan nutrition. Read here what exactly legumes are, how healthy they are and how to prepare them correctly.

What are legumes?

As the name suggests, legumes are seeds of plants that mature in a pod. Typical legumes are beans, peas, lupins, chickpeas, peanuts and lentils.

The pod is an elongated carpel folded along the long axis. Inside is the edible seed. Legumes belong to the legume family (Leguminosae) and have many branches: there are around 730 genera and 20,000 species.

In most cases, they are harvested when overripe, dried and, if necessary, peeled. Among the plant foods, legumes are important suppliers of protein. When dried, they contain an average of 15 grams per 100 grams.

In addition to dried legumes such as lentils, botanically speaking, fresh varieties such as green peas and beans also belong to the family. They are not as high in protein, are harvested immature and used like vegetables.

Legumes are commercially available raw and dried, but also cooked and canned. Some varieties are eaten with the fruit pod, while others only use the seeds.

Due to their high vegetable protein content, legumes play an important role in vegetarian and vegan diets. There is now a wide range of meat alternatives based on legumes, as these have a high vegetable protein content. For example, tofu, tempeh and soy meat are made from soybeans.

Caution: Do not eat legumes raw, they cause gastrointestinal problems.

These legumes exist

The best-known legumes include types of beans such as kidney, pole or white beans. Peas, chickpeas and lentils are also sources of protein. Legumes are not the same as legumes, they are differentiated as follows:

Chickpeas

Chickpeas form their own genus in the subfamily of the legumes. Chickpeas are mainly cultivated in India and Australia as well as in most subtropical countries.

The herbaceous plant forms two angular, somewhat irregular chickpea seeds in its almost three centimeter large fruits. These are available in different colors such as beige, brown, black or red. Yellowish-beige chickpeas from the Mediterranean region are the main ones sold in Germany.

Chickpeas are used, for example, to prepare hummus or falafel. Its nutty taste also goes well with curries, rice dishes and stews. Chickpea flour can be processed into sweet or savory flatbread or cake bases.

lenses

The seeds of the flattened legumes vary in size, shape and color depending on the variety. The most popular lenses are:

  • Plate lentils are spicy, green lentils that turn brown and hard when stored. When cooking, the shell bursts easily. Plate lentils are typical stew lentils, but they also go well in puree.
  • Red lentils come from India and have a mild, fine aroma. They are already peeled and therefore ideal for quick meals.
  • Beluga lentils are black in color and retain their firm consistency when cooked.
  • Le Puy lentils from France stay crisp and are good for salads.

Compared to other legumes, lentils are easy to prepare: even dry produce does not need to be soaked. The cooking time depends on the variety. The older the lenses are, the longer it is.

Peas

Peas are cultivated worldwide in many varieties. Most dry peas come from Canada, Russia, the US and France. Popular varieties are:

  • Green peas are eaten without the pod. The round, smooth seeds have a high starch content and therefore taste rather mealy.
  • Garden peas are also peeled before consumption. The slightly wrinkled seeds have a slightly sweet aroma.
  • Sugar snap peas are edible with the green pod. They owe their name and slightly sweet taste to a relatively high sugar content.

Good quality fresh peas have a shiny, green pod without spots. Whole pods will keep in the refrigerator for a few days in a cling bag or a damp cloth. Frozen peas and dry goods have a correspondingly longer shelf life.

Peas are ideal for the wok, salads, colorful vegetable pans and rice dishes. They are also popular in stews.

beans

In Germany, beans are harvested from June to October. They are available all year round in the freezer, canned and as dried beans. The most well-known varieties include:

  • Soybeans are the most protein-rich legumes. In ready-to-eat form, they contain about eleven percent protein . They are also often the basis for vegetarian or vegan substitute products. Green beans are typical green filet beans that are eaten with the fruit pod.
  • Wax beans are similar to French beans in shape, size, and use, but have a yellow pod.
  • French beans have flatter pods and larger seeds.
  • White beans have creamy kernels with little taste of their own.
  • Kidney beans form red, kidney-shaped seeds. These do not lose their bite, shape and color even after prolonged cooking.
  • Broad beans have tender kernels that are pale green or milky white in color. They have a slightly nutty to strong taste.

Store fresh beans in the refrigerator, so they can be kept for a maximum of two days. Frozen and dried beans have a longer shelf life.

Dried beans are soaked in cold water for up to 12 hours . Then they need about an hour to cook. Boil fresh beans in water and cook until al dente.

peanuts

Botanically, the peanut is not a nut, but a member of the legume family and is therefore related to peas and beans. Your legume grows in the ground. This distinguishes them from their relatives. One to a maximum of six seeds are produced in the curved capsules, which are up to six centimeters long.

The main suppliers of peanuts are the USA, Sudan, Brazil, Senegal and Argentina. Large quantities are also grown in China and India.

From October to December, peanuts are available loose or in a net. Make sure the product is fresh: If you shake the fruit and the stone rattles in the shell, it has dried up and is old. At home, store loose nuts in an airy, cool and dark place.

Processed peanuts are bought much more often, especially canned ones with kernels. They are peeled or unpeeled, salted or natural. Peanuts are usually roasted before they are sold. This is how they unfold their full aroma.

In the kitchen, peanuts are not used like legumes, but like nuts. They are also popular in the form of peanut butter or oil.

Caution: People with a peanut allergy may react to even the smallest amount consumed with swelling in the throat, rash and shortness of breath.

lupins

Lupins are also known as lupine beans, wolf beans or fig beans.

They serve as animal feed or as food for humans. In Germany, they have been specifically bred since the 20th century. There are more than 300 different species of lupine worldwide. They can be divided into two groups: sweet and bitter lupins. Only the seeds of the sweet lupine are edible. They are often processed into meat and milk substitutes.

You can find out more about lupins in this text: Lupine: The vegetable protein source is so healthy .

Nutrients: That’s in legumes!

Pulses provide other valuable ingredients, which make them an important part of a balanced diet.

Protein

According to the German Society for Nutrition (DGE), cooked legumes contain up to 15 grams of protein per 100 grams. This makes them one of the most protein-rich plant foods. This makes it so essential for a vegan or vegetarian diet, for example. Soybeans and lupine are pioneers, while green beans and peas contain the least protein in comparison.

Protein from plant foods is not as digestible for the human body as protein from animal foods. However, by combining different vegetable protein sources, the value of the protein increases. A good combination is legumes and grains.

fiber

Legumes are rich in fiber and long-chain carbohydrates. Both ensure that legumes fill you up in the long term. Fiber also contributes to a well-functioning digestion and a healthy intestinal flora. In addition, they increase the blood sugar level only slightly and are therefore well suited for diabetics.

vitamins & minerals

Legumes contain many B vitamins, which are relevant for numerous metabolic processes in the body. These include thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), and folic acid. They also provide potassium, magnesium and iron.

Unfortunately, many of the heat-sensitive B vitamins are lost during cooking. It is therefore advisable to combine legumes with other fresh vegetables such as peppers, celery or carrots.

Secondary plant substances

Some legumes contain so-called saponins, polyphenols and phytoestrogens. They belong to the secondary plant substances. Various health-promoting effects are attributed to them. They may have anti-cancer, antibacterial and cholesterol-lowering effects.

Purine

Purines are chemical compounds and, as vital building blocks of cells, are important for the structure of DNA and enzymes. Neither humans, animals nor plants can do without them. There are many of these in legumes.

Nevertheless, too much purine is unhealthy for the body: an excess is converted into uric acid. If the kidneys are healthy, the body will later eliminate them. If, on the other hand, the function of the kidneys is disturbed, the uric acid remains in the blood longer and is distributed throughout the body. A gout attack may result.

Therefore, people suffering from gout need to consume legumes with caution: they lack enzymes that break down uric acid in the kidneys.

People who suffer from the enzyme disease favism must also avoid certain legumes. For them, even inhaling the pollen can lead to symptoms such as nausea , vomiting and diarrhea. Among other things, those affected must strictly avoid beans and products made from them.

Are legumes healthy?

Legumes not only contain a lot of nutrients, they also have more to offer: Dried legumes are low in fat and provide only a few calories in relation to the quantity. They are therefore ideal for maintaining or reducing weight. At the same time, they do not allow the blood sugar level to rise too quickly and ensure a low LDL cholesterol level – LDL is considered “bad cholesterol “.

Legumes also lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Intolerance to legumes: how to recognize it!

Many people experience bloating after eating legumes. In this case, it often helps to boil the seeds with stomach-friendly spices such as cumin , rosemary , savory or marjoram.

Ginger , curry and fennel seeds also work against the symptoms. Another option: eat legumes regularly and slowly increase the amount. The intestines get used to it over time.

However, if allergic reactions occur after consuming legumes, it may be a legume allergy. These symptoms indicate an allergy:

  • Itching, tingling or burning in the mouth and throat
  • swelling
  • Rashes such as hives or edema
  • shortness of breath
  • asthmatic attacks
  • allergic shock.

Allergic shock is life-threatening and must be treated immediately.

Remember that heating does not destroy the allergens either. In addition, the symptoms of allergy sufferers are different. Cortisone creams and shots and antihistamines help relieve symptoms of the reaction. In an emergency, adrenaline is also used.

Preparation of legumes

As sprouts, legumes taste good as a topping on bread or in a salad, for example. Otherwise, beans, peas and the like are good for stews and soups. They are also often served as an accompaniment to meat or fish dishes.

Soybeans and lupins are also the basis for vegetarian or vegan spreads, puddings and desserts, milk substitutes and tofu.

You can find legumes packaged in cans or dried in stores. If they have dried, you must first soak them before they can be processed further.

Soak dried legumes

Dried legumes lose a lot of liquid during the manufacturing process. You have to pick this up again during the preparation. To reduce the cooking time, it makes sense to soak the seeds.

First sort out the legumes: sort out damaged seeds, then rinse them in a sieve under running water.

Soak the legumes in plenty of water for eight to twelve hours. The easiest way to do this is overnight. Discard the water in the morning.

Soaking is not necessary for lentils.

Cook legumes properly

After soaking, legumes need to be cooked. Due to harmful substances, they should never be eaten raw.

The cooking time of legumes varies depending on the size and type of legume, ranging from 15 minutes (for red lentils) to two hours (for chickpeas). Observe the information on the packaging.

Can legumes be eaten raw?

Legumes have one disadvantage: Many raw seeds contain indigestible toxins such as phasin or lectin. They are toxic if taken in large quantities. Therefore: Do not eat legumes raw!

Exceptions are peanuts, green peas and snow peas.

Legumes during pregnancy and lactation

Legumes contain a lot of folic acid, which is an important nutrient for women who want to have children or who are already pregnant. Because: Folic acid is important for cell division and various growth processes in the body, and it also supports the immune system .

However, since beans, peas and the like promote flatulence and constipation, you should not consume the seeds in large quantities.

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