By Alexandra Locke
Many people aren’t aware that they need at least 2 – 3 serves of legumes per week to get the health benefits these fabulous seeds provide. We take a look at what legumes are, why we should be eating at least 2 – 3 serves a week, and how can we easily incorporate them into tasty everyday meals.
When it comes to eating for good health, many Australians could be benefiting from a myriad of health benefits, simply by adding more legumes to their diet. Despite this, just 35% of Australians are consuming the recommended amount of legumes (1), 2-3 serves per week, and the number one reason they’re falling short? Two out of three just don’t think of adding legumes to their diet (1). And it’s not just adults who are under-consuming these nutrient powerhouses – only one in every twenty Australian children eats legumes regularly (2, 3). And with 2016 being the International Year of the Pulse, now is the perfect time to benefit from this versatile food group.
But first of all, what is a legume?
A legume is the seed pod from the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family of plants. There are thousands of different varieties of legumes in many different shapes, sizes and colours. The dried seeds of legumes are referred to as pulses. Well-known varieties include chickpeas, beans – including soy beans, peas, lentils and less well known, although gaining popularity in Australia, are lupins.
Legumes are a truly versatile food and come in all different forms; they can be ground into flour, dried, canned, cooked, frozen and incorporated into both savoury and sweet recipes.
So what’s in it for you?
Although small in size, legumes pack a mighty punch in terms of health benefits, as they are….
• an economical source of quality protein
• mostly low in fat and virtually free of saturated fats, with the exception of soybeans and peanuts
• abundant in fibre, both soluble and insoluble
And they contain a range of phytonutrients, such as isoflavones, which may help to protect health and prevent disease.
Why should I eat legumes at least 2 – 3 times a week?
The recommendation of eating legumes 2 – 3 times per week is based on the long term health benefits that legumes can provide. Research has shown that regularly eating legumes may reduce the risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers and diabetes.
A recent study demonstrated that eating legumes 4 times a week contributed to a 22% decreased risk of coronary heart disease (4). This can be explained by the effect on the markers of heart disease as eating at least a cup of legumes every day can lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol (5, 6). Legumes are also beneficial for diabetes prevention and management. Eating at least half a cup of legumes per day for at least 4 weeks has been shown to help manage blood glucose levels. Additionally, people who eat a full cup of legumes each day as part of a low glycemic index diet have been shown to have better long term blood glucose control – lower HbA1c (7).
But not only do they help protect against chronic diseases, legumes can also help you maintain and even lose weight. Research has shown that diets containing 1.5-2 serves of legumes a day may promote weight loss due to their soluble fibre, protein and low GI carbohydrate content which all help to keep you feeling fuller for longer (8, 9).
“Legumes are such a valuable way of adding plant-based protein, fibre and B-vitamins to our diets and there are so many ways to incorporate them into our everyday eating. As many Australians don’t eat legumes at all, GLNC recommends a minimum of 2-3 serves every week as a starting point. For long term health benefits, the evidence indicates we should be eating them every day.”
Michelle Broom, General Manager of GLNC
Although most legumes are generally similar in terms of their nutritional value, each legume comes with its own profile of specific health benefits. Some of the more popular legumes include…
Chickpeas: contain higher amounts of calcium and magnesium phosphorous than other legumes and are also a source of potassium. They’re a great source of micronutrients too, which are vital for good health, including riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and folate. For a twist on traditional hummus, why not try this deliciously different Beetroot Hummus made with chickpeas and beetroots, to up your legume intake!
Lentils: are a great source of iron, so they’re particularly helpful for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet or if you don’t eat much meat. Lentils also contain prebiotic carbohydrates and resistant starch which are beneficial for good gut health. This Quinoa, Black Lentil & Roasted Barley Salad is a great way to add more lentils to your diet.
Soy: although there’s much controversy over the inclusion of soy in a healthy diet, research has shown there is no association between consumption of soy and risk of breast cancer, instead it’s been demonstrated that there is a potential protective association in those who consume large quantities of soy products (10). You can find out more on the health benefits of different varieties of legumes here.
Tip: Rinse tinned legumes thoroughly to decrease salt content by 40%!
So how do you amp up your legume intake to 2-3 serves of legumes per week in order to benefit from the advantages legumes can offer?
One serve of legumes equals half a cup and it’s easy to add a serve to your everyday cooking; simply add half a cup of cooked lentils to a green salad, half a cup of chickpeas to your family curry or half a cup of adzuki beans to your scrambled eggs on toast.
Or make legumes the main event with this Traditional Hummus recipe, Chickpea Falafel, Lentil Rice Paper Rolls. For something a little different, try an Apple & Cinnamon Chickpea Cake or these Lupin Brownies, made with lupin flour and ground almonds.
For more easy tips and tricks on how to enjoy legumes more often, download our factsheet here.
You can also love your legumes with Nutrition Australia’s National Nutrition Week, which runs from 16th-22nd October. National Nutrition Week’s Try For Five challenge aims to get more Australians to increase their vegetable intake, including legumes. And the great news is that half a cup of legumes counts towards your daily veggie target!
However you do it, increasing your intake and variety of legumes is a great step for your good health.
For more delicious recipes featuring legumes, click here.
- GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.
- CSIRO. Cereal Foods and Legume Consumption by Australian Children: Secondary Analysis of the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. 2009.
- Australia. CPHNRFaUoS. 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey: Main findings. Canberra: 2008.
- Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria C, Vupputuri S, Myers L, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(21):2573-8.
- Jayalath VH, de Souza RJ, Sievenpiper JL, et al. Effect of Dietary Pulses on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Controlled Feeding Trials. American Journal of Hypertension. January 1, 2014 2014;27(1):56-64.
- Ha V, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, Jayalath VH, Mirrahimi A, Agarwal A, et al. Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Canadian Medical Association journal. 2014.
- Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Augustin LS, Mitchell S, Sahye-Pudaruth S, Blanco Mejia S et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:1653-60
- Sievenpiper JL, Kendall CW, Esfahani A, Wong JM, Carleton AJ, Jiang HY, et al. Effect of non-oil-seed pulses on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled experimental trials in people with and without diabetes. Diabetologia. 2009;52(8):1479-95.
- Li SS, Kendall CW, de Souza RJ, Jayalath VH, Cozma AI, Ha V, et al. Dietary pulses, satiety and food intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis of acute feeding trials. Obesity. 2014;22(8):1773-80.
- Morimoto Y, Maskarinec G, Park S-Y, Ettienne R, Matsuno RK, Long C, et al. Dietary isoflavone intake is not statistically significantly associated with breast cancer risk in the Multiethnic Cohort. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;FirstView:1-8.