Legumes are controversial in certain circles.
Some people even choose to eliminate them from their diet. However, legumes are a staple food in many cultures.
Thus, you may wonder whether they’re beneficial or harmful.
This article explains whether legumes are good or bad for your health.
What are legumes?
The legume family consists of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside. The term “legume” is used to describe the seeds of these plants.
Common edible legumes include lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans, soybeans, and peanuts.
The different types vary greatly in nutrition, appearance, taste, and use.
Summary: Legumes is a general term used to describe the seeds of plants from the legume family, which includes beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts.
Legumes are rich in both protein and fiber
Legumes have a remarkable nutritional profile and are a rich source of healthy fibers and protein.
For example, 1 cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils provides:
- Calories: 230
- Protein: 18 grams
- Fiber: 16 grams
- Carbs: 40 grams
- Iron: 37% of the recommended daily intake
- Folate: 90% of the recommended daily intake
- Magnesium: 17% of the recommended daily intake
- Potassium: 16% of the recommended daily intake
What’s more, the same amount offers over 10% of the recommended daily intake for vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6, as well as phosphorus, zinc, copper, and manganese.
Legumes are among the best plant-based sources of protein. They’re not only highly nutritious but also cheap, which makes them a staple in many developing countries.
Summary: Legumes are highly nutritious, packing plenty of protein and fiber. They’re also cheap and widely available.
Legumes contain antinutrients
The nutritional quality of legumes is hampered by certain compounds.
Raw legumes contain antinutrients, which can interfere with digestion and the absorption of other nutrients.
Phytic acid, or phytate, is an antioxidant found in all edible plant seeds, including legumes.
It impairs the absorption of iron, zinc, and calcium from the same meal and may increase the risk of mineral deficiencies in people who rely on legumes or other high-phytate foods as a dietary staple.
However, this is only relevant when meat intake is low and high-phytate foods regularly make up a large part of meals — which is common in developing countries.
People who regularly eat meat are not at risk of mineral deficiencies caused by phytic acid.
You can reduce legumes’ phytic acid content through several methods, including soaking, sprouting, and fermentation.
Lectins are a family of proteins that may constitute up to 10% of the total protein content of legumes.
They resist digestion and may affect the cells lining your intestinal tract.
One well-studied lectin is phytohemagglutinin, which is found in red kidney beans. It’s toxic in high amounts, and several incidents of poisoning have been reported after the consumption of raw or improperly cooked kidney beans.
In most other edible legumes, the amount of lectins is not high enough to cause symptoms.
That said, beans should only be eaten fully cooked and prepared.
Soaking them overnight and boiling them at 212°F (100°C) for at least 10 minutes degrades phytohemagglutinin and other lectins.
Summary: Raw legumes harbor antinutrients, which may cause harm. However, proper preparation methods get rid of most of them.
Rich in healthy fibers
Legumes are particularly rich in healthy fibers, such as resistant starch and soluble fibers.
Both types pass undigested through your stomach and small intestine until they reach your colon, where they feed your friendly gut bacteria.
Suggested read: Meat: Good or bad?
Unpleasant side effects of these fibers include gas and bloating, but they also help form short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), such as butyrate, which may improve colon health and reduce your risk of colon cancer.
What’s more, both resistant starch and soluble fibers help you feel full.
Additionally, they’re very effective at moderating blood sugar levels after meals and may improve insulin sensitivity.
Summary: Legumes are a rich source of fibers that may have various beneficial health effects.
Other health benefits of legumes
Legumes have been linked to various other health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.
Randomized controlled trials also suggest that regular consumption of these plant foods may reduce blood pressure and triglycerides.
Summary: Legumes may improve blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, lower heart disease risk, and promote weight loss in the long term.
Legumes are linked to various health benefits.
They have an impressive nutritional profile and are one of the best plant-based sources of protein.
While they harbor antinutrients, you can use methods like soaking, sprouting and boiling to reduce their levels of these compounds.
Therefore, properly prepared legumes are very healthy when consumed as part of a balanced diet.