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5 health benefits of beans and other legumes

Adding beans and legumes to your diet boosts your overall health and wellbeing, and they’re staples that can easily be incorporated into dishes you may already be enjoying.

One small thing: The next time you make cottage pie, replace half the mincemeat with brown lentils (and try a topping of mashed sweet potato) for a hearty, healthy meal.

Beans and legumes are protein powerhouses that are vital to a healthy diet. While “beans” and “legumes” are often used interchangeably, they mean something slightly different in the plant world.

Beans are the kidney-shaped edible seeds that grow inside a pod or capsule. Good examples are kidney beans, black beans and cannellini beans.

Legumes include not only beans but also peas, soya beans, chickpeas, lentils and even peanuts.

The health benefits of legumes

Legumes are a great low-fat meat alternative and provide a good source of plant-based protein. They can also help boost your intake of soluble fibre, which can lower blood cholesterol, maintain regular bowel movements and help keep your blood sugar under control.

Legumes are also a great source of a range of B vitamins – but in particular vitamin B6 and folate, which help your body use fat, carbohydrates and protein for fuel.

In addition, legumes also provide an excellent plant-based source of iron, which is an important mineral as it helps your body make blood. Iron comes in two different forms – haem and non-haem. Haem iron is found in meats; non-haeme iron is found in plant foods, such as beans and lentils, and is better absorbed when consumed with vitamin-C rich foods, including green peppers, tomatoes and citrus fruits.

Eat more beans and legumes

By reducing your intake of refined grains and increasing your consumption of wholegrains, you can lower your risk for Type 2 diabetes. This is partly because eating fibre-rich wholegrains helps with weight control, but it has also been linked to improved insulin sensitivity and lower fasting blood sugar levels.

4. Supports healthy digestion

Here’s how to add beans and legumes to your diet:

  • • Roasted chickpeas or steamed edamame (soya beans in a pod) are great as snacks.
  • • Use legume-based dips, such as hummus, with vegetable sticks and crackers.
  • • Add kidney beans to salads or prepare a three-bean salad with your favourite choice of beans (butterbeans, baked beans and chopped green beans make a good combo).
  • • Baked beans on a slice of wholewheat bread or seed loaf is a good option for a simple, light, high-fibre meal.
  • • Add beans and lentils to homemade soups and stews.
  • • Make a nutritious spread by blending chickpeas, red kidney beans and black beans with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. Serve with veggies, or spread onto a wholewheat pita.
  • • Marinate soya beans in vinegar, a little oil and some herbs. Serve with crackers for a tasty appetiser.
  • • Picky eaters? Purée beans or lentils with a little water and add to hamburger patties, casseroles, stews or pasta sauces.
  • • Make a lentil curry with your favourite vegetables and serve with basmati rice.

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