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Eat legumes for a healthier heart

One of the simplest lifestyle changes you can make to benefit your heart is including more heart-friendly foods in your diet. Begin by adding more legumes to your meals – they're affordable and pack a proper nutritional punch.

One small thing: Next time you make spaghetti bolognaise, add canned lentils to the sauce.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, 225 South Africans die from heart disease and stroke every day. Yet 80% of these incidences can be prevented. So, what can you do to look after your heart?

Of course, you do need to exercise regularly and quit smoking (if you're still reaching for those cigarettes), but one of the easiest lifestyle changes you can make to benefit your heart is watching what you eat.

Research has shown that eating legumes – beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – can lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, and may reduce blood pressure. They're also great for weight management.

High cholesterol, high blood pressure and being overweight are all risk factors for heart disease.

How legumes improve nutrition

The legume family includes dried beans, peas and lentils. They're a group of staple foods that have been cultivated for more than 10 000 years. (Our ancestors were obviously on to something.)

Legumes are an excellent low-fat meat alternative, providing protein, fibre, B vitamins and iron. They are especially rich in folate and vitamin B6 and don't contain any of the unhealthy saturated and trans fats.

But, most importantly, legumes are high in heart-healthy fibre – and research shows that increasing your fibre intake, especially the soluble kind, can help reduce your total and LDL cholesterol.

This soluble fibre is also found in other foods, including oats, barley, wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, but legumes are regarded as one of the richest sources.

According to the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines, you should eat beans, split-peas, lentils and soya regularly. A single serving size is:

  • ½ cup of dry beans, peas or lentils, soaked and cooked, or drained when using canned varieties
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) of dry soya mince

Want to eat more legumes to reap their health benefits? Here's how:

  • Substitute meat in stews and curries with kidney beans, chickpeas or lentils. You can also add legumes to soups, salads and stews.
  • Get creative! Find simple recipes for chunky bean soup, delicious chickpea curry, simple bean salads, and even vegetarian lasagne.
  • Eat baked beans on toast for breakfast or add tofu to salads and stir-fries.
  • Hummus, tofu and beans are perfect for wrap fillings.

Legumes really are a great staple to have in your kitchen – they're healthy, economical and can be stored safely for long periods.

Click here for some great ideas of how to increase your intake of legumes – an affordable way to make a big difference to your heart health.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit To get in touch with us, email