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Good Things From the Earth: Legumes
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Beans, beans, the musical fruitů Beans, beans, they're good for the heartů We all know the rest of these familiar little ditties. In fact, beans are so notorious for their flatulence-producing quality that many people avoid them altogether. But for people eating a plant-based diet beans, peas and lentils (in other words, legumes) are an important source of protein and other nutrients. Whole grains and rice, nuts and nut butters, bagels and barley are also good sources of protein but legumes are one of the best and they have many additional health benefits.
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Legumes are rich in potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and vitamin K. They provide complex carbohydrates and essential fatty acids and are loaded with dietary fiber. Sprouted beans are also an excellent source of vitamin C and enzymes.
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Looking at the abundance of nutrients available in legumes it is obvious that they can play an important role in maintaining health and avoiding a number of deficiency-related diseases. The potassium in legumes helps to keep the nerves and skeletal muscles working properly and maintain normal blood pressure. Calcium plays an important role in proper muscle contraction and transmission of nerve impulses, as well as blood clotting and, of course maintenance of bone strength. Vitamins are essential to the prevention of certain deficiency diseases and, of course, Iron prevents anemia. Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, helps to maintain the immune system and reduce the risk of cancer. Zinc also plays a role in the maintenance of the immune system. It promotes the healing of wounds and is vitally important to growth and development during childhood and adolescence. Legumes are also the main source of an important phytochemical called genistein. Phytochemicals are a group of compounds that are believed to protect against certain types of cancer. Genistein appears to inhibit the growth of breast and prostrate cancers.
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So, you're convinced that beans are good for you, right? But you're still reluctant to put up with the digestive annoyance that goes along with them. How can you comfortably use legumes in your diet? Other cultures, among them, India, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, use legumes much more extensively in their diets than we do in this country. These cultures have learned to combine legumes with other foods to counteract some of their less desirable qualities. For example, beans have an overall drying and diuretic effect on the body. In Mexico this is remedied by frying them in lard or oil. In the Middle East, where garbanzo beans are daily fare, one of the most popular ways to eat them is in combination with sesame seed oil to make a spread called hummus. Remember, how you combine the foods in your diet has a significant effect on the digestive process. Legumes are most easily digested when eaten in combination with green and non-starchy vegetables such as kale, cabbage, broccoli, turnip greens mushrooms and radishes. Some cultures have found that eating beans with seaweed works very well.
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Legumes are one of the most cost efficient foods available. In the dry form they are literally pennies per serving. Some dried beans will require overnight soaking and a long cooking time. (However, the use of a pressure cooker can greatly reduce the preparation time.) Others, such as peas and lentils, cook more quickly. Canned beans cost a little more per serving than dried but they are still inexpensive with very little loss of nutrients in the canning process. However, people who are watching their sodium intake should check the labels on canned beans, some of which can be quite high in this mineral.
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How to Use Legumes
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If the idea of sitting down to a plate of beans doesn't appeal to you but you want to get the nutritional benefits, there are many appetizing ways of incorporating legumes into your diet. There are a number of delicious vegetarian chili recipes around, some that use a variety of legumes rather than just the usual kidney beans. Served over macaroni or rice with some cornbread or polenta it makes a very satisfying meal. Beans, peas and lentils can make some very nice soups and stews. Of course, beans are used in a variety of ways in Mexican dishes such as refried beans, tacos, burritos and tostados. Many people enjoy beans with rice, a combination which provides all the necessary amino acids. Cooked beans are a very nice addition to fresh salads and as mentioned above, this combination is not so inclined to cause tummy rumbling. Different types of dips and spreads such as hummus and black bean dip, can be made from beans and served with vegetables or crackers or spread on a bagel or bread. Indeed there are many different ways to incorporate this powerhouse of nutrition into your diet. (See the Suggested Readings section for three books that will tell you how.)
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When first making the effort to add more legumes to your diet, it makes sense to choose the right ones for your particular digestive tract. Are you super-sensitive? Aduki beans, lentils, mung beans and peas are the most easily digestible of the legumes. Soy products, such as soymilk, miso, tofu and tempeh are also well tolerated. However, the soybean itself is among the hardest to digest of all the legumes. And watch out for those black beans. Pinto, kidney, navy, black-eyed peas, garbanzo, and lima beans are in the middle of the scale.
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So, now that you know all about legumes, go ahead and eat your beans. They're good for you.
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This article is intended for informational purposes only. Nothing in this publication is intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis and advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or health-care provider before starting any new diet or procedure involving your health. Prompt professional medical guidance is recommended for any health problem.
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