Posted by Alison on 10th November 2008
Inexpensive and versatile, these foods are nutritional gems.
Legumes, seeds, and nuts are all valuable sources of protein as well as being low in saturated fat and sodium and cholesterol-free. They are also good sources of fiber, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), folate, calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus.
The term “legume” includes a huge range of peas, beans, and lentils. They are important foods and have the advantage over animal proteins of being both inexpensive and versatile in how they are cooked, as well as being packed with nutrients.
Due to their high soluble-fiber content, legumes are believed to help reduce blood cholesterol. They also have a very low glycemic index, which means they are absorbed relatively slowly into the bloodstream and do not cause sudden increases in glucose blood levels. This makes this group of foods particularly beneficial for anyone who has diabetes and those at risk of developing this disease, such as people who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes.
Protein in seeds and nuts
Seeds are the embryo and food supply of new plants, whereas nuts are dried tree fruits, which are contained within hard shells. Both seeds and nuts contain 10-25 percent protein; they are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fat; and they are good sources of fiber, the vitamins thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and E, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron.
Research shows that people who regularly eat nuts have a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There are a number of possible explanations, in addition to the known benefits of unsaturated fat on cholesterol levels. For example, nuts are rich in arginine, an amino acid that boosts nitric oxide. This compound relaxes blood vessels and eases blood flow as well as making blood less likely to form clots.
Since the protein obtained from most plants lacks one or more of the amino acids that the body needs (essential amino acids), these sources of protein must be combined with a complementary plant-derived food or soybean product in order to form complete protein. This is not an issue when animal proteins are also included in the diet, but it is important for vegetarians who eliminate most animal products from their diets.
Healthy proteins Lentils lend themselves to a variety of appetizing dishes. Here they are formed into patties with grated zucchini, almonds, and sesame seeds.
What is a serving?
Two to three servings daily from the protein group are recommended. Legumes, seeds, and nuts are good sources of protein, and offer an alternative to red meat and dairy. The servings below are for cooked legumes and raw nuts and seeds:
½ cup soybeans
½ cup lentils
½ cup chickpeas
½ cup kidney beans
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
3 tbsp sesame seeds
3 tbsp alfalfa seeds
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
3 tbsp flaxseeds
3 tbsp almonds
3 tbsp macadamia
3 tbsp Brazil nuts
3 tbsp pistachios
3 tbsp hazelnuts
3 tbsp cashew nuts
There is a myriad of legumes with a variety of colors, shapes, flavors, and uses. They are easy to prepare and can be eaten alone, combined with many other foods, or roasted to eat as a snack. Some legumes are available precooked, canned or frozen, but if you purchase them dry, soak them overnight and cook for 2-3 hours or until tender. Dried lentils do not require soaking and cook quickly.
Food (1 Cup Cooked) Calories Protein
Black beans 132 8.90%
Black-eyed peas 109 7.40%
Chickpeas 171 9.40%
Fava beans 110 7.60%
Kidney beans 127 8.30%
Lentils 106 8.70%
Lima beans 110 7.70%
Peas 114 7.40%
Pinto beans 131 7.70%
Soybeans 149 14.00%
White beans 143 8.90%
Facts about soybeans
Soybeans supply nearly as many essential amino acids as animal proteins. They contain twice as much protein as other legumes and are a good source of vitamin A, and B vitamins, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. They also contain large amounts of isoflavones, which are phytochemicals with beneficial health effects. Soybeans are processed into a wide variety of products, including:
Soymilk Available in regular, low-fat, and flavored varieties.
Tofu Also known as soybean curd, this can be used in smoothies, stir-fry dishes, soups, and burgers.
Tempeh A chunky cake with a chewy texture and nutty flavor. It can be used instead of ground beef or chicken in a variety of recipes.