The food pyramid for those over 70 usually emphasize a diet which is primarily plant-based and includes a variety of vegetables, fruits, and grains. But how much do we really know about them? What are the various health benefits and how can we best prepare them for ourselves and our families?
I have been wondering about this since reading that three of the plant-based foods – namely legumes, pulses, and beans – have been linked to longevity. This got my attention!
So, I did some research on them, and it turns out that while they may be related (they are all plants, after all) they are not the same things! Let’s look first at each so that we are on the same page.
Legumes are vegetables whose fruit grows in pods. Common examples of legumes are peanuts, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas, and pinto beans. Even asparagus is considered a legume! And, if you are wondering, there are about 16,000 different types of legumes cultivated around the world.
Pulses are the seeds that grow inside legume pods. You can find them either fresh or dried at your local grocery store. A good example of these is peas (both fresh and dried), which grow inside pods and are removed from them before preparation and eating. Pulses are nutritionally quite dense, which makes them an ideal addition to boomer diets.
Beans are a member of the legume family. Since they are a seed of a legume, they are best categorized as a pulse. What is important to keep in mind is that while all beans are legumes, not all legumes are beans. In fact, beans are fruits (I had some trouble putting my mind around that also).
This helps explain why green beans and green peas are not technically beans. There are more than 40,000 types of beans grown around the world, even though only a very small portion of them is commercially produced and consumed.
Legumes, beans, and pulses, as a group, share common nutrition and health benefits. These include being rich in fiber and proteins as well as having a low glycemic index. Legumes are also a great source of folate, niacin, thiamine, calcium, magnesium, zinc, fiber, iron, prebiotics, potassium, the B6 vitamins, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and phosphorus.
They are so important to a healthy diet that that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend we consume about three cups of them a week. If we are trying to better manage blood pressure, the well-known DASH diet recommends from four to five half-cup servings per week. A bonus is that they have no cholesterol.
In addition to supporting management of hypertension, other health benefits of having legumes as a part of your plant-based diet include:
You may be wondering if you should give priority to one type of these boomer superfoods over another. The simple answer is “no” since, being from the same family, they all have similar benefits. What I like to do is mix and match them in a main or side dish, including salads.
For example, you can mix them to make veggie burgers, a healthy dip to snack on, and hearty soups. Other easy-to-prepare dishes are meatless chili and hummus. Also, remember that because of their texture, many legumes can substitute for animal-based proteins in your favorite recipes.
I do believe that many people, perhaps you are one of them, avoid including legumes, and especially beans and pulses, in their diets because they believe they are difficult to prepare. I’m not quite sure how some legumes got this reputation, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is not the case.
Yes, some may need a little extra prep, such as a soak, but otherwise cooking and serving them is very straightforward. The steps I take are to first clean the beans/pulses to get rid of any foreign objects or damaged/broken beans, give them a good rinse, soak them (not all need a soak), and then cook them. It is as easy as that.
Two other things that may make you concerned about these foods are the antinutrients that some members of the legume family may contain (which may impact their nutritional value) and the possibility of increased flatulence.
On the first, correctly cooking these foods can greatly reduce the amount of antinutrients consumed. Also, many antinutrients have their own health benefits which may, for example, help reduce cancer risk and support diabetes management.
When it comes to flatulence, it is indeed true that the non-digestible carbohydrates found in some beans and pulses, for example, may cause bloating and gas for some people. But it is equally true that they do not cause problems for others. The potential for flatulence can also be reduced by correct cooking methods.
If you are thinking about purchasing foods based on or made from legumes to get their nutrition and health benefits, be sure to check the labels before doing so. Depending on the level of processing required to manufacture the product you are considering, it may be packed with sodium, saturated fat, and sugar (among others). As you know, these can easily counter any health benefits. So read before you buy!
Do you include legumes, beans, and pulses in your healthy diet? If so, did you find it easy to do so? What has your experience been? How often to you include them in your meal planning? Do you have a favorite way of preparing them or a favorite recipe? Please join the conversation.
Tags Healthy Eating