Care to guess? Vegetables, perhaps?
It so happens that beans are the cornerstone of every “Blue Zones” diet. Blue Zones are regions in the world where people live longer, and better. These populations reach the age 100 at rates 10 times greater than in the US.
My favourite is the black bean, with chickpeas in close second. But there are lots of others to choose from, including kidney, pinto, soy/edamame, cannellini, split-peas and English peas. In the nutritional gold star “legume” category, there’s not only beans, but lentils. Lentils come in a several varieties such as beluga, French and red, which give us a mix of flavours and textures. It’s up to us whether to eat a wide variety of legumes or just a few. Bottom line is that we include them as often as possible in our daily food choices. Ideally three servings a day!
Why Eat Legumes
Legumes (i.e. beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils) are…
Low in saturated fat
High in fibre
High in protein
High in iron, zinc, folate and potassium
High in phytates
Consistent with the Blue Zones, one study concluded that legumes were the only food group to produce a significant reduction in mortality. What does the growing body of research literature have to say about the effect of eating legumes on specific diseases? The following is a taste.
Cancer: The effectiveness of soy to reduce estrogen levels may help explain why Chinese and Japanese women have such low rates of breast cancer. See reference here. And click here to learn why legumes may lower our risk of other cancers, such as colon cancer.
Diabetes: This research article indicates, “Dietary therapy is showing a bright future in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Legumes, owing to their high nutritive value, are increasingly being used in dietetic formulations in the treatment and prevention of diabetes on account of their antidiabetic potential.”
High Blood Pressure: A review study concluded, “Dietary pulses significantly lowered BP in people with and without hypertension.” Pulses are the dried edible seeds of certain plants in the legume family and include dry peas, lentils, beans and chickpeas.
While we wait for the high quality research data to continue to build, we can rest assured it won’t hurt us to incorporate more legumes into our diet. (And if you’re concerned about eating soy, check out my post here).
Ways to Love Legumes
A serving is defined as a quarter cup of hummus or bean dip; a half cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu, or tempeh; or a full cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils.
We can make legumes the star attraction, or add them to a salad or chili, or simply snack on them (think hummus or edamame).
And…of course we include them often in the dishes we create at home! Here’s a lentil chili taco recipe we love, and below is the recipe for another of my current favourites.
Adzuki Bean Stew ~ Enjoy it Over Rice or in a Wrap!
As much as I truly enjoy black beans and chick peas, I do like to shake things up sometimes when it comes to beans. The adzuki (or aduki) bean and this simple, wonderful recipe from the Super Fresh cookbook give me that chance.
The Adzuki is a small Japanese red bean that can be purchased canned, or dried. This is the only bean I bother cooking from dried, in large part because they only need to be soaked for 1-2 hours, and they only take 1 hour to cook. Like all dried legumes, they are really inexpensive, which is a bonus. I buy the dried beans from my local grocery store and Bulk Barn.
Makes 6 cups
Ingredients for Stew
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups diced onions
2 tbsp peeled minced fresh ginger
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 cups cooked adzuki beans (about three 14 oz/398 mL cans, drained and rinsed)
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup tamari
2 cups vegetable stock
Ingredients For Rice Bowl Option
Cooked rice, preferably brown
Ingredients For Wrap Option
Tortillas (large or small), preferably whole wheat
Spring mix lettuce
- Heat oil in a pot over medium heat.
- Add onions and ginger and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened.
- Stir in oregano, cayenne, and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.
- Add beans, tomato paste, tamari, and stock and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Use immediately or let cool, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 5 days. (It also freezes nicely.)
Serve over rice, or in a wrap with grated carrots, sliced avocado and lettuce. Enjoy!