Why You Should Add Legumes to Your Diet

Dried beans, peas, and lentils are part of the legume family. From fresh lentil soup to hearty chili, legumes have a long history as a staple food. Highly nutritious and versatile, there is no harm in adding more legumes to your meals.

Health Benefits of Legumes

Many plant-based diets offer legumes as a low-fat meat alternative because they provide protein, fiber, vitamins B and E, and minerals, including calcium, potassium, and iron. Most legumes are low fat and high fiber, which reduces cholesterol levels and stabilizes blood sugar levels.

Legumes are known to make you feel fuller for longer too.

Which Legumes have the Most Protein

Protein is a nutrient in your body that helps build and repair body tissues, and it is a source of energy. This nutrient is mainly found in dairy products, eggs, seafood, meat, nuts, and legumes.

Legumes high in protein include:

  • Soybeans
  • Lentils
  • Split Peas
  • Pinto Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black Beans
  • Limas

Most beans contain 29-36% of Daily Value (DV) for protein per cup cooked. Boiled soybeans provide the highest protein content with 64% DV. 

How to cook beans, peas, and lentils

Legumes are all seeds and tend to come canned or dried. When they are immature, they are tender enough to eat with little cooking, but after being preserved by drying, they need preliminary soaking or rehydration to soften before cooking.

Three Methods to Soften Your Legume

  • Long Soak Method: Soak them in room temperature water for several hours or overnight. Legumes with thinner coating, such as lentils and split peas, will soften faster than ones with thicker coats.
  • Quick Soak Method: Rinse beans multiple times and discard any that float. In a large pot, immerse 4 cups of water for every cup of beans. Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and let it simmer on low for 2-10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it stand for an hour. Some beans won’t soften due to age or storage. It is important to keep dried beans in an airtight container and a cool place.
  • Salt Method: Soaking beans in salted water before cooking for 2 hours enhances the flavor, and it is a proven way to soften up hard beans. Add a tablespoon per gallon of water. 

Note that certain ingredients inhibit softening and extend the cooking time for hours. Calcium and sugar prevent cells from coming apart, and acids stop swelling within cells.

When cooking, avoid adding sugar (ex. molasses), calcium (ex. “hard” water), and acidic ingredients (such as tomato sauce, wine, lemon juice, or vinegar) until the beans are tender.

The benefits of soaking

Although soaking is commonly used to soften our legumes, studies uncovered many additional benefits including avoiding deficiencies and improving digestion. Below we’ve expanded on the many benefits of soaking and how it helps your health:

1. Soaking improves absorption of nutrients and minerals

Soaking and rinsing before cooking reduces phytic acid, an “anti-nutrient” compound that binds proteins and minerals (such as iron, zinc, and calcium) and reduces our ability to absorb them. Nutrients and minerals are made more available to our bodies through soaking, making them easier to absorb.

Soaking decreases phytic acid in two ways:

  • Increases activity of enzymes (phytases) that break down phytic acid,
  • Phytic acid molecules leach into the water, which we drain and discard.

2. Soaking reduces tannins and polyphenols

Even though polyphenols offer some benefits to the human body, excess micronutrients have many adverse effects: they bind to positively charged minerals like iron and proteins, making them unavailable for absorption in our bodies.

Tannins are a subclass of polyphenol found in some fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and beverages, including coffee, tea, red wine, and dark chocolate. As a naturally-occurring astringent, they bind with proteins, cellulose, starches, and minerals to alter protein absorption.

By reducing polyphenols and tannins in our bodies, we increase our ability to absorb minerals and proteins commonly found in chickpeas, beans, lentils, and peas.

Soaking serves to reduce polyphenol and tannins in two ways:

  • Soaking activates an enzyme that results in the breaking down and loss of polyphenols,
  • The compounds leach into the soaking water from the seed coat because they dissolve in water. After the first 2-4 hours of soaking, there should be significant reductions in the level of polyphenols and tannins.

3. Soaking reduces anti-nutritional enzyme inhibitors

Beans, peas, and lentils contain anti-nutrient factors that are bonded to beneficial enzymes. To increase the availability of nutrients in foods, it is key to remove the anti-nutrient factor. Studies prove that soaking helps to discard the anti-nutrient compounds in the soaking water.

4. Soaking reduces gas-causing compounds

If you’ve ever passed gas or been bloated after eating beans, you have oligosaccharides to thank for that. Our bodies cannot break down oligosaccharides because we don’t have the proteins needed to digest them. Soaking beans before cooking is recognized as a way to reduce the level of flatulence experienced.

Pro tip: When soaking the beans and lentils, discard and re-fill the water several times to help remove the gas compounds. You’ll remove more with several soaks versus a single soak.

5. Soaking improves texture and decreases cooking time

As we’ve mentioned previously, soaking helps soften beans and other leguminous crops and quickens the cooking process. Here’s why: the water from the soaking increases the water inside the seeds, which speeds up chemical reactions, such as starch gelatinization, during cooking. 

It is recommended to soak your beans and nuts for 2-8 hours.

How Long Should Dried Beans Cook on the Stove

The length of time it takes to cook each bean varies. Several factors change how long beans will cook, including the ingredients you cook the beans in and whether they are soaked or unsoaked.

Generally, you should use 3-4 cups of water for each cup of beans; this measurement yields about 2 to 2 ½ cups of cooked beans for every cup of dried beans. We recommend following a recipe for further guidance, but here are some guidelines for some of the most popular beans.

Common Beans and Their Cooking Times

  • Black-eyed Peas - Soaked - 4 Cups - 60 minutes
  • Chickpeas - Soaked - 4 Cups - 2-3 Hours
  • Kidneys - Soaked - 3 Cups - 60 Minutes
  • Lentils - Unsoaked - 3 Cups - 60-90 minutes & Soaked - 3 Cups - 45 Minutes
  • Pinto - Soaked - 3 Cups - 2 to 2-½ Hours
  • Split Peas - Soaked - 3 Cups - 45 Minutes

Other cooking methods for dried beans

A pressure cooker will drastically slash the cooking time. For more cooking options, follow these general rules: 

  • Pressure cooker (2-½ cups of water per cup of beans)
    • Soaked 20-30 minutes
    • Unsoaked 40-50 minutes
  • Crockpot 
    • Unsocked - 12 hours on low
  • Microwave 
    • Soaked: 50 minutes
  • Instapot - pressure cook
    • Soaked: 1 min to 4 minutes depending on the size and variety of bean

How to Add Legumes to Your Diet

If you want to derive the high nutritional value from beans, peas, and lentils but struggle with ways to incorporate them into your diet, we’ve listed a few recipes to get you started.

Legumes are incredibly versatile foods that work with any meal of the day. You can incorporate legumes in your salads, soups, tacos, burritos, stew, and dips and spreads. 

Here are some of our favorite recipes: Minestrone Soup, Split Peas Tikka Masala, Coconut Curry Lentil Soup, Double Bean Taco, and Spinach and Lentil Daal.

To sum it up, legumes are packed with nutrients that fight diseases, regulate our heart and blood pressure, and build up our muscles and bones. With so many benefits and the bonus of them being very filling, legumes offer a ton of healthy meal options.

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