- Legumes (dried peas, beans and lentils) are the healthiest form of carbohydrate-rich food because much of their carbohydrate is in the form of resistant starch.
- Resistant starch is fermented by bacteria that live in our gut, into short chain fatty acids, which have a wide range of benefits including prevention of bowel cancer, reduction of fat storage in the body and appetite reduction.
- Regular legume intake also prevents constipation and reduces serum cholesterol.
Legumes – the dried pea, bean and lentil family – are the Superman of the nutrition world, but their profile is more like Clark Kent’s. In fact, the question I get asked the most when I advise my clients to eat legumes, is ‘What’s a legume?’ (The second most common question is ‘How do I cook them?’, and I’ll be covering that in an upcoming post.)
There are many different varieties of legume; some of the most commonly available in Australia are
- chick peas
- split peas
- lentils (whole, split, yellow, red, black, puy, French, black beluga and more)
- kidney beans
- cannellini beans
- borlotti beans
- broad beans
- black-eyed beans
- great northern beans
- soy beans and products made from them such as tofu and tempeh.
So what’s so great about legumes, and why should you eat them every day? Well, where d’ya wanna start?
Beans are incredibly rich in resistant starch, a form of carbohydrate which human digestive enzymes can’t break down in any great quantity (it ‘resists’ digestion by us). What this means is that a high proportion of the calories that legumes theoretically contain, is not absorbed by us.
This resistant starch is able to be digested by friendly bacteria that inhabit the lower reaches of our intestines, however. They turn it into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), a type of fat which we do not absorb much of (so we barely get any calories out of it), but which favourably alters the environment in our intestines, inhibiting the growth of ”bad’ bacteria and encouraging the ‘good’ bacteria to multiply (1).
High levels of these SCFAs also help to prevent the development of bowel cancer (2).
As if that wasn’t enough, these SCFAs reduce appetite and decrease the production of body fat (3), and also enhance lipolysis, the break-down of fat from fat stores so that it can be burnt for energy (4).
Resistant starch, along with the fibre that legumes are incredibly rich in, promotes and prolongs satiety – the feeling of fullness or satisfaction after a meal – by absorbing water and occupying large amounts of space in the stomach and small intestine.
All that fibre also softens bowel movements so you can say bye-bye to constipation!
And the fibre and resistant starch bind cholesterol, preventing it from being absorbed through the intestinal wall, and instead sweeping it out of the body (5).
So there you have it – eating legumes on a daily basis will help you
- Lose weight without feeling hungry;
- Lower your cholesterol;
- Improve the health of your gut bacteria;
- Overcome constipation and encourage regular, soft bowel motions; and
- Prevent bowel cancer.
And by the way, when prepared well they are delicious – check my Recipes for tonnes of ideas on how to prepare legumes.