Awaken your Palate with Legumes and Grains
Eating healthy is one of many people’s goals and resolutions – and to make this fun and easier, try eating more legumes and grains, as well as different varieties of them. Legumes and grains complement each other and add bountiful protein to your diet. Most legumes and grains are “incomplete” protein sources because they don’t contain all the essential amino acids. However, when combined together, they form “complete” or high-quality proteins that can replace meat in your diet.
Legumes include peas, beans and lentils. Typically, they’re low in fat and devoid of cholesterol but contain protein, fiber, B vitamins, folate, potassium, magnesium and iron. Legume consumption aids in the reduction of blood cholesterol, controls insulin and blood sugar levels, and helps lower blood pressure. Plus, their high fiber content helps to prevent hemorrhoids, bowel and colon disorders, and their antioxidant capacity fights cancer.
For those who’re hesitant to try beans because they form gas in the intestine, this can be bypassed by soaking the beans overnight. Try cooking them extra soft and adding some seaweed in the water in which they’re cooked.
Here’s a helpful list of legumes and tips on preparing them and incorporating them into the diet:
- Garden, snow, and snap peas; adzuki, alfalfa, anasazi, black turtle, fava, great northern, lima, navy, pinto, red kidney, soybean and garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and lentils
- Adzuki beans are high in fiber, protein and trace minerals. These nutty flavored beans can be cooked easily by soaking them overnight. Throw away the water that was used for soaking, then wash and boil with sea salt until tender. Add brown rice with enough water to cook. When finished, the rice has a beautiful pink color with a nice nutty flavor that can compliment fish or vegetables.
- Alfalfa: most often used as sprouts, alfalfa is a significant source of dietary phytoestrogens, which play a role in the prevention of menopausal symptoms, osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease. Alfalfa contains saponin, a beneficial phytochemical that lowers bad cholesterol; amino acid L-canavanine and high antioxidant properties that make it beneficial in fighting free radicals and cancer activity. The sprouts can be incorporated in salads or soups.
- Fava beans (broad beans) are a source for the precursor of dopamine, a brain neurotransmitter that has been researched for its use in Parkinson’s disease and lowering high blood pressure. Those with favism (a genetic disorder that causes a hemolytic reaction in the red blood cells), however, should avoid use. Fava beans can be used in soups and salads, or as a side dish.
Grains are a good source of proteins, minerals and vitamins with high fiber content and no cholesterol. Whole grains (except for wheat) help reduce fat in the body and ensure a steady blood sugar level. Grains are normally good for all blood sugar disorders. They provide complete nourishment when complemented with legumes, beans or vegetables. Other advantages of eating whole grains include: satiety due to their high fiber content, prevention of constipation, reduction of cancer risk and prevention of coronary disease, arteriosclerosis and diabetes.
Grains do have some drawbacks, however. They’re deficient in the protein lysine, but eating them with legumes can compensate for this. Grains acidify the blood, and shouldn’t be eaten by those who suffer from celiac disease (gluten intolerance) or those who are allergic. Whole grain bran also contains phytates that interfere with the absorption of various minerals. However, soaking or fermenting and sprouting the grain eliminates its phytate content.
- Amaranth is an herb that’s been used as a grain since the time of the Aztecs. It’s higher in nutrients than most other grains and second only to quinoa for its high protein content – higher than that of corn or rice. It can be used to make breakfast porridge by adding 1/3 cup of its flour to a cup of boiling water. Its flour is also used to make crackers and flatbreads.
- Barley contains very little gluten and is excellent for soups, broths and tea. Barley plays a role in the suppression of cholesterol production in the liver and helps enhance the discharge of waste from the body. To make barley tea, roast the grains until they’re golden brown and their aroma starts to fill the air. Then place in a pot of boiling water and boil until tender. Try adding honey and milk for a delightful drink of tea. Barley grain can also be eaten instead of being thrown out.
- Quinoa, referred to as “gold of the Incas”, is a complete protein because it has all the essential amino acids. It also has B vitamins, iron, fiber, calcium and phosphorus. It can be prepared by mixing one cup of well-washed quinoa with two cups of water or stock with a pinch of sea salt. Let boil, then simmer while covered for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Quinoa can be used in place of rice dishes.
- Other grains also worth trying include kamut, millet, oats, rice, rye and spelt. Use grain in your salads. Add grain to boiling water or stock, cover and cook for a few minutes; then remove from heat and rinse with cold water. Add chopped raw veggies and your choice of dressing. Try including all or some of them into your diet and enjoy!