A legume is a dry fruit, also known as a pod, of a Fabaeceae (or Leguminosae) plant. Legumes vary in size, shape, color, flavor and use. When most people think of legumes, what typically comes to mind are peas, beans, lentils, and possibly soy. These legumes are in the grain legume category. Other members of the legume family are alfalfa and clover, considered forage legumes used for livestock. Lupins, grown for their flowers, are also in the legume family. For the purpose of gluten-free cooking, we’re going to focus on lentils, beans, peas, and soybeans at this time.
Legumes are an important part of a healthy, gluten-free diet. They provide essential nutrients, high levels of protein, help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, enable sustained energy and endurance, and provide excellent fiber, without adding high levels of fat. Here’s how they individually stack up.
Lentils are considered a powerhouse of protein and fiber with 1 cup cooked lentils providing 18 g protein and 16 g dietary fiber, but with only 1 g fat. Carbohydrates in lentils are “slow burning”, or have a low to moderate glycemic index, producing sustained energy and minimal blood sugar fluctuations. High in thiamine, iron, phosphorus, manganese as well, lentils are considered a perfect food to replace protein from animal sources.
Beans come in an array of flavors, colors, and degrees of firmness when cooked. Depending on the variety, the nutrient value varies, but all are considered quite healthful. On average, 1 cup cooked beans can contain as much as 16 g protein and 15 g dietary fiber. Beans are very low in fat, cholesterol-free, have a low to moderate glycemic index, and can provide as much as 960 mg potassium per cup.
Green Peas are a tasty legume and can easily be eaten fresh or cooked. With 1 cup serving up approximately 118 calories, 8 g protein, less than 1 g fat, and about 8 g dietary fiber. They are an excellent source of folic acid, and are high in vitamins A, K, and C. Peas also serve up generous amounts of phytonutrients, minerals and antioxidants. You can see why peas are considered one of the most nutritious legumes available.
Soybeans are considered a complete protein making them abundantly used by vegetarians who eliminate meat proteins from their diet. A one-half cup of cooked, mature soybeans contain 14 g protein, 7 g fat, 149 calories. Edamame, green or immature soybeans, deliver even more protein than the more mature legume. However, Soybeans are one of the top 8 allergens.
If you are gluten-free it is very possible that you are getting adequate amounts of methionine from meat and fish. However, if you’ve eliminated meat and fish from your diet as well, you may be methionine insufficient. The reason for this is cereal grains are an excellent source of methionine. Being gluten-free, of course, reduces your cereal grain intake. Though legumes are an excellent source of the amino acid lysine, they are a weak, or poor, source of methionine. These two amino acids are required to create a complete protein.
To achieve this balance, some examples of delicious and beneficial combinations are lentils with quinoa, beans and corn, tofu with rice, or rice pasta with peas. But don’t be afraid to experiment with different combinations as well. Being creative with pairings of textures, colors, and flavors keeps your diet well balanced and your taste buds interested.
Be sure to watch for some of these nutritious pairings in our upcoming recipes. And if you have creative ideas, we’d love to have you share them with us.
–Are you reaching your daily recommended allowances for protein and fiber? Check out the recommended daily allowances:
Children 1-3 yrs 13 g ask physician
Children 4-8 yrs 19 g age + 5 g
Males 9-13 yrs 34 g age + 5 g
Males 14-18 yrs 52 g age + 5 g
Males 19+ yrs 56 g 20-35 g
Females 9-13 yrs 34 g age + 5 g
Females 14-18 yrs 46 g age + 5 g
Females 18+ yrs 46 g 20-35 g
During Pregnancy 71 g ask physician
Nursing Women 71 g ask physician