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Introducing Legumes

Legumes are a class of vegetables which includes beans, peas and lentils. Legumes are amongst the most versatile and nutritious foods available, which can add more variety to a well balanced diet. Legumes are low fat, an excellent economical source of protein and may be used as a substitute for meat or fish.  Beans and lentils are also high in fibre therefore keeping you feeling fuller for longer and sustain energy levels.   Legumes are low Gylcaemic Index foods i.e. digested slowly and therefore particularly helpful for weight management, control of Type 2 Diabetes and Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome.  

Types & Uses

There are several different types of beans available in addition to the traditional “baked beans” which are worth trying; adzuki beans and butter beans (add to soups, casseroles, stews) or green soya beans (purchase frozen, serve with potatoes or rice and any vegetable).  Black eyed beans are tasty when incorporated with a salad and some salsa.  Kidney beans are the staple protein component in chilli con carne.  Chick peas are excellent added to salads, casseroles, soups and form the main ingredient in home-made hummus.  Butter beans taste fantastic when added to stir fried veg, passata (or tinned tomatoes), fresh basil and served with some whole-wheat pasta.  I find that tinned chickpeas are great for “beefing up” a chicken curry when running short of meat or when you simply fancy a “meat free” day. A standard portion size of split peas, mixed beans or lentils is 6 dessert spoons (6ox or 150g).


Most legumes are available in the dried form and require soaking overnight (minimum 6 hours) in plenty of cold water, followed by boiling for approximately one hour.  Most legumes need to be soaked to make them easier to digest and absorb the nutrients. But split peas and lentils don’t need to be soaked, just boil them for about 20 minutes or add them directly to your casserole as it cooks. A more convenient alternative and equally as nutritious is to purchase the tinned beans or lentils which are precooked and ready to use.  Tinned beans and lentils just require rinsing under water to remove the preserving salted water. Tinned legumes may then be used directly cold or added towards the end of cooking hot meals in order to heat through. 

The Gas Factor

Beans and other legumes can lead to the formation of intestinal gas.  Thankfully there are several ways to reduce the flatulence-inducing quality of legumes.  I suggest changing the water several times during the soaking and cooking process. Simmer beans or lentils slowly until they are tender and completely cooked which makes them easier to digest. The canning process eliminates more of the gas-producing sugars, therefore may be more appealing for this particular reason!  Remember, as you introduce more peas, beans and lentils into your diet, be sure to drink enough water and exercise regularly to assist your gastrointestinal system to handle the increase in dietary fibre.  

The next time you are in the tinned section of your local supermarket, take a closer look at the wide range of legumes available and try to incorporate them into your weekly diet.