Legumes & Gut Health
October 05 2022 – Jens Gandløse
Legumes have been widely used in cuisines all over the world since ancient times and are a staple food in many cultures. Despite its countless benefits, many people forget to include them in their diet.
While higher legume consumption is observed around the Mediterranean region, in Northern Europe, the daily consumption is less than 5 g per capita. It is time to change that!
What are legumes and pulses?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines “pulses” as edible seeds of members of the Leguminosae family (over 18,000 species) of which some are fit for human consumption. Despite the great and wide variety that exists, only beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas are popular and frequently consumed worldwide.
These nutrient-dense foods have an excellent macronutrient profile. They are rich in complex carbohydrates, low in fat and cholesterol, and densely packed with proteins (double that found in wheat and three times that of rice).
Legumes are also rich in micronutrients: vitamins and minerals. Particularly B vitamins such as folate, thiamin, and riboflavin and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and potassium.
Why are legumes good for your gut?
Legumes are an excellent source of dietary fiber and also provide us with a source of bioactive compounds such as phytochemicals and antioxidants. These nutrients are the principal fuel to feed the trillions of microorganisms that live in your gut!
We also know that these microbes enjoy different foods.
So in order to foster our microbial community and help to promote a healthy gut, you need to ensure variation. The different types of legumes vary greatly in nutrition, appearance, taste, and use. And most importantly, they contain different types of fibers and phytochemicals, making them a fantastic alternative to ensure diversity in your diet.
How to get more legumes in your life?
1. Start small
The highly fermentable fiber content of legumes can produce gas leading to discomfort. By gradually incorporating little amounts in your meals, your gut has a chance to adapt. Aim to include small servings of legumes once or twice a week and increase the portion size slowly, as much as you can tolerate.
2. Soak for added nutrition and to minimize gassiness
Soaking overnight, from 4 to 8 hours, and discarding the soaking liquid thereafter, will reduce the phytate content and cooking time of pulses, as well as their propensity to cause flatulence. Soaking ensures that legumes can be more easily digested and their nutrients better absorbed by the gut. In fact, it’s a way of bringing them back to life by activating their enzymes and reducing anti-nutrients. Antinutrients, like phytate, are compounds that reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients.
Adding kombu seaweed when cooking dried beans is another way to help break down the oligosaccharides that produce gas. Kombu also gives extra nutrition and flavor and is packed with micronutrients that your body needs.
3. Boost your favorite meals
Try adding whole, blended, or cooked beans into dishes you already like, for example to bolognese sauce, meatballs, soups, or even baked goods! See below for one of the easiest and most delicious dessert recipes.
4. A better alternative to industrial dressings
Spreads, like hummus or bean dips, can be used for dressing, sandwiches, or crudites.
Canned legumes are a versatile option to add to salads, hot dishes, or can be also used as healthy snacks.
Author: Cecilia Clausen (Clinical Dietitian)