Legumes: A powerhouse of nutrition

Legumes are nutritious, affortable and a great meat substitute. Increase your fiber intake and possibly lower your cholesterol by eating more legumes.

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians find legumes to be an excellent way to replace meat. Legumes are indeed a good source of protein; however, the quality of protein in legumes is low. This is true of many plant-based protein sources. When combined with other animal food such as milk, eggs, or cheese, or with other plant foods like whole grains, legumes can become valuable contributors to protein need.

Legumes also contain some beneficial fats, soluble and insoluble fiber, and are rich in complex carbohydrates, all of which are beneficial for you. Besides being versatile and low in cost, legumes are high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium.

To try and save money on your grocery bill, try eating legumes at least once or twice a week. To save even more, cook your own dry beans instead of buying canned. Cooked beans are also great for freezing to use in future meals.

Legumes include dry beans, peas, and lentils. A variety of dry beans are rich in protein, iron, calcium, phosphorous, and potassium. Try dry beans such as black beans, chick peas (garbanzo beans), lima beans, navy beans and pinto beans. Dry peas are also a good source of protein, iron, potassium and thiamin, and they are high in fiber. Dry peas can be split or whole and can be green or yellow. Lentils, another type of legume, are also rich in protein, iron, potassium, calcium, and phosphorus.

Here are some tips on how to cook and freeze your dry beans:

  • Pre-soak dry beans overnight or follow directions on the package. That will help reduce cooking time.
  • You can also follow the quick soak method. Bring beans to a rolling boil then remove them from the heat and let them sit for one hour. Drain them and rinse them, then cook as you normally would.
  • Pre-soaked dry beans can be frozen. Freeze them on a sheet pan for an hour or two in a single layer and then transfer them to a freezing bag or freezer-grade container.
  • Cooked beans or bean dishes can be frozen in freezer-grade containers.

For healthy legume recipes, visit the USDA Recipe Finder. Enjoy!

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