While still commonly used in Asian cuisine, legumes have fallen out of favour somewhat in the United States. This is unfortunate because legumes are rich in a variety of minerals, such as molybdenum and folate, that are often lacking in the typical western diet.
Legumes may also have benefits for those looking to lose weight as several studies have drawn a link between diets rich in legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans, and reductions in body weight.
Legumes have several beneficial effects on weight loss. Virtually all legumes have low GI values meaning they provide a gradual but sustained energy release rather than a short sharp spike. Consumption of low GI foods has been associated with increased levels of satiety and a lower insulin response following meals. Low insulin levels and an energy deficit (the state all dieters should aim to be in), are required to stimulate lipolysis which is the process where fat is broken down into energy.
Legumes are also rich in fiber which slows down digestion, lowering post-meal insulin response and increasing the time before an individual feels hungry again. The GI and fiber levels (per cup) of some common legumes are: chickpeas (boiled) – 12g fiber and a GI of 32, red lentils (boiled) – 59g fiber and a GI of 21, kidney beans (boiled) – 11g fiber and a GI of 23, and navy beans (boiled) 19g fiber and a GI of 30.
A study, published in the European Journal of Nutriton compared the effects of two energetically similar diets on weight loss, waist circumference, body fat levels, and various metabolic markers. One diet contained four servings of legumes a week in the form of chickpeas, peas, beans, and lentils while the control diet contained no legumes. After 8 weeks on each diet, the researchers found that the individuals on the legume based diet lost an average of 7.8% of their body weight compared to 5.3% on the control diet. The legume based diet also led to greater reductions in total cholesterol (15.3% reduction vs 4.4% reduction) and systolic blood pressure (7.8% reduction vs 3.5% reduction) compared to the non-legume diet.
For those looking to incorporate legumes into their meals, lentils are an inexpensive option and are great added to casseroles or soups. To make lentil soup, simply add to a large soup pot: 2 cups of rinsed red lentils, 8 cups of water, some cumin, paprika, garlic, salt, and pepper along with your choice of vegetables (I recommend celery, onion and carrot). Cook for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until the lentils have softened and combined with the water.
Canned chickpeas are also very cheap and can be used to make falafels (an interesting alternative to mince patties), or hummus (which makes a great dip for celery and carrot sticks).