One of our regional foods in East Texas that is flavorful, satisfying and can be prepared in hundreds of ways is the group beans and peas. In other parts of the world this nutritious food group is known as pulses. Another name perhaps more familiar is legumes. A legume is any bean or pea that is shelled. Sorry green beans, you don’t count in this one.
Did you eat black-eyed peas and cabbage for the new year? I remember growing up with pinto beans, collard greens and cornbread. By the way, these meals go well with any course bread, not just our traditional cornbread. And have you ever served Texas Caviar, a wonderful mix of black-eyed peas, onions, salsa and spices. There are many variations of this popular appetizer.
When we include beans or peas in a meal, we are getting a delicious, low-cost food that greatly enhances the nutritional value of our diet. Legumes are a rich source of many different nutrients including protein, carbohydrate, fiber, minerals and vitamins. One cup of lentils provides 47g of protein. That’s equivalent to a 6-ounce serving of meat without the saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. That same cup yields 20g of fiber – about 80% of what most of us need daily. The fiber in legumes lowers cholesterol, improves blood sugar levels and helps us maintain a healthy weight. Iron, potassium, magnesium and B vitamins are only some of the other nutrients found in this “super food.”
When we combine a legume and a grain like beans and cornbread, we are getting a complete protein. This combo has all the essential amino acids present and makes a good meat substitute. So, if I’m trying to consume fewer calories, less saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, having meatless meals more often is a good strategy. For those of you who still subscribe to the unhealthy low carb diet myth, sorry. This valuable food group is typically discouraged because it is a starch. What a shame to miss out on such a healthy food!
There are many reasons to limit our meat intake. A team of researchers from four American universities says that one simple change in American eating habits would have a huge impact on the environment. If Americans would replace beef with beans, the US would immediately realize 50-75 percent of its greenhouse gas reduction targets for the year 2020. Cattle are a major source of greenhouse gases. You may not be ready to become a vegetarian, but what if we all made a concerted effort to reduce meat consumption and replace it with beans or peas? We would be making a healthy choice for ourselves and our families while simultaneously improving our environment. This year a good resolution might be to eat more legumes. Here’s wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with many years’ experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations is produced by St. Luke’s Health and the City of Lufkin. It currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable TV channels and online at www.chistlukeshealthmemorial.org.