Pulses and legumes:
more valuable that you know

Pulses and legumes are an undervalued food in Australian cuisine. As a naturopath I am regularly suggesting people introduce these foods in to their diets for health benefits. Most people are unfamiliar with how to prepare and cook with legumes and so have never really been exposed to them. However once they know how good they are many are converted.

The therapeutic attributes of legumes are due to their fibre, phytooestrogens, proteins, minerals (especially organic iron, magnesium, potassium, molybdenum), vitamins (folate, vitamin B5 and K). Legumes are an excellent alkalizing protein source providing 8gm of protein per 100gm cooked and 4 gm fresh or sprouted.

The fibre content of legumes (approx 15gm per 100gm) is great for preventing or treating constipation. The fibre will act as a bulking agent and attract water into a dry stool. The fibre also acts a food for the probiotics in the gut like acidophilus and bifidus. Friendly flora help produce B vitamins, correct dysbiosis (over growth of unfriendly bacteria) thereby reducing wind, inhibiting cancer promoting enzymes and helping with hormonal balance. Friendly bacteria also enhance the immune and inflammatory mediators in the gut, reducing allergies and leaky gut syndrome.

These bacteria are able to turn fibre into many therapeutic substance such as short chain fatty acids which are a food for the cells in the colon, are bacteriostatic reducing pathogenic bacteria in the gut, are an important energy source for anaerobic bacteria and may play a role in the prevention of colorectal cancer. One of these acids - proprionic acid is absorbed into the blood and reduces the production of cholesterol in the liver.

Legumes are low Glycaemic Index GI, improving blood sugar regulation by slowing sugar release into the blood stream, the soluble fibres also delay gastric emptying and increase satiety after a meal. So are great for diabetics, insulin resistance, syndrome X and obesity.

The sulphur content of legumes supports liver detoxification pathways and the fibre assists toxins to be eliminated from the body. Legumes increase sex hormone binding globulin which lowers excess oestrogen and testosterone levels in the blood. This is important for people suffering form endometriosis, poly cystic ovarian syndrome fibroids, gallstones, prostate and testicular conditions.

Studies on phytooestrogen intake show reduced thyroid cancer risk (an oestrogen dependant disease), reduced breast and other oestrogen related cancer risk, improves cardiovascular health, and improved bone density.

All legumes and grains contain phytic acid, goitrogens, trypsin and protease inhibitors which can lower your nutrient absorption from food and affect the thyroid. To over come this soak or sprout, ferment or heat legumes before eating. Soy foods should be complemented with iodine foods eg seaweed, fish, seafood and selenium foods. Legumes are best eaten with some fermented products (yogurt, sour cream, sauerkraut, miso) to enhance the conversion of some of the useful phytooestrogens.

Besides the well known soy bean try pinto, lima , cannalini, mung, chickpea, lentils, adzuki to name a few. Experiment with more Indian – curries with chickpeas or other beans, dahl with lentils; Middle Eastern hommus, falafel; Mexican beans and rice, nachos, chilli concarne, tacos and tortillas with a bean mix; Italian bean dishes, bean salads, sprouts, tempeh, tofu, lentil or bean patties.

Samantha Warner Naturopath

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