Legumes for a Healthy Vegan Diet
Legumes are a staple food group for a healthy vegan diet. Legumes are packed full of important nutrients for vegans as well as general health benefits! Since legumes are such an inexpensive option, they are a great nutrition staple for anyone, vegan or otherwise.
While it’s great to know about the health benefits and nutrition content of legumes, it’s equally important to know how to add more into your vegan diet! See below for a list of my favourite recipes that include legumes.
This page covers:
- What are Legumes?
- Health Benefits of Legumes
- Nutrition Content of Legumes
- Why It’s Important to Eat Legumes as a Vegan
- List of Legumes to Include in a Vegan Diet
- How to Include More Legumes in your Vegan Diet
- Best Vegan Legume Recipes from Lettuce Veg Out
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What are Legumes?
Legumes are the seed or fruit of a family of plants called Fabaceae. Legumes grow in pods and these pods may or may not be eaten (depending on the type of legume).
The term legume refers to:
- Fresh peas
- Fresh beans
Pulses are any legume type where the seeds inside the pod become dried. Pulses can be purchased dried but they are commonly bought in cans, already cooked.
- Lentils (all types)
- Dry peas (ex. split peas)
- Dry beans (ex. black beans, kidney beans)
When referring to legumes, people often focus on soybeans and pulses. Despite peanuts falling into the category of legumes, they are often classified as a nut due to their nutrient composition. Similarly, fresh peas and green beans are typically grouped as a vegetable.
Health Benefits of Legumes
There has been plenty of research on the health benefits of legumes and pulses. Overall, legumes consumption has been linked to heart health, appetite control and weight management as well as blood sugar regulation. In addition to the health benefits of legumes discussed below, legumes are also high in fibre which poses additional benefits.
Health Benefits of Legumes: Heart Health
Firstly, legumes appear to lower total and LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is also known as “bad” cholesterol. It is the type of cholesterol linked to heart disease 1. Research also shows legume consumption is associated with lower blood pressure 2, 3.
While it appears that legumes can have a beneficial impact on these two risk factors of cardiovascular disease, the direct impact of legumes consumption on cardiovascular outcomes is more moderate 4.
Health Benefits of Legumes: Appetite and Weight Management
Legumes have been tested to see if they moderate appetite and it appears that they do 5. One study found adding legumes to a meal resulted in less food being consumed at a second meal 6. In addition, lower blood sugars after the second meal was found for two of the three test groups 6.
Observational studies have linked consumption of legumes, including soy, with lower body mass index (a ratio of height to weight) 7, 8. Legume consumption is also associated with lower waist circumference, a measurement thought to indicate cardiovascular disease risk 9.
Health Benefits of Legumes: Blood Sugar Regulation
Legumes consumption appears to help regulate blood sugars. Diets high in legumes, with or without a low-glycemic or high fibre diet pattern, were found to lower two measures of blood sugar 10.
Research on whether legume consumption helps prevent development of type 2 diabetes is mixed 12.
Some considerations are needed to ensure optimal absorption of some of these nutrients. For example, adding vitamin C to a meal helps iron absorption. Soaking, cooking, sprouting and/ or fermenting can improve zinc absorption.
Soybeans and soy products have a different composition compared to other legumes, specifically pulses. While pulses are quite low in fat, soybeans (and peanuts) are much higher in fat. In addition to the nutrient list above, soybeans also provide:
Why It’s Important to Eat Legumes as a Vegan
Legumes are an excellent source of protein for vegans. Specifically, they are a great source of the amino acid lysine.
Lysine may be challenging to consume enough of on a vegan diet therefore it’s generally recommended to consume a few servings per day of high lysine foods. Legumes are a high lysine food.
Additionally, consuming legumes as a vegan can help meet intake needs for essential minerals, particularly iron and zinc.
Soybeans and soy products are particularly helpful to include in a vegan diet as they offer a great source of healthy fats. Tofu is also a great source of calcium, which can be a challenging nutrient to consume adequate amounts of as a vegan.
Overall, aiming for a few servings of legumes throughout the day can be a helpful, and tasty, way to meet many different nutrient needs on a vegan diet. A bonus is that legumes are quite inexpensive so can be an affordable staple of plant-based eating.
- Chickpeas aka garbanzo beans
- Black beans aka turtle beans
- Brown lentils
- Red lentils
- Yellow lentils
- Navy beans
- Pinto beans
- Yellow split peas
- Green split peas
- Mung beans
- Pink beans
- Kidney beans
- While kidney beans
- White beans
- Fava beans
- Great northern beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Adzuki beans
In addition, there are some great soy products to include in a healthy vegan diet:
- Soy beverage (aka soy milk)
- Soy nuts
- Textured soy protein (aka textured vegetable protein/ TVP)
Other soy products like soy sauce, tamari and miso paste are good flavouring options, but don’t provide significant amounts of protein or the nutrients listed above. This is mainly because these ingredients are consumed in small quantities.
There are also meat alternatives made from legumes which can be included in a healthy vegan diet as well.
How to Include More Legumes in your Vegan Diet
Legumes can be very easy to add to almost any meal or snack. Here are my top tips for how to include more legumes in your vegan diet:
- Keep Canned Legumes in the Pantry: Aim to keep a few cans of your favourite legumes on hand at all times. In a pinch, you can just drain, rinse and add to any meal.
- Add Legumes to Salads: Tired of boring salads that don’t fill you up? Add some cooked legumes!
- Add Legumes to Soups and Stews: You can cook soaked legumes right into a soup, add canned legumes or, if making a creamy soup, blend some legumes into the mix! White beans work well for blending.
- Learn How to Cook with Tofu/ Tempeh: These two soy products are a fantastic starting point for any meal but can be intimidating to cook with. Check out the recipes below for inspiration!
- Snack on Legumes: Cooked edamame, roasted chickpeas and/or soy nuts all make for a filling and tasty plant-based snack.
- Use Lentils as a Ground Meat Substitute: In most recipes that call for ground meat (or if you are vegan, recipes you used to enjoy with ground meat), lentils can be used in place of the meat.
- Blend Tofu into Sauces: Tofu can blend easily into creamy sauces or salad dressings (even smoothies). This can be a great way to increase intake of legumes!
- Try Out Cultural Foods that Feature Legumes: Legumes are a staple ingredient for different cuisines around the world. Just search for legume (or lentil/ bean) recipes from any region/ country and get exploring with your taste buds!
Best Vegan Legume Recipes from Lettuce Veg Out
Legumes are one of my favourite ingredients and they are definitely a staple in my diet. I’ve posted dozens of recipes featuring legumes and you can check out my latest legume recipes!
Some of my favourites, by type of legume, include:
Beans + Chickpeas
Summary: Legumes for Vegans
Legumes are a staple food group for a healthy vegan diet. They are packed with nutrition and an excellent source of plant-based protein. In addition, research shows legumes have many positive health benefits including associations with improved heart health, appetite control and blood sugars.
There’s a huge variety of legumes to try and countless ways to incorporate more legumes into a vegan diet!
- Non-soy legume consumption lowers cholesterol levels: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
- Effect of dietary pulses on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled feeding trials.
- Soy milk lowers blood pressure in men and women with mild to moderate essential hypertension.
- Can pulses play a role in improving cardiometabolic health? Evidence from systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
- Pulse consumption, satiety, and weight management.
- First and second meal effects of pulses on blood glucose, appetite, and food intake at a later meal.
- Role of dietary soy protein in obesity.
- Effects of dietary pulse consumption on body weight: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.
- Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002.
- Effect of non-oil-seed pulses on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled experimental trials in people with and without diabetes.
- Diabetes Canada clinical practice guidelines, 2018: Chapter 11 – Nutrition Therapy
- Consumption of nuts and legumes and risk of incident ischemic heart disease, stroke, and diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Please note that this is a curated list of references for the topics above and is not intended to be comprehensive.
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