Legumes: Healthy, Inexpensive Proteins

April 02, 2013

Looking for alternatives to chicken, beef and pork? Try using legumes - inexpensive, nutrient dense and a great source of protein; find out more here.

Looking to save money and eat healthy, legumes should be top of your list, as they are high in fiber, calcium, and iron, and also a great source of protein. Legumes are the group that contains beans and peas, and there are plenty of choices in the supermarket from the usual navy, black, pinto and kidney beans, to the more gourmet fava and cranberry bean. In the pea family, discover split pea or lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and black-eyed peas.

Combined these protein-packed choices with whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and bulgar wheat, and not only do you have a complete meal, but a full compliment of essential amino acids (a complete protein). Toss in a few nuts or seeds - almonds, cashews, pecan, sunflower or pumpkin seeds – as a quick topper and serve with a leafy green salad for a well-rounded, healthy meal.

Another benefit of cooking with beans is their shelf-life, kept in an airtight container; dried beans will keep for a long period of time. When purchasing and preparing, note that dried beans should exhibit good color and have no visible deformations. Many bean choices are also available canned, but be sure to check the ingredient listing for unnecessary additional ingredients, i.e. added sodium.

Check out these legumes on your next shopping trip:

Adzuki beans are small, round, reddish-brown legumes popular in Asian dishes. They are commonly used to make desserts, such as red bean ice cream.

Black beans are medium sized, oval beans with black skin and white flesh. These beans are great when added to soups, salads, and rice.

Black-eyed peas are medium sized, oval beans that are cream colored with a black dot. They are usually served with rice or eaten as a side dish.

Cannellini beans are white kidney shaped beans that hold their shape well and can be used in salads, sauces and stews.

Chickpeas or Garbanzo beans are medium sized, round beans that are beige and have a creamy texture. Chickpeas can be made into a spread, such as hummus, or added to soups, salads, and pasta dishes.

Cranberry beans or Shell beans get their name from their varicolored appearance. They are usually white or cream in color with deep red or cranberry marks that are distributed in different patterns on the bean. As pretty as cranberry beans are when dried or fresh, they tend to turn light brown after cooking.

Fava beans or Broad beans are meaty, strongly flavored beans have been around for ages, and they work well in sides dishes, soups, or salads.

Lentils are small, thin disk shaped seeds that can be green, brown, red, orange, or yellow in color. The green and brown lentils hold their shape after cooking, while the red, orange and yellow lentils tend to dissolve. All lentils work well in salads, soups, curry dishes, dips and side dishes.

Lima bean or Butter beans are great in soups or stews, or on their own as a side dish. The most popular varieties are the small baby lima bean and the larger Fordhooks.

Mung beans are small, green legumes popular in Chinese cuisine. You will most often find them sprouted, and are commonly known as bean sprouts.

Navy beans or Canadian white beans are small, white, oval beans used to make baked beans, soups, and stews.

Red kidney beans are medium sized, kidney-shaped beans that are dark red in color. These beans have a soft texture that works well in soups, salads, chilies, or rice dishes.

Soybeans are light tan or yellow in color, and extremely versatile. Used to make salad oil, tofu, soy sauce, meat analogs, soy milk and cheese, and many other ingredients – dried beans need to be soaked a long time and are somewhat hard to digest, but they're extremely nutritious.

Split peas are small circular peas that have split into two halves. These peas can be green, yellow or orange in color. When cooked, these peas can become very soft making them great for soups or curry dishes.

There are many varieties so get out there and try a new type of bean today!