Legumes: what are they and how can I use them?

Legumes (also known as pulses) are a group of plant foods which aren’t just for vegetarians! They contain a wide variety of nutrients and are a very healthy and economical food for everyone to include as part of a balanced diet.

Legumes are high in dietary fibre which helps to keep our bowels healthy. They are also a good source of soluble fibre which can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Legumes are a source of carbohydrate and have a low glycaemic index (GI), which means they are broken down more slowly so you feel fuller for longer. This makes them a particularly good food for preventing and managing diabetes.

Legumes are also made up of protein, making them an ideal base to a vegetarian dish or a substitute for meat. Legumes are very cheap to buy, so including them as the main protein in your meals can save you money on your grocery bills.

Other benefits of legumes include:

  • High in B-group vitamins, iron, calcium, phosphorous, zinc and magnesium
  • Good source of folate, which is essential for women of child-bearing age
  • Good source of antioxidants
  • Low in saturated fat.

Examples of legumes include:

  • Split peas
  • Canalini beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Baked beans (navy beans)
  • Soybeans
  • Chickpeas
  • Four bean mix
  • Lupin
  • Red, green or brown lentils.

You can buy lentils in the supermarket either dry (which need to be soaked before cooking) or canned.

Including legumes into your healthy eating plan doesn’t mean you have to eat completely different meals. There are lots of ways you can include them in your favourite recipes.

Smart eating tips for eating more legumes

  • Add lentils to your own vegetable soup recipes or try these lentil patties as a summer barbecue alternative
  • Add chickpeas or soybeans to stir-fry dishes
  • Extend casserole dishes by adding beans and lentils. e.g. add kidney beans in a mince dish to make chile con carne
  • Snack on ‘chicknuts’ – oven roasted chickpeas
  • Use four bean mixes as a salad base and add lots of vegetables and a little oil-based dressing
  • Serve hummus (a low fat dip made from chickpeas) with vegetable sticks for a delicious snack
  • Small tins of baked beans make a great snack, a delicious breakfast served on toast or a great addition to a toasted sandwich
  • Beans, such as red kidney beans or soybeans are a great inclusion to lasagna or tacos
  • Legumes, like lentils or chickpeas make a great base for patties or vegetarian burgers
  • Substitute around 10% of wheat flour with lupin flour when baking to prepare higher fibre, higher protein and lower GI foods.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) can help you plan ways to include more legumes and provide you with recipes and meal ideas.