Legumes: precious source of plant based proteins

What follows is the translation of the original Italian article by Paola Salgarelli, biologist nutritionist, specialist in Food Science:

One upon a time legumes were called “poor man’s meat”. This way of calling them was not wrong because our ancestors knew, even if intuitively, that eating legumes was a great way to have a cheap source of protein. In modern times many studies have proved their high content of proteins and not only that: many other qualities have been linked with this kind of vegetables. The most renowned qualities are the low percentage of fats, the good quantity of starch, fibers (both soluble and insoluble), minerals (especially iron, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus) and vitamins (in particular B vitamins). For all these reasons today they can be called “smart man’s meat” as Eliana Liotta defines them in her book “The Smartfood diet”.

Let’s see in more details the nutritional characteristics of this vast family of vegetables that includes pea, chickpea, fava bean, lupin, the many types of beans, soy and lentils.

Source of proteins. This is the most renowned quality of legumes. The proteic content depends on the type: a little lower in pea, medium in lentils, high in soy. For example, with a portion of dry legumes of about 30-40g we can intake between 9 and 15g of proteins. If we want to speak about the defects of legumes, one of the main one is linked to the quality of their protein that is inferior than that of the proteins of animal origin (the so called “noble” proteins) that contains instead the precious essential amino acids. To simplify the situation, you need to imagine proteins as little “bricks” called amino acids. Human organism is able to produce many of these bricks by itself, with the exclusion of some of them that can be found on the food or animal origin. But this is not a good reason why the proteins of legumes should be undervalued: it is sufficient to combine legumes with cereals to obtain the perfect proteic supply! Protein of legumes and cereals are in fact “complementary” because their respective amino acids are able to provide to our organism, as soon as combined together, high quality proteins, as good as the ones from meat. Dishes like “pasta e fagioli” (pasta and beans), rice and lentils, pasta and chickpeas are all typical of the Mediterranean Diet, which not by chance has been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

Blood glucose control.  A group of Canadian researchers have started a series of clinical experimentations where the effects of legumes have been evaluated for their ability in blood glucose control, taking legumes both by themselves and inside a low glycemic index diet. It has resulted that beans and their family are effective in decreasing the glycemic index and hyperinsulinemia on an empty stomach, both by themselves and in a context of a controlled diet. In addition, their are able to lower postprandial glycemia, but also to lower the risk of of hypoglicemia between two meals. This happens because the carbs contained in legumes are not immediately absorbed – which would result in a glycemic peak – but are digested slowly (therefore they have a low glycemic index).

Beneficial effects on cardiovascular system. As mentioned before, legumes contains a few lipids and, in addition, almost all of them are unsaturated, which means that they are able to act lowering the cholesterol and triglycerides levels in the blood. This beneficial action is due not only to the action of polyunsaturated fats, but also to a type of molecules, phytosterols, which are also able to decrease cholesterol. From many studies it is evident the role of legumes not only in total cholesterol decrease, but also in lowering the “bad” LDL cholesterol, which is responsible for the increase in the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Great amount of fibers. The Global Fund for Cancer Research suggests the consumption of 25-30 g of fibers per day, as a protection to colon cancer. In order to reach this quantity it is not enough to consume fruits and vegetables, but legumes are fundamental, at least 3-4 times a week. Moreover, fibers too hinder the absorption of cholesterol.

Ability to satiate. Legumes have a great satiating effect because much of fibers is soluble: it means that inside the stomach fibers absorb water and expand, becoming a sort of mugilage. Since it takes room inside the stomach, a signal that you are full is sent to the brain.

High content in minerals. Regarding minerals, we speak mainly about potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron. For the vegetarians it is particularly important to cover the daily need for calcium and iron.

Sources of proteins in Bivo

In the new formula of Bivo the main source of proteins is represented by pea proteins. Moreover, the presence of flaxseeds and oats complete the amino acid profile of Bivo.

In addition to all the qualities of legumes, peas present some peculiar characteristics. For example, together with fava beans, they are the best legumes for people suffering of meteorism and colitis. These people cannot consume beans and chickpeas. Moreover, their vibrant green color is given by the presence of chlorophyll, which stimulates the organism to produce red blood cells, with a  benefit to the immune system. Finally, it is good to remember that dry pea, used in Bivo, are richer in iron, zinc, magnesium and more energetic than the fresh ones.

Paola Salgarelli, Biologist Nutritionist, specialist in Food Science