Legumes are an essential component of every healthy and balanced diet. Light, nutritious and tasty, there are many types. Lentils, chickpeas, beans and all other types are a precious source of fibre, mineral salts and, above all, vegetable proteins.
Precisely this last characteristic makes them indispensable for those who have decided to follow a vegetarian diet , eliminating meat and other foods of animal origin from their table.
If you are a vegetarian, are thinking of becoming one, or simply want to change and vary your eating habits, you will probably have wondered how many legumes, and how often, you should eat to get a quantity of protein comparable to that provided by meat.
A question that, fortunately, science can answer.
First of all, though, what are legumes?
These are the seeds of some plants of the large Leguminosae family , present in many varieties throughout the world. This group includes classic ingredients of Italian cuisine such as peas , lentils , chickpeas , beans and broad beans , others that have become popular more recently, such as soya , lupine and grass pea , and also two foods that we normally don't think of as legumes. , green beans and peanuts .
Most legumes have in common their low calorie and fat intake, their abundant fiber and iron content (but also calcium and potassium) and their high protein value (up to 36g of protein/100g).
How many legumes to eat?
The Guidelines for healthy eating published in 2018 by the Food and Nutrition Research Center of CREA (Council for Research in Agriculture) suggest, within an omnivorous diet, consuming legumes 2-4 times a week , as ingredients of a first or second course and not as an alternative to vegetables. The portions should be around 50g for dried legumes and 120/150g for canned ones.
This same consumption of legumes is also recommended for those who practice a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, which excludes meat and derivatives, as well as any type of aquatic animal, but includes milk, dairy products and eggs.
If, however, you follow a vegan diet, and have therefore eliminated all products of animal origin from your diet, you should consume at least one portion of legumes every day.
The prospect might seem monotonous to you, but it becomes much less so if you consider not only the wide choice available to you, but also the variety of products derived from soy (such as the typical drink and tofu) and the many possible uses of soy flours in the kitchen. chickpeas and lentils.
Be careful, though: legumes are lacking in some amino acids that are abundant in cereals . For this reason it is always better to consume them together , as per the tradition of pasta and beans or rice and peas. The combination of these two foods allows the formation of proteins with a high biological value, comparable to that of animal proteins.
Dried or canned legumes?
The main drawback of legumes is that cooking them can be a long and laborious process. This is one of the reasons why many people prefer canned ones, pre-cooked, packaged and easy to store, to dried legumes, the ones you can find among the fruit and vegetable crates at the market or at your greengrocer.
Canned legumes almost completely maintain the nutritional values of dried ones, with one crucial exception: following processing their protein intake is much lower.
So, if you follow a vegetarian diet and use legumes as your main source of protein, you should preferably use dried ones in your dishes. If you find yourself forced to resort to canned ones, remember to calculate the macronutrients you need and increase the portions accordingly.
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