By Marsha N. Woolery
Peas and beans are classified as legumes in the Caribbean food groups. Examples of peas and beans include red peas (small and large), chick peas (garbanzo beans), lentils, broad beans, split peas (yellow or green), gungo (pigeon peas), broad beans and Jerusalem (rice peas).
Peas and beans are low in fat and contain no cholesterol because they have no liver.
They are an excellent source of protein - actually a great substitute for meat, which aids in growth and development, making of antibodies, enzymes and hormones. They are a good source of folate, potassium, iron, magnesium and fibre. Folate is important, especially for women in child-bearing age to aid in the development of the spinal cord of the unborn foetus in the first six weeks of pregnancy.
Soluble and insoluble fibre
Dried peas and beans are rich in iron to prevent anaemia. Peas and beans are a rich source of soluble and insoluble fibre. The outer coat has insoluble fibre and the inner part or flesh has soluble fibre. Insoluble fibre helps to increase the bulk in the faeces and attracts water to prevent constipation and cleans the intestines of fat and unwanted substances. Insoluble fibre also delays gastric emptying, extends the feeling of fullness, and hence reduces the risk of obesity.
Soluble fibre slows the absorption of carbohydrates, protein and fat, hence its role in controlling blood sugar in persons living with diabetes and high blood-cholesterol levels.
There are many benefits from consuming peas and beans. These include lowering the risk of developing heart disease and stroke because peas and beans are low in fat, are cholesterol free and the fibre traps fat and other harmful substances and removes them from the colon through the faeces.
Blood-sugar levels are reduced by fibre, slowing the rate of glucose absorption from the intestines to the cells. Peas and beans help to prevent certain types of cancer such as colon cancer. Consumption of peas and beans prevents and relieves constipation by attracting water in the stool, causing them to be bulkier and easier to pass.
Eat less meat and more peas
Reap the benefits of peas and beans by eating more of them and less animal foods such as chicken, beef, goat meat and fish every day. Two ounces, or quarter cup, is equal in nutritive value and less in calories than one ounce of foods from animals such as meat, chicken and fish. When increasing the amount of peas and beans in diet, start slowly by eating less than four ounces or half-cup per day to prevent diarrhoea or abdominal discomfort.
Some persons may experience flatulence, or gas, and abdominal discomfort after consuming peas and beans. This may be as a result of two sugars (stachyose and raffinose) that are found in peas and beans that cannot be broken down by human enzymes, thus causing the above-mentioned symptoms. These persons may need to consume peas and beans with the corresponding enzymes to aid in digestion.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.