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The Case For A Legume-Based Diet

Let’s face it, Americans love meat. With the average American devouring nearly 225 pounds of red meat and chicken each year, there is no doubt that America is primarily a carnivore country. Our consumption of meat continues to increase each year, despite the clear, mounting evidence that the more meat we eat, the more damage we are doing to our health and the more we are harming the environment.

For years, when people were polled to ask why they eat so much meat, the number one response was, “because I love the taste”. Who doesn’t love a juicy burger fresh off the grill?  

However, in recent years, the top response now relates to how much they love meat when compared to a perceived lack of alternatives to eat. In other words, more and more Americans seem to belooking for viable alternatives to meat. They know too much meat is bad for them, but they have yet to find something else that they believe can take its place.

In the eyes of nutritionists, that response amounts to a hill of beans... literally! Nutritionists are guiding people toward specific meat alternatives — making the case for beans, as part of a legume-based diet.

Sliced steak: a meat-based diet

To Bean Or Not To Bean, That is The Question 

Beans — believe it or not, these tiny guys became very controversial when nutritionists began promoting them as a viable option to meat, instead of just a side dish. We aren’t sure if most of the pushback comes from the massive, corporate driven meat industry or if we, as a society, aren’t quite ready to jump ship on meat. 

Regardless of the reason, the type of foods you decide to eat is just that:your decision and a personal one at that. We are not the meat police. But the consequences to your health of continuing on aprimarily meat-based diet simply cannot be ignored. 

We polled top nutritionists as well as everyday people on the topic. Here is what we found, so you can decide for yourself — the case for (and against) a legume-based diet.

What The Heck Is A Legume, Anyways?

So first let’s talk about what a legume is, and why beans go by this name. As it turns out,legumes are defined as plants that produce a pod with seeds inside; the term “legume” is actually referring to the seeds of these plants. So, as it turns out, legumes aren’t just beans, they are a whole family of different edible options; each with their own nutritional benefits. In addition to traditional beans, the legume family includes:

  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas
  • Soybeans
  • Peanuts
  • All beans, including lima beans, black beans, kidney beans, red beans, navy beans, and pinto beans

Lentil soup with greens

The Amazing Health Benefits of Legumes

With the exception of peanuts, nearly all legumes are nutritionally dense and provide a large, plant-based dose of a number of essential nutrients. They are high inprotein andfiber, as well as several important vitamins and minerals. 

Take lentils for example; just one cup of lentils provides roughly 18 grams of protein and 16 grams of fiber while also providing nearly 40% of your recommended daily allowance of iron, 90% of folate, nearly 20% ofmagnesium and potassium, and over 10% of B vitamins, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and copper.

Now, let’s compare these lentils to a 5-oz serving of steak. A serving of steak has over 300 calories, compared to lentil’s 240 calories; in addition, the steak also provides 44 grams of protein (too much for one meal for many people), over 120 milligrams ofcholesterol, and nearly 20 grams of fat, much of it saturated. Lentils, or legumes in general for that matter, have no fat or no cholesterol and continue to be a better choice for vitamins, minerals, and essential trace elements like zinc, copper, potassium, and magnesium. 

It’s also worth noting that while legumes are just a great plant-based source of essential nutrients, they are also extremelyinexpensive. In fact, with a pound of beans costing roughly $1.20 they are nearly one-fifth the cost of ground beef or chicken and one-tenth the cost of steak!

Making the Case for a Legume-Based Diet

So, now you know legumes are nutritionally-dense and an inexpensive healthy food option, but let’s take a look at some other reasons why they should be considered a replacement for meat as the main course in meals. 

A massive 10-year study conducted by the National Institute of Health examining the relationship between the meat we eat and our mortality provided shocking results. This is why so many nutritionists are getting on board with the need to transition to aplant-based or legume-based diet.

Over the course of the 10-year period, researchers evaluated more than 500,000 people, concluding that those who ate the most red meat had a 31% higher death rate than those who ate the least amount of red meat. Interestingly, while not as significant as red meat, people who ate the most processed meats (like bacon and hot dogs), demonstrated a 16% higher mortality rate than those who ate the least. The same pattern was observed forheart disease,diabetes, and deaths due to cancer.

It’s become increasingly clear that there is a direct relationship between the amount of meat you eat and the negative health effects you experience, including how long you live.

Beans and rice bowl

Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Including Heart Attack

People who consume beans regularly may be less likely to die of a heart attack or other cardiovascular issues. Studies have concluded that decreased risk of cardiovascular disease may be among the benefits observed when meats are replaced with fat-free, cholesterol free, fiber-rich legumes.

Proven To Fight Inflammation: A Rich Source of Antioxidants

Beans and legumes are rich in several different antioxidants. These antioxidants are proven inflammation fighters that help reduce the risk of several chronic health conditions, including certain types of cancer.  Of all the legumes, research suggests that the common black bean may actually be the best source for antioxidants from legumes.

Additional Health Benefits of Legumes

Beans are just loaded with fiber, which is essential for a number of reasons, including helping to stabilize and lowerblood glucose levels, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

The fiber in beans also serves as a way tocontrol appetite, providing a sense of fullness that lasts through to the next meal and prevents the urge to overeat or mindlessly snack between meals.

One of the most important, but often overlooked, benefits provided by eating legumes is improvedgut health. Legumes, and especially black beans and kidney beans, are powerful prebiotics, providing essential nutrients for probiotics; the good bacteria in our guts. As a prebiotic, beans help the body increase levels of healthy bacteria which is so important for our gut health, our immune system, and hundreds of other essential functions.

Is There A Case Against Legumes?

Believe it or not, there are plenty of meat industry lobbyist dollars being spent to demonize bean consumption. 

It’s hard to argue against beans as a legitimate, magicalsuperfood — rich in protein and fiber, free of fat and cholesterol, loaded with antioxidants, and a vitamin and mineral-rich prebiotic. What more do we need to know, right? Well, not much — however, many people find that increased legume consumption increases intestinal gas and causes some stomach discomfort. Fortunately, this can easily be addressed by taking anenzyme supplement before a meal, and the health benefits of a legume-based diet far outweigh any temporary stomach discomfort they might create. Gradually adding legumes to your diet over time can help alleviate gas and stomach discomfort.

The other issue to be aware of is that some people may be allergic to certain legumes, like peanuts and soybeans. And if you are allergic to one type of legume, it is not uncommon to have reactions to others as well, so make sure to take this possibility into account. 

Black beans and rice in a wrap

The Evidence is In

So, there you have it; legumes and beans, your superfood alternative to meats. Proven to be nutritionally superior, they have been shown to reduce mortality rates and lower the risk of a number of chronic health issues including diabetes, certain cancers, inflammation, and heart disease. And they are delicious in a wrap, with rice and salsa, or added to a salad! Plus you’ll cut your food budget significantly.

If you’ve been looking for a way to replace some of the meat in your diet, why not give legumes a try?

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