Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Loving legumes

Good for your health & the environment

Join the cultures around the world that believe eating legumes, specifically black-eyed peas and lentils on New Year's Day, will bring prosperity and good fortune. At Go Grains Health & Nutrition we know that enjoying legumes on any day of the year will bring more than prosperity and good fortune - good health too! Not only are legumes cheap (tick for prosperity), they are versatile, a great source of fibre, contain plenty of vitamins and minerals, carbohydrates for energy and a great non-meat protein alternative. People who eat legumes have a decreased risk of many diseases such as Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), Hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) and Cancer.

Sometimes known as pulses, legumes are the dried edible seeds of legume plants such as lentils, beans and peas. The main legumes available in Australia include: chickpeas, soy beans, navy beans (more commonly known as baked beans), brown lentils, red lentils, cannellini beans, lima beans (butter beans), broad beans (fava beans), red kidney beans, mung beans, peanuts (yes, peanuts are technically a legume), split peas, black-eyed peas, adzuki beans and pinto beans.

Legumes are a very important contributor to a healthy diet, yet so many people are missing out. Research conducted by Go Grains Health & Nutrition in 2009 found that Australians (n=1700) on average are eating only 1/3 of a serve of legumes (1 serve = 1/2 cup cooked, 75g) a day. Painting an even bleaker picture, research from the 2007 National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey found only 4.9-7.3% of children aged 2-16 years ate legumes the day before they were interviewed for the study.

Legumes are inexpensive, easy to prepare and very nutritious - rich in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, particularly B vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium, and they are also low in fat! You might already be eating legumes without realising it - baked beans, dahl, hummus and falafels are all made with legumes.

One of the most common reasons cited for not eating more legumes is lack of knowledge about how to cook and prepare them. To improve their nutritional value, digestibility and reduce effects of flatulence you should always soak raw, dry legumes before consumption.
  • Quick soak - add 3 cups of water to each cup of legumes in a saucepan. Bring to boil and remove from heat. Cover and leave for 1-2 hours. Rinse before cooking.
  • Slow soak - soak legumes covered with plenty of water in a cool place for 4-8 hours (overnight is best), then drain and rinse before cooking.
  • Cooking - place soaked legumes into a saucepan and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil and cook for 1 1/2 - 2 hrs until tender. Added salt will prolong the cooking time.
If this is all too hard, then pre-cooked (canned) legumes are very convenient. You could drain and rinse them before cooking to remove excess sodium from the water.

Including legumes in your diet can lead to positive changes, especially in terms of dietary fibre which can help you to feel fuller for longer. Regular legume consumption can help reduce the risk of diseases such as CHD, cancer and T2DM by decreasing cholesterol and triglycerides, high antioxidant content and anti inflammatory compounds along with the positive effects of fibre and blood glucose control. If you are not used to eating legumes, introduce small amounts into your meals initially to give your digestive system time to adjust to the higher fibre content (resulting in less production of gas).

Legumes are good for you and the environment. Legume crops have a positive impact on the environment. Legume roots produce their own nitrogen which is taken from the air and converted into a form the plant can use. When the legume crop is harvested, excess organic nitrogen (a great fertiliser) is left behind and can be used by other plants, making legumes great rotation crops.

For recipes containing the goodness of legumes visit the recipe section of the Go Grains website.

New year, new diet? Not again!

Make lifestyle changes you can sustain

Welcome to January, aka 'diet season', when New Year nutrition and exercise resolutions are made after overindulgence throughout the festive season. Bad habits are thrown out the window and promises are made to oneself that this time it will be different. The latest Hollywood fad diets engulf magazines and newspapers, and we grasp onto a glimmer of hope that one of these might just work this time.

Shaking their heads in despair, our Go Grains Health & Nutrition Accredited Practising Dietitian's (APD's) have already summed up some of the crazy diet plans for 2010. Here is the low down why they are not worth your time (and money) and how they can be worse off for you in the long-term.
  • The 'Morning Banana Diet' - there are no surprises here! You will lose weight if you eat only a banana for breakfast, don't eat after 8pm, avoid all alcohol and sweets, and get adequate rest plus daily exercise. This is a mix of 'diet hype' and sensible advice. You might lose weight in the short term since you will probably be eating far fewer kilojoules than usual but lack of variety and your grumbling tummy will inevitably have you diving for the cookie jar before long. A fulfilling breakfast including wholegrain/high fibre breakfast cereals and muesli, wholegrain toast, eggs, low-fat dairy and other delicious fruits is a much more satisfying and nutritious start to the day.

  • The 'Calorie Shifting Diet' - diets that involve dramatic diet changes for short periods of time are usually doomed to crumble in the long term. Cutting out entire food groups is not healthy. It is a much better idea to eat healthy foods (in sensible portions) so your metabolism can function normally. The concept of cycling high protein one day, then high carbohydrate the next is meant to confuse your metabolism to burn more fat. There is no evidence that this actually happens and in fact it is more likely to be the reverse - rapid weight loss is associated with muscle wasting, which will slow your metabolism. Beginning an exercise program that includes weight training will increase your metabolism the healthy way. Any weight loss achieved on this diet will result from eating less (no more than 7500kJ), regular exercise (at least 30mins each day) and limiting high kilojoule beverages such as alcohol and soft drinks - normal healthy weight loss principles. Instead of worrying about what food group you mustn't eat today, put in the extra effort to practice modifying new recipes to make them healthier for you and your family. Use ingredients that are in season, on special and of course what you enjoy.

  • The 'Low Carb Diet' - again! Not exactly new, but one of the most misunderstood diet myths of all time. The important thing to remember is that carbohydrates come in all shapes and sizes, and some are better for us than others. Bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and fruit are much healthier carbohydrate-containing foods than soft-drinks, ice-cream, yoghurt, lollies and chocolate which are much less so. Grain-based foods like breads, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals (preferably wholegrain), along with legumes, fruits and vegetables provide protein, fibre and essential vitamins and are an important part of a healthy balanced diet. Cutting out carbs can slow your metabolism and have negative effects on your mood. If you are still convinced by 'low carb' make sure it's lollies, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, pastries and alcohol you are cutting out and not the goodness of grains, wholegrains, legumes, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

  • 'Cookie Diet' or 'Tapeworm Diet' - let's not even go there.
It is hard not to have a glimmer of hope when reading these diets, but please don't believe the hype. The awful truth is it takes hard work and discipline to lose weight and maintain it. The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) in Amercia tracks people who have successfully lost at least 13.6kg and maintained this weight loss for at least 1 year. This data shows that 78% of successful dieters eat breakfast every day, 75% weight themselves at least once a week, 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week and 90% exercise on average about 1 hour per day. Their hard work pays off with 95% of NWCR participants noticing improvements in quality of life, 92% noticing increases in energy levels and 91% reporting decreases in depressive symptoms.

Learn to love food; eat a wide variety of healthy everyday foods you prepare including wholegrains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, lean meat, poultry, fish and nuts. Try new recipes, mind your portion sizes and exercise every day.