When you think of vegetables, do beans come to mind? If you’re like most Americans, probably not. Most individuals consider legumes, such as dried beans and lentils, a source for protein instead of a vegetable. The great aspect of legumes is they are considered both a protein-rich food and a vegetable. How you count them toward your daily food group goals is your choice.
Beans and lentils are the quintessential super foods. They are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, high quality carbohydrates AND fiber, and they have little sodium and no saturated fat. Pretty super, huh? Including legumes in your meals on a daily basis isn’t just a great way to incorporate texture and nutrition, it’s also a cost-effective way to maintain your food budget.
When following a 2,000-calorie meal plan, the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines recommends eating 1½ cup-equivalents of legumes each week.
6 Easy Ways to Add Legumes to Meals
- Add ¼ cup of low-sodium, canned kidney beans to salads
- Snack on bell pepper slices, carrots and mushrooms dipped in hummus made with chickpeas
- Mix low-sodium, canned black beans into ground beef or turkey when preparing tacos
- Mash and season pinto beans to create a bean dip to bring to family picnics
- Add lentils and beans to soups and casseroles
- Create summer salads with beans and lentils as the base (instead of pasta)
Having a cookout? An easy way to include legumes in your summer cookouts is to include a salad like the Mediterranean Lentil Salad below. Delicious tasting, light, refreshing and nourishing—it’s the perfect combination for a summer salad.
Mediterranean Lentil Salad
Prep Time: 10 minutes • Cook Time: 25 minutes
- 1 cup dried lentils, preferably lentils, rinsed well
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick, or ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt (optional)
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced small
- 1 small cucumber, seeded and diced small
- ¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, rinsed and sliced
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
- Combine the lentils, garlic, oregano, bay leaves and cinnamon stick in a saucepan and cover with water or broth by 2 inches.
- Bring to a boil then cover, lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
- Drain the lentils thoroughly and discard the whole spices. In a separate bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, cumin and salt together.
- Toss the lentils with the vinaigrette then refrigerate for 20 minutes.
- Stir in the bell pepper, cucumber, olives, mint and parsley and combine, then do a FASS check (Fat, Acid, Salt and Sweet) and season as needed with another pinch of salt, a few grinds of pepper, or lemon juice.
- Serve with the feta cheese sprinkled over the top.
Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days.
Nutrition Info per Serving: Calories: 210; Total Fat: 11.6 g (1.5 g saturated, 7.8 g monounsaturated); Carbohydrates: 21 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 5 g; Sodium: 195 mg
Recipe from Rebecca Katz, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2009)