Too often I find my clients leave legumes (beans and peas) out of the mix because they either don’t know how to prepare them or they don’t know why they are good for you. So this month’s article is an ode to the legume: a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates and lots of vitamins you may not have known about.

Since it’s summer, why not use this low-cost source of protein and forgo the stove or grill? Buying canned or pre-cooked beans during these months will work just fine. All health food stores sell them. Look for organic beans in BPA-free cans. BPA, or bisphenol A, is an organic compound used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins and has been known to be estrogenic since the mid-1930s. Canada declared it a toxic substance in 2010.

Let’s have a look at my three favorite types of legumes: lentils, garbanzo beans and black beans.

Lentils

Lentils are rich in soluble fiber, which detoxifies the body and stabilizes blood glucose levels. They add a hearty flavor to salads, sides and make great veggie burgers. Fully 26% of the calories in lentils are from protein, making them a great choice for vegetarians.

It is best to combine them with whole grains like brown rice or quinoa to make them a complete protein containing all 22 amino acids. Or, if you are more ambitious, you could sprout them to get all essential amino acids. They actually develop two times the amount of amino acids needed for a complete protein when sprouted. Either way, they are full of phytonutrients, which contain antioxidants and boost immunity.

Rich in B vitamins, a single serving (1 cup cooked) provides 90% of the recommended daily amount of folate, 22% of thiamin and 18% of Vitamin B-6. B vitamins nourish the nervous system and help replenish the adrenal glands. The only caution on lentils is for those with gout or kidney problems because they contain natural compounds that break down into uric acid. Outside of that, with six different varieties to choose from, you can’t go wrong with adding lentils to your daily regimen!

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

These beans have long been celebrated for their fiber content, with 75% of the fiber being insoluble. Hailing from the Middle East, this bean is used in dishes like falafels, hummus and curries. Here are some little-known facts to inspire you to eat more garbanzos:
– Garbanzos contain the trace mineral molybdenum, which helps the body detoxify sulfites (from red wine or dried fruit).
– Because of their protein structure, they help combat immune problems.
– They are very important for menstruating women because they replenish iron deficiency in the body and the iron they contain also helps with respiration at the cellular level.
– Regular consumption of garbanzo beans is associated with a reduced risk of death from coronary heart disease.  Again, as with lentils, garbanzo beans are not advised for those with gout or kidney problems because of a naturally occurring substance called purines, leading to increased accumulation of uric acid in the body.

Black beans

I test many people for food sensitivities, and kidney beans come up often so I always recommend that people eat black beans instead. The taste is hearty and most find that it is a good replacement in chili and bean salads. Black beans help lower cholesterol and also keep blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal. A prime reason to add this bean to your diet is that it offers high levels of antioxidants. Antioxidants help us destroy free radicals (damaging molecules inside the body), and when eaten regularly, have been shown to offer protection against heart disease, cancer and aging.

Black Bean and Avocado Salsa

Ingredients
• 1 (19-ounce) can black beans
• 1 cup salsa
• 1 ripe avocado (soft to the touch), mashed or small-diced
• Lime juice, to taste (start with a few squirts or ¼ tsp)
• 1-2 green onions, sliced or diced (for garnish)
• Dash of cumin or chili powder, optional

Directions

Drain the black beans and rinse with cool water. In a medium bowl, mix the beans gently with the avocado, salsa, and optional cumin. Add lime juice to taste. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and green onions.

Simple Lentil Salad

Ingredients
• 1 package pre-cooked lentils
• 2 large bell peppers (red, yellow or orange), washed, seeded and cut into small cubes
• 1/2-1 large cucumber, washed and cut into small cubes
• Handful of fresh basil
• A few leaves of borage, optional (an herb with a cucumber taste)

Dressing
• 1/4 cup of raw apple cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
• 1/2 tsp dry mustard
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and put through a garlic press
• Lots of salt and freshly ground pepper
• Extra pepper, vinegar and olive oil, if needed