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Y Talk: Legumes by Brooke Wiseman

Carlisle Family YMCA

Shelf stable foods like beans, peas and lentils are great to keep in your pantry. Dried or canned, either option is a great way to add in low-cost foods that provide excellent nutrition to your diet. Legumes are considered heart healthy due to them being naturally low in fat and sodium. Legumes are also a great source of plant-based protein and provide both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Besides being heart healthy, legumes are a great low-glycemic index food, perfect for anyone with diabetes. The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking system of foods and how they affect blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. Carbohydrates with a GI value of 55 or less are considered low, meaning they are more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolized by the body. In turn, a low GI food causes a lower and slower rise in blood glucose, usually the same for insulin levels. Foods with a GI between 55-70 are considered medium and those with a GI greater than 70 are considered high.

Below are the different GI numbers of some of the most commonly consumed legumes:

  • Chickpeas – 28
  • Kidney Beans – 24
  • Pinto Beans – 33
  • Lentils – 32

Canned beans are convenient and ready to eat or cook with right away, whereas dried beans require a little thought and planning. Dried beans have several different methods for preparation: overnight soak, quick soak or pressure cook. Overnight soaking requires planning in advance, but is a great option for meal prep cooking, plus, dried beans are usually the cheapest, bulk option and have little to no sodium compared to canned. Lentils do not need to be soaked and can be used right away when dried.

When choosing canned options, be sure to keep sodium in mind, especially if you are on a heart healthy diet. One key trick is to ALWAYS rinse canned beans because this can reduce up to 30% of the sodium within the can. A little knowledge of how to read a label can go a long way with avoiding trickery put out there from the large food corporations. Always be sure to look at the serving size and amount per serving and remember if you eat two servings, double the nutrient amounts. For example, if the serving says that 1/2 cup pinto beans = 120mg sodium and you eat 1 cup, then you ate a double serving and that is 240mg of sodium. Below are the FDA label definitions, don’t be fooled by the wording. Always check the nutrition facts label on the back!

  • What It Says: Salt/Sodium-Free What It Means: Less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
  • What It Says: Very Low Sodium What It Means: 35 mg of sodium or less per serving
  • What It Says: Low Sodium What It Means: 140 mg of sodium or less per serving
  • What It Says: Reduced Sodium What It Means: At least 25% less sodium than the regular product
  • What It Says: Light in Sodium or Lightly Salted What It Means: At least 50% less sodium than the regular product
  • What It Says: No-Salt-Added or Unsalted What It Means: No salt is added during processing – but these products may not be salt/sodium-free unless stated

Lastly, the biggest question…what do I do with all these beans? Beans are so versatile that the answer to this is endless! Beans are a great dish on their own, mixed with veggies or put on top of a whole grain. Just like mushrooms, beans can be used in replace of meat. Take your favorite ground meat recipe and replace half of the meat with beans for added protein, lower fat, lower sodium, lower cost, all with the same great taste! Beans texture blend perfectly with meat and can be a great option for both adults and kids!

Don’t be afraid of beans. Yes, they are the magical fruit, but they can provide so many beneficial nutrients to your diet. Google is filled with recipes and how to videos for preparing legumes to fit your dietary needs and taste buds.

If you have any questions or need some legume inspiration, feel free to reach out!

-by Brooke Wiseman, NDTR, CPT

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