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Description: Beans, peas, lentils, peanuts and soybeans are collectively known as legumes, which are plants that have pods with tidy rows of seeds inside, and are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. Legumes are typically low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are high in protein, calcium, zinc, folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium. They also have phytochemicals, which may help prevent diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, and are a good source of fiber and other nutrients, which can help reduce your risk of developing diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases. They are a vegetarian source of protein and can be a healthy substitute for meat.

What to look for: Select a wide variety of legumes, both dried and canned, for greater versatility in cooking. Choose dry legumes with a deep, almost glossy color. Dry-looking or faded legumes indicate a longer storage time. The longer legumes are stored, the more likely the legumes won’t taste fresh. In addition, legumes with cloudy surfaces may indicate the growth of mold. Use canned legumes for convenience, but do rinse them well to remove any sodium added during processing. Canned legumes are fast and easy to use; however, dried legumes are more flavorful and contain more vital nutrients than those found in a can.

Experiment with a wide variety of legumes. Choose from French, red, brown, black or green lentils, yellow or green split peas, chickpeas, black, red, adzuki, lima, kidney, navy, fava, northern, mung, or the well-known pinto bean. Each and every one possesses a unique and delicious flavor worth exploring. We highly recommend pressure cooking legumes. More information on pressure cooking can be found in the recipe section.

Uses: Incorporate legumes into your meals and snacks by preparing soups, stews, casseroles and dips that feature legumes. Try a new legume each week. Keep pantry stocked with a variety of canned legumes for a quick meal or side dish. If you’re new to legumes, start with a small amount and increase gradually. Change your favorite recipe by replacing half the meat with legumes.

Where to find: Health Food Store, Organic and Natural Food Stores (if buying in bulk, make sure store is reliable source and turnover is frequent), well-known supermarkets and food stores.

Avoid: Keep dried legumes away from heat, light and moisture to maintain freshness. Keep unopened canned legumes in a cool, dry place, and they are good for two to five years. To avoid canned legumes high in sodium, buy “no added salt” products and/or rinse thoroughly.