Superfood of the Week: Legumes

Sarah-Jane Bedwell, SELF magazine

Legumes might just be the most confounding superfood. Are they beans? Are they nuts? Well, a legume, commonly called a pod, includes several types of plants within the Leguminosea family including peas, peanuts, lentils, beans and alfalfa. An important point to note: All beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans. Make sense? Good. But the most important takeaway about these babies is that they provide major nutrition benefits. They are one of the best and cheapest sources of protein in the plant kingdom, making them a near-obvious choice for vegetarians and vegans looking for said fuel. Plus, they are packed with nutrients including iron, phosphorus and folate, all which contribute to healthy blood. Oh, and they're high in fiber, too. If that doesn't motivate you to eat your legumes, try some of these fresh meal ideas to whet your appetite.

Cripsy Lentil Rotini
Skip the meat or shrimp in your pasta and add lentils instead for a rich, nutty flavor and to-die-for texture that pairs perfectly with whole-grain pasta. This is a meatless meal that is so full of flavor you won't notice you've gone veg--temporarily, at least.

Beef Bowl with Peanuts
Peanuts are unique from other legumes in that they contain fat--but the good news is that the fat is heart healthy, and keeps blood sugar levels in check. Peanuts go perfectly with either sweet or salty flavors, making them the perfect addition to Asian dishes like this one.

Southwest Veggie Nachos
To save calories in almost any comfort-food recipe, use beans as the star protein. They add the perfect meaty texture to these nachos and could also be used to cut the calories in chili, tacos, pizza and more! To keep things quick, use canned beans-just rinse and drain them first to reduce the sodium by about 40 percent.

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