Peas, Please!4 months ago | Nutrition
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Peas and carrots just go together. You might recall Forrest Gump describe his unbreakable friendship as follows: “Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.”
And while we are not discussing friendship, it seems like peas and carrots not only go together but they are also good for your health. So since we have already talked about carrots, let’s now discuss its’ “partner in crime” - peas!
When it comes to peas, there are a few different kinds. For example, there are snow peas and sugar snap peas which have edible pods and are popular in Asian cuisine.
But today we are going to focus on green peas, also called “English peas,” “garden peas,” “common peas” or “standard peas.” The pod of the green pea is not edible (unlike snow and sugar snap peas). Green peas are also more nutritious than snow and sugar snap peas. And sometimes, due to their genetic locus (fixed position on a chromosome), they may come out more yellow-colored and therefore called yellow peas. There is not much of a nutritional difference between yellow and green peas.
The botanical plant name for the green pea is Pisum sativum. You probably think of the green pea as being a vegetable, but it is actually considered a legume (like lentils).
Green peas are one of the first cultivated food crops, and today Canada is the largest producer of green peas. India is the world’s largest green pea importer. Green peas often don’t have a good reputation. They are commonly portrayed in movies and commercials as that “veggie” that kids can’t stand, pushing green peas around their plate and hoping that they will disappear.
But green peas are actually delicious, with a slightly sweet flavor. They are very versatile, and most importantly they may deliver some amazing health benefits.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “It [the green pea] has been shown to possess antibacterial, antidiabetic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antihypercholesterolemia [helping prevent high cholesterol], and antioxidant activities and also shown anticancer property.”
Let’s further explore some of the health benefits of green peas.
Peas may help protect you from stomach cancer.
Green peas are rich in a phytonutrient called coumestrol. Several reports suggest that coumestrol may have anti-cancer benefits, particularly when it comes to gastric cancer. A study based in Mexico City found some evidence that consuming green peas and other legumes (which also contain coumestrol) on a daily basis may lower the risk of developing stomach cancer.
Peas may lower the risk of developing diabetes.
Green peas are a great source of protein and fiber. One cup of boiled green peas contains nearly 9 grams of both protein and fiber.
(Great source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. You may have noticed there are many pea protein powders available at your local health food store).
The combination of consuming both protein and fiber may help keep your blood sugar levels in balance. Unlike carbohydrates, protein helps keep blood sugar levels steady. Fiber essentially slows the absorption of fat and sugar from food.
In addition to protein and fiber, green peas are rich in the anti-inflammatory phytonutrients pisumsaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B which may also help regulate blood sugar levels.
Peas may help combat high blood pressure and kidney disease.
Some evidence suggests that pea protein may lower blood pressure and prevent the onset of kidney disease.
In one study, pea protein hydrolysate was extracted from the yellow garden pea and a small dose each day was fed to laboratory rats bred to have a severe type of kidney disease called polycystic kidney disease.
“After 8 weeks the rats on the pea protein diet showed a 20 percent drop in blood pressure compared to diseased rats that had only been fed on a normal diet.”
The doctors involved in the study said this was significant, because many people with kidney disease die from cardiovascular complications such as high blood pressure connected to kidney malfunction.
Peas may help you maintain a healthy cholesterol level.
Cholesterol in the body is often misunderstood. You do not want to have high cholesterol, but it is also just as important to not have too low cholesterol.
Peas contain niacin (vitamin B3) which may have a positive effect on cholesterol.
Niacin may raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol much more than statins do.
“It also lowers triglycerides, fats in the blood that can increase the risk of heart disease. For these reasons, niacin may be a good option for people who can’t tolerate statins well and for those who have very low HDL and/or high triglycerides,” according to this report.
Now, take a look at how nutrient-dense just one cup of boiled green peas are:
- Calcium, 43 mg. Of course, calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. This mineral is also important for maintaining hair and nail health in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Adequate calcium intake may also decrease your risk for colorectal cancer.
- Magnesium, 62 mg. This mineral is needed by more than 300 human body enzymes to facilitate biochemical reactions. It helps create energy for the body and activates muscle and nerve tissues by enabling potassium and calcium transfer through your cell membranes. If magnesium levels in the body are too low, whole body systems don’t work properly, resulting in fatigue and cramps.
- Phosphorus, 187 mg. This mineral works with calcium to help build strong bones and teeth. It is also needed to help balance and use other vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, iodine, magnesium and zinc.
- Potassium, 434 mg. This must-have mineral works with sodium to balance the fluids and electrolytes in the body. Potassium helps keep blood pressure under control and may even help reduce kidney stones and bone loss as you age.
- Vitamin C, 22.7 mg. You likely know about the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C, but what about this nutrient’s importance regarding aging? Read here to find out.
- Folate, 101 mcg. Most adults need about 400 mcg of folate daily. If you are pregnant, you may need more. Folate is essential for cell growth and many other bodily functions. To see how much folate you need, read here.
- Vitamin A, 1282 IU. This vitamin is an antioxidant that supports the immune system and is good for skin and eye health. Vitamin A also promotes cell growth.
- Vitamin K, 41.4 mcg. This vitamin is critical for proper blood clotting and bone metabolism. It may also help maintain brain function, a healthy metabolism and may even help prevent cancer.
How can you incorporate green peas into your daily diet?
Green peas are easy to prepare and very versatile.
You can boil them for a simple side dish or add to pastas, stir-fry them and add to salads.
I am interested in trying this Perfect Pea Purée (vegan).
All you need are:
- 1 cup shelled peas (thawed, if frozen)
- 2 tablespoons tahini
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and sliced
- Pinch of cumin
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- Salt and pepper to taste
Any precautions with peas?
Peas contain a substance called purines. Some recommend that people who have kidney disorder or gout should not have green peas. If you have any of these conditions, speak with your doctor first.
Bear in mind, a cup of peas does contain nearly 10 grams of sugar. Credible sources say green peas are a diabetic friendly food, but if you have diabetes be sure to speak with a competent healthcare professional about incorporating this food into your diet.
And, like other legumes, green peas are sometimes considered to be “antinutrients.” This means they may interfere with digestion or mineral absorption, but in most overall healthy people the ‘good’ in peas appears to outweigh the ‘bad.’
“While these generally aren't a concern for most healthy people, their health effects are still important to keep in mind. They are more likely to impact those who rely on legumes as a staple food, in addition to individuals at risk of malnutrition, “ according to this report.
So like with most foods, moderation is key. And the good news is that green peas are said to have less “antinutrients” than other legumes.
Fermenting, soaking and sprouting may also reduce antinutrient level. And eating them fully cooked may also help.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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