Nutrition Counseling

Encouraging Patients to Eat More Legumes

Beans, peas, and lentils are all classified as legumes, which means they’re the seeds or pods of a plant. They have a rich flavor and are packed with a variety of nutrients, including magnesium, folate, phosphorus, and iron. What makes them unique is their rich protein and fiber content. One 1/2-cup serving of black beans provides about 8 g fiber and 8 g protein, both of which work together to promote satiety.

Many people are reluctant to include legumes in their diet for a variety of reasons, which is where dietitians come into play. This article highlights some strategies RDs s can use to encourage clients and patients to consume more legumes.

It’s All in the Preparation
A common reason why people avoid legumes is due to their ability to cause gas. Legumes contain sugars called oligosaccharides, which our bodies can’t break down. When oligosaccharides reach the colon, they’re fermented by gut bacteria, often leading to bloating or gas. Although these symptoms are uncomfortable, there are a few different preparation methods patients can use when cooking legumes to increase digestive tolerance.

First, soaking dry legumes before cooking them helps to remove some of the indigestible sugars, as the sugars are leached into the water, which is then discarded. There are a couple of different ways to remove these sugars. Patients can choose the quick route by boiling legumes in a large pot covered with two to three inches of water for about two to three minutes. When they’re done boiling, they should be set aside for one hour and then drained.

In addition, patients can soak legumes overnight, which takes about eight hours. For this method, dry legumes are placed in a bowl and covered with two to three inches of water, and then drained in the morning.

It’s more difficult to control the amount of indigestible sugars in canned legumes, such as beans, than it is with the dry versions, as canned varieties most likely weren’t soaked before they were cooked and canned. Rinsing and draining canned beans before preparing them may help lower their indigestible oligosaccharide content.

Another unexpected way clients can boost their tolerance to legumes is simply by eating them more often. Our bodies can adapt to oligosaccharides, and they’ll become easier to digest over time as we consume them more often. However, it’s important to note that some people, including those with irritable bowel syndrome, may be intolerant to oligosaccharides, and their guts will have a more difficult time getting used to legumes. If this is the case for any of your patients, you may want to investigate the underlying cause of their intolerance and possibly begin a low-FODMAP diet trial to determine whether they can regain tolerance.

Get Creative
Encouraging clients to explore different preparation methods and use legumes in a variety of dishes can help increase their interest in them. Many people think legumes are boring, but that’s anything but true. They can be added to soups, stews, omelets, salads, and tacos, and they’re a perfect base for vegetarian burgers. In addition, they can be placed in a blender to make dips and spreads for sandwiches, or they simply can be seasoned and eaten as a side dish.

Better Budgeting
Legumes are an incredibly budget-friendly food. It generally costs around $1.80 for one pound of dried beans. One pound of beans makes about 13 cooked servings, which means the cost is only $0.14 per portion. Patients who are on strict budgets will benefit from including legumes in their diet—that’s a whole lot of nutrition for a very low cost. If you can’t convince them with any other strategies, let money savings do the talking.

There are many different ways you can encourage clients to include more legumes in their diets. Not only do they have several health benefits, but they’re also delicious and affordable. The key is to ensure they know how to properly prepare them and make them taste good.

— Brianna Elliott, RD, LD, is a nutrition specialist for Open Arms of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that delivers medically tailored meals to individuals with chronic illnesses. She also authors her lifestyle blog, Fresh Fit Flourish and is a contributing writer to several nutrition websites including Authority Nutrition. Brianna is in the process of finishing her master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics from Mount Mary University. Her favorite part about being a dietitian is the wide array of paths she can take in her career and the fact that she’s able to combine all of her passions: helping people, food, and writing.

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