Thursday, October 6, 2016

Plant Protein & Health

By Hillary Siah, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Legumes are often an overlooked source of protein if you don’t follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, as most of us associate protein with a juicy steak, chicken breast or eggs. But that may be about to change as people become aware that legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas are also a source of protein.

Not only are legumes higher in protein than most other plant-based foods, they are also an economical and environmentally friendly source of protein. If we all got more of our protein from plant-based sources such as beans and lentils it has been suggested that we would not only help improve the sustainability of the agricultural system but we’d also improve our health(1, 2).

The latest science on plant protein

Current research on the specific effect of plant protein on health and chronic disease risk is limited. However, a recently published study, the largest to date, investigated the link between plant protein intake and risk of early death. The study took data from from cohorts of over 131,000 US adults for 32 years and looked at the relationship between consumption of animal and plant proteins and the risk of early death(3). Whilst this is the first large long-term study to look at the influence of plant protein intake on risk of death, the independent effect of specific dietary sources of plant protein was not assessed. However, adults who consumed more plant protein (>6% of total energy) had a higher intake of fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts compared to those with lower intakes (≤3% total energy).

Previous research has promoted the benefits of a predominately plant-based diet for health and longevity(4, 5). Interestingly, while this study did find that higher plant protein intake was protective against risk of early death, this effect was only observed in individuals with at least one ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle risk factor including smoking, heavy alcohol intake, being physically inactive or being overweight or obese. This may seem limited, but the findings suggest that a higher plant protein intake may be beneficial for the 63% of Australian adults who are currently classified as overweight or obese(6).

The good news is that even a small change in plant protein consumption may have a big impact on health. Increasing plant protein intake by as little as 3% per day was found to reduce the risk of death from all causes by 10%, with similar protective effect observed for risk of death from cardiovascular disease. This association was strongest when sources of plant protein such as legumes were swapped with processed meats.

This research adds to a growing body of evidence that highlights the protective effect that foods high in plant protein can have on health(7). A recent meta-analysis showed that higher intakes of plant protein were associated with lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes(8) and in a study that followed over 29,000 post-menopausal women for 15 years, substituting plant protein for animal protein reduced the risk of death from coronary heart disease(9).

Sources of plant protein such as legumes and whole grains are packed with other health promoting nutrients such as fibre(10) and important vitamins and minerals, as well as being low in saturated fat which may in part contribute the protective effect of foods rich in plant protein.

So, what does this mean for us?

Legumes are a source of protein that should be enjoyed by everyone - vegetarians and meat-eaters alike. Legumes are nutritious, affordable and versatile and should form part of a healthy diet for all Australians, whether you’re bulking for summer or looking forward to a healthy retirement.
Based on the evidence of health benefits, GLNC recommends that all Australians enjoy legumes at least 2-3 times per week. This is simpler than you may think and can be as easy as tossing kidney beans into your spaghetti bolognese, adding chickpeas to your curry or starting the day with baked beans on toast. One great way to increase your plant protein intake is to add legumes to meals that contain grains(11)to amp up the nutritional factor even more.  For a whole host of tasty legume and grain based recipes, visit the GLNC website.

1. Saunders AV. Busting the myths about vegetarian and vegan diets. Journal of HEIA. 2014;21(1):2-13.
2. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009:1266-82.
3. Minyang Song TF, Frank Hu, Walter Willet, Valter Longo, Andrew Chang, Deward Giovannucci. Association of Animal and Plant Protein Intake With All-Cause and Cause-Sepcific Mortality. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016.
4. Darmadi-Blackberry I, Wahlqvist ML, Kouris-Blazos A, Steen B, Lukito W, Horie Y, et al. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition. 2004;13(2):217-20.
5. Kouris-Blazos A, Belsi R. Health benefits of legumes and pulses with a focus on Australian sweet lupins. Asia Pacific journal of clinical nutrition. 2016;25.
6. ABS. Australian Health Survey: First Results. 2011-12.
7. Medina-RemÓn A, Kirwan R, Lamuela-Raventós RM, Estruch R. Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Diseases, Asthma, and Mental Health Problems. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition. 2016:00-.
8. XW Shang DS, AM Hodge, DR English et al. Dietary protein intake and risk of Type 2 Diabetes: results from the Melbourne Collaborateive Cohort Studies and a meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;104(3).
9. Kelemen LE KL, Jacobs DR Jr, Cerhan JR. Associations of dietary protein with disease and mortality in a prospective study of postmenopausal women. American Journal of of Epidemiology. 2005;2005(161):3.
10. Kate Marsh JB-M. Vegetarian Diets and Diabetes. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. 2011;6(2):135-43.
11. Young VR, Pellett PL. Plant proteins in relation to human protein and amino acid nutrition. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 1994;59(5):1203S-12S.

The Rise & Rise of the Snack Market: A Focus on Legumes

By Alexandra Locke

The Australian snacking market is worth more than $2 billion, with an annual growth rate of 4% and climbing (1). New technology and continuing consumer demand for healthy alternatives is fuelling innovation in the snacking arena. We take a look at the latest trends on snacks featuring legumes, the most innovative products in this space and where the opportunities lie for manufacturers to produce healthier snacks for our changing lifestyles.

Australians now snack four times as much as 10 years ago (2), with this growth being driven by our ever-changing and increasingly busy lifestyles. And it’s the younger generation driving the trend in snacking, where consumers are shying away from traditional mealtimes and instead consuming more small snacks throughout the day.

Consuming food on-the-go is no longer seen as an anomaly, but a necessity with 96% of Australians regularly consuming snack foods (3). Snacking allows us to fuel ourselves in a way that fits in with our modern, fragmented lifestyles and consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, more innovative options. And this is where the unlikely legume fits in.

Although previously an often overlooked food group, the popularity of legumes continues to grow in all food sectors, helped along by their exemplary health benefits. With 40% of Australians citing that one of their top health priorities is to consume more fresh fruit and vegetables and 23% looking to eat healthier snacks (4), it seems only natural that snacking and legumes have combined to take advantage of this niche.

“Snacking is no longer about a specific product category but rather about a set of behaviours – a way of eating and drinking – a kind of occasion. In other words, anything and everything can be a snack – and increasingly is.” 
Food & Drink News

With 2016 being the International Year of the Pulse, it’s fitting that this year has seen an increase in legume based snacks. And there are many benefits associated with eating legumes; they’re an economical source of plant-based protein, inexpensive, a good source of fibre which helps to keep you feeling fuller for longer and they’re great for the environment too as they help to promote soil health.

With this push for new snack products, innovation is increasing on a daily basis - lentils are being puffed, chickpeas are being roasted, salted and served as a snack and lupins are being ground into flour. In fact, the number of new snacks containing legumes launched around the world increased by an astounding 54% between 2014 and 2015 (5)

We’ve taken a look at some of the top products emerging in legume based snacking.

Partner Foods has developed a range of roasted legumes including roasted and seasoned chickpeas and fava beans, Chic Nuts and Fav-va Nuts, which come in small portion controlled packs, providing a healthy snack at any time of the day.

an innovative legume based snack

Taking the Pea is another example of a company cashing in on the savoury snack trend with their range of crunchy flavoured peas, promoting their high fibre and protein content to young consumers.

an innovative legume based snack

Simple is the new natural and it doesn’t come much more simple than The Good Beans’ roasted, seasoned chickpeas.
an innovative legume based snack

Luke’s Organic range of corn chips includes a red lentil variety - a great way of getting plant-protein into the diets of those who may otherwise overlook the humble legume.

an innovative legume based snack

One of the more innovative products comes from Chaat Co who have produced a savoury yoghurt based snack topped with lentil puffs.

an innovative legume based snack

Many café’s and restaurants are now using chickpea flour to create gluten free snack products and pea protein to up the protein content of their bite-size snacks.

an innovative chickpea snack

And there’s an increasing number of manufacturers using legume flours in their snack products, including chickpea and lupin flour – Good Thins snacks are made with chickpea flour.

an innovative legume based snack

As the snacking category continues to grow in both definition and financial growth, there are multiple opportunities to be had for manufacturers. Discerning consumers are looking for a number of attributes with their snacking choices…

Nutrient dense
Small, individual serving sizes
Rapid hand-to-mouth format
Fresh ingredients
An emphasis on less processed ingredients
Plant protein based
Most importantly, consumers want new and different products!

And there are plenty of options for product growth, with companies competing in this growing market by adapting existing lines with new ingredients, such as new varieties of puffed legumes and products made with lentil or lupin flours. As well as new innovation, such as savoury yoghurt with bean puffs or high protein smoothies made with chickpeas.

One thing’s for sure, anything goes and the market is wide open for new products and innovation.

To make your own legume based snacks, visit the GLNC website for a range of delicious recipes.

1. IBIS World. AU Snack Food Manufacturing. 2015
2. Australian Food News. Australian's Snacking Ten Times as Much as Ten Years Ago. 2015
3  Australian Food News. Australia's Snacking Habits Revealed. 2014
4. IPSOS, Food Chats. 2016
5. Innova Market Insights. Pulses are Still on Beat. IFT Annual Meeting & Food Expo 2016.

It's Time to Love Your Legumes

By Alexandra Locke

Many people aren't aware that they need at least 2 – 3 serves of legumes per week to get the health benefits these fabulous seeds provide.  We take a look at what legumes are, why we should be eating at least 2 – 3 serves a week, and how can we easily incorporate them into tasty everyday meals.

When it comes to eating for good health, many Australians could be benefiting from a myriad of health benefits, simply by adding more legumes to their diet. Despite this, just 35% of Australians are consuming the recommended amount of legumes (1), 2-3 serves per week, and the number one reason they’re falling short? Two out of three just don’t think of adding legumes to their diet (1). And it’s not just adults who are under-consuming these nutrient powerhouses – only one in every twenty Australian children eats legumes regularly (2, 3). And with 2016 being the International Year of the Pulse, now is the perfect time to benefit from this versatile food group.

But first of all, what is a legume? 

A legume is the seed pod from the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family of plants. There are thousands of different varieties of legumes in many different shapes, sizes and colours. The dried seeds of legumes are referred to as pulses. Well-known varieties include chickpeas, beans - including soy beans, peas, lentils and less well known, although gaining popularity in Australia, are lupins.

Legumes are a truly versatile food and come in all different forms; they can be ground into flour, dried, canned, cooked, frozen and incorporated into both savoury and sweet recipes.

So what’s in it for you?

Although small in size, legumes pack a mighty punch in terms of health benefits, as they are….

an economical source of quality protein
mostly low in fat and virtually free of saturated fats, with the exception of soybeans and peanuts
abundant in fibre, both soluble and insoluble

And they contain a range of phytonutrients, such as isoflavones, which may help to protect health and prevent disease.

Why should I eat legumes at least 2 – 3 times a week? 

The recommendation of eating legumes 2 – 3 times per week is based on the long term health benefits that legumes can provide. Research has shown that regularly eating legumes may reduce the risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, some cancers and diabetes.

A recent study demonstrated that eating legumes 4 times a week contributed to a 22% decreased risk of coronary heart disease (4). This can be explained by the effect on the markers of heart disease as eating at least a cup of legumes every day can lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol (5, 6).  Legumes are also beneficial for diabetes prevention and management. Eating at least half a cup of legumes per day for at least 4 weeks has been shown to help manage blood glucose levels. Additionally, people who eat a full cup of legumes each day as part of a low glycemic index diet have been shown to have better long term blood glucose control - lower HbA1c (7).

But not only do they help protect against chronic diseases, legumes can also help you maintain and even lose weight. Research has shown that diets containing 1.5-2 serves of legumes a day may promote weight loss due to their soluble fibre, protein and low GI carbohydrate content which all help to keep you feeling fuller for longer (8, 9).

“Legumes are such a valuable way of adding plant-based protein, fibre and B-vitamins to our diets and there are so many ways to incorporate them into our everyday eating. As many Australians don’t eat legumes at all, GLNC recommends a minimum of 2-3 serves every week as a starting point. For long term health benefits, the evidence indicates we should be eating them every day.” 
Michelle Broom, General Manager of GLNC

Although most legumes are generally similar in terms of their nutritional value, each legume comes with its own profile of specific health benefits. Some of the more popular legumes include…

Chickpeas: contain higher amounts of calcium and magnesium phosphorous than other legumes and are also a source of potassium. They’re a great source of micronutrients too, which are vital for good health, including riboflavin, niacin, thiamin and folate. For a twist on traditional hummus, why not try this deliciously different Beetroot Hummus made with chickpeas and beetroots, to up your legume intake!

Lentils: are a great source of iron, so they’re particularly helpful for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet or if you don’t eat much meat. Lentils also contain prebiotic carbohydrates and resistant starch which are beneficial for good gut health. This Quinoa, Black Lentil & Roasted Barley Salad is a great way to add more lentils to your diet.

Soy: although there's much controversy over the inclusion of soy in a healthy diet, research has shown there is no association between consumption of soy and risk of breast cancer, instead it’s been demonstrated that there is a potential protective association in those who consume large quantities of soy products (10). You can find out more on the health benefits of different varieties of legumes here.

Tip: Rinse tinned legumes thoroughly to decrease salt content by 40%!

So how do you amp up your legume intake to 2-3 serves of legumes per week in order to benefit from the advantages legumes can offer?

One serve of legumes equals half a cup and it’s easy to add a serve to your everyday cooking; simply add half a cup of cooked lentils to a green salad, half a cup of chickpeas to your family curry or half a cup of adzuki beans to your scrambled eggs on toast.

Or make legumes the main event with this Traditional Hummus recipe, Chickpea Falafel, Lentil Rice Paper Rolls. For something a little different, try an Apple & Cinnamon Chickpea Cake or these Lupin Brownies, made with lupin flour and ground almonds.

For more easy tips and tricks on how to enjoy legumes more often, download our factsheet here.

You can also love your legumes with Nutrition Australia’s National Nutrition Week, which runs from 16th-22nd October. National Nutrition Week’s Try For Five challenge aims to get more Australians to increase their vegetable intake, including legumes. And the great news is that half a cup of legumes counts towards your daily veggie target!

However you do it, increasing your intake and variety of legumes is a great step for your good health.

For more delicious recipes featuring legumes, click here.

Follow GLNC on Facebook or Twitter for more recipes and tips to get the most out of your legumes!


1. GLNC. 2014 Australian Grains and Legumes Consumption and Attitudinal Report. Unpublished: 2014.

2. CSIRO. Cereal Foods and Legume Consumption by Australian Children: Secondary Analysis of the 2007 National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. 2009.

3. Australia. CPHNRFaUoS. 2007 Australian National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey: Main findings. Canberra: 2008.

4. Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, Loria C, Vupputuri S, Myers L, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(21):2573-8.

5. Jayalath VH, de Souza RJ, Sievenpiper JL, et al. Effect of Dietary Pulses on Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Controlled Feeding Trials. American Journal of Hypertension. January 1, 2014 2014;27(1):56-64.

6. Ha V, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, Jayalath VH, Mirrahimi A, Agarwal A, et al. Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Canadian Medical Association journal. 2014.

7. Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Augustin LS, Mitchell S, Sahye-Pudaruth S, Blanco Mejia S et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes mellitus: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:1653-60

8. Sievenpiper JL, Kendall CW, Esfahani A, Wong JM, Carleton AJ, Jiang HY, et al. Effect of non-oil-seed pulses on glycaemic control: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled experimental trials in people with and without diabetes. Diabetologia. 2009;52(8):1479-95.

9. Li SS, Kendall CW, de Souza RJ, Jayalath VH, Cozma AI, Ha V, et al. Dietary pulses, satiety and food intake: A systematic review and meta-analysis of acute feeding trials. Obesity. 2014;22(8):1773-80.

10. Morimoto Y, Maskarinec G, Park S-Y, Ettienne R, Matsuno RK, Long C, et al. Dietary isoflavone intake is not statistically significantly associated with breast cancer risk in the Multiethnic Cohort. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;FirstView:1-8.