Health Benefits of Peas

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 23, 2023
9 min read

Peas are in the group of foods known as legumes. Legumes are plants that produce pods with seeds, or beans, inside. Other foods in the legume family include lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and all types of beans.

Peas are part of the plant family fabaceae, also known as the bean family or pulse family. Their beginnings trace back to the Middle East, specifically present-day Turkey and Iraq. Today, peas are grown worldwide.

There are many varieties of peas that you eat, including:

  • Garden or green peas
  • Snow peas
  • Snap peas

Garden peas

Garden or green peas grow inside green, rounded pods. The peas inside are sweet and starchy. Their tough pods typically grow 3-4 inches long (7.62-10.2 centimeters) and aren't edible. Sometimes, these peas are called English or sweet peas.

Snow peas

Snow peas, sometimes called Chinese pea pods, are flat pods that contain very small peas. You can eat the entire pod, though the tough “strings” on the edges are usually removed first. Snow peas are harvested before the pea has fully developed. They can be served raw or cooked. Often, they're used in stir-fry dishes. 

Snap peas

Snap peas, also known as sugar snap peas, are one of the first vegetables ready for harvest each year. The snap pea is a cross between standard peas and snow peas that first came about in 1979 as a tasty, crunchy hybrid. 

Snap peas are a fresh, refreshing vegetable that can be added to a variety of recipes or eaten raw. They are easy to grow in pots or with trellises. Best of all, these plants offer a variety of health benefits that make them a great addition to most diets.

Field peas

Despite their name, field peas are not peas at all; they are technically a bean. Field peas are sold as a dry, shelled product. You can eat field peas. They are also used as livestock food or to nourish the soil in rice and corn fields. Because of their association with cattle, field peas are sometimes called “cow peas.” 

Black-eyed peas

Black-eyed peas are a type of field pea. They’re usually pale in color and contain a large dark spot that looks like an eye. Black-eyed peas are sold fresh, frozen, dried, or canned.

The high concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients in peas provides important health benefits that range from keeping your eyes healthy to protecting you against certain cancers.

Eye health

Peas contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients help protect your eyes from chronic diseases such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin act as filters from harmful blue light, which contributes to cataracts and macular degeneration.

Digestive health

Peas are rich in coumestrol, a nutrient that plays a role in protecting against stomach cancer. A 2009 study done in Mexico City showed that daily intake of peas and other legumes lowered the risk of stomach cancer by 50%.

Peas are also high in fiber, which helps move food through your gut for easier digestion.

Immune health and anti-inflammatory properties

Peas are packed with antioxidants, which help build your immune system. The following are nutrients in peas that act as antioxidants:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc
  • Catechin
  • Epicatechin

Anti-inflammatory nutrients in peas have been associated with lowering the risk of inflammatory conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.

The following vitamins and nutrients found in peas help reduce inflammation:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B
  • Coumestrol
  • Ferulic
  • Caffeic acid
  • Catechin
  • Epicatechin
  • Pisumsaponins I and II
  • Pisomosides A and B

Blood sugar control

Peas are loaded with fiber and protein, which help to regulate the way you digest starches. The protein and fiber in peas slow the breakdown of carbohydrates and help to control your blood sugar. Studies show that eating a high-protein diet decreases blood sugar after meals in people with type 2 diabetes.

Peas also have a low glycemic index. This means that you are less likely to have sudden spikes in blood sugar after eating them.

Heart health

Inflammation and stress caused by free radicals (oxidation) can contribute to plaque formation along blood vessel walls. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in peas help to reduce oxidation and inflammation and prevent plaques from forming.

In addition, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals found in peas can lower your risk of high blood pressure.

Peas are a good source of vitamins C and E, zinc, and other antioxidants that strengthen your immune system. Other nutrients, such as vitamins A and B and coumestrol, help reduce inflammation and lower your risk of chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.

Nutrients per serving

A 1/2 cup serving of green peas (about a handful) contains:

  • Calories: 59
  • Protein: 4 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 12 grams
  • Sugars: 4 grams
  • Calcium: 21.2 milligrams
  • Iron: 1 milligrams

Portion sizes

Although peas are a powerhouse of nutrients, they are also relatively high in carbohydrates. Be careful not to go overboard with your starch intake. All you need is a half-cup serving to obtain all the health benefits of peas.

You can grow peas in regular soil, as long as it’s well-drained. Choose an area that gets at least some sunlight and has good airflow. Some types of peas have tall vines that can grow up to 5 ft. You should use a trellis to help support the vines as they grow.


You should plant peas so that they mature when the weather is still cool. In most parts of the United States and Canada, it’s best to start them in February, March, or April. In warmer regions, peas can be planted in the fall or winter. Ideal growing temperatures are between 55°F (12.8°C) and 65°F (18.3°C).


Plant peas that have tall vines at the base of a trellis, all in one row. You can plant shorter pea bushes in one row near a trellis. Or you can plant them in a row, about 12 to 18 inches wide, so the plants will support each other.

You should place the pea seeds in a shallow trench, between 6 to 7 inches apart. If you’re making a wide row, place the seeds about 2 inches apart in all directions. Be sure the seeds are planted at about the same depth and cover them with about an inch of soil.


You should harvest peas as soon as they’ve reached their full size, which is a little larger than the dry seed that was planted. In general, peas that are ready for harvest will be sweet, thin, tender, and not starchy.

Peas can turn bad quickly. They will not be edible as fresh peas within 1 to 3 days after harvest.

Growing tips

  • Peas grow best in temperatures between 55 F to 65 F, so it’s best to plant them in spring or late summer.
  • Choose a spot with full sun and good drainage. If you’re in an area with wet weather, plant your peas in raised beds to avoid drowning them.
  • Plant your peas 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost, and be sure the soil temperature is at least 40 F.
  • Peas prefer sandy or clay soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
  • The fertilizer you choose for your peas should have phosphorus and potassium, but peas don’t need extra nitrogen.
  • Don’t plant your peas in the same place more often than once every 4 years.
  • Plant your peas about an inch deep. Plants should be 2 inches apart, and rows should be 7 inches apart.
  • Don’t let the soil dry out, but be careful not to overwater the peas.
  • Be careful when removing weeds, as the pea roots are fragile and easily disturbed.
  • Different varieties of peas will have different indicators of when to harvest. But most types are ready about 2 months after planting.
  • Start trimming your pea greens when the plant reaches 6 to 8 inches tall. The more you cut, the more the plant will continue to grow more greens.
  • Keep an eye out for aphids, beetles, nematodes, wireworms, fungus, and mold.

When you buy fresh peas, look for bright green, plump ones with medium-sized pods. Don’t choose peas that are bruised or soft. 

If you buy canned peas, it’s a good idea to choose low-sodium varieties. 

There are a number of ways to cook peas. To preserve the most nutrients in your peas, you can steam them in a small amount of liquid for a short time and add seasonings at the end.

  1. Bring 1/8 to 1/4 cup of water or light stock to a boil.
  2. Add enough peas until the liquid just covers them.
  3. Cover pan and simmer on low for 5 to 10 minutes or until the peas are tender and bright green.
  4. Drain the water and toss peas with melted butter or any fresh herbs of your choice.

There are countless ways to add more peas to your diet, including:

Raw peas

You can eat raw peas. They are commonly added to salads, rice, or other dishes. Or mix them with hummus to have as a snack. When it comes to some types of peas, like snap peas and snow peas, the whole pod is edible. 

Mushy peas

Mushy peas are mature peas that are soaked overnight in water and bicarbonate of soda. Then, they are rinsed, boiled, and simmered until they turn mushy. Mushy peas are a popular side dish in the U.K. They are often served alongside fish and chips. 

Cooked peas

Cooked peas are a staple in many ethnic dishes. A popular Indian curry dish, called matar paneer, uses peas and soft cheese as key ingredients. The Mediterranean dish arakas laderos includes peas, carrots, potatoes, and herbs, which are mixed in a rich tomato sauce. The Hungarian dish zöldborsóleves is essentially a soup that includes pasta, peas, onions, carrots, and other veggies. 

Roasted peas

Roasted peas can be a tasty side dish. In countries throughout Southeast Asia, salted, roasted peas are commonly eaten as a snack.  

Pea protein

Pea protein is made by drying peas and processing them into a high protein powder. Some research has suggested that pea protein may help lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, increase muscle mass, and fill you up for long time. 

Pea shoots

Pea shoots, also known as pea tendrils or pea greens, are the small leaves and vine tips of common variety pea plants. While peas are part of the legume family, pea shoots are eaten and prepared like other leafy vegetables. 

Pea shoots are different from pea sprouts, which are just-sprouting plants. Pea shoots look like large long-stemmed clovers, with broad, round leaves.  

Pea shoots taste similar to the pea seeds but with a little more of an earthy taste. They’re considered a microgreen but are often more expensive than typical microgreens because they go bad much quicker.

Just like peas, pea shoots offer many nutritional benefits. While low in macronutrients like carbs and fats, pea shoots contain a good amount of protein and fiber. They are also rich in vitamins. A serving of 100 grams of pea shoots contains:

  • 4 grams of protein
  • 3 grams of fiber
  • 280 micrograms of vitamin K
  • 79 milligrams of vitamin C 
  • 340 micrograms of vitamin A

Most people eat pea shoots raw, but you can also cook them. Before preparing pea shots, remove wilted leaves and tough ends or stems. Rinse them in cold water to prevent wilting leaves. Take care to lift and swirl them to get out any dirt or grit. Dry them on a paper towel or with a salad spinner.

If you aren’t using your pea shoots immediately, you can store them in the fridge for a day or two. Wrap the pea shoots in paper towels, put them in a plastic bag, and store them in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. Pea shoots don’t freeze well, so keep them above 28 F.

Raw pea shoots are great in salads and on sandwiches. When cooked, they work great as a side dish, in stir-fry dishes, or as a replacement for spinach in pasta and casseroles. If you want to cook pea shoots, use methods like steaming and sautéing. Pea shoots cook down about 90% in volume, so if you’re cooking them, you’ll need a lot.

You can store fresh peas for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. It’s best to use a breathable bag and place them in a high-humidity drawer.

Cooked green peas can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

If you wish to freeze peas, you can store them for up to 8 months in a freezer.