If you think that peas are humble, ordinary vegetables, think again! These tiny bead-sized jewels carry quite a punch when it comes to nutrients and health benefits.
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.
There are three varieties of peas that you eat:
- Garden or green peas
- Snow peas
- Snap peas
Garden or green peas grow inside green, rounded pods. The peas inside are sweet and starchy. Snow peas and snap peas grow inside edible pods, and their taste is slightly sweeter than garden peas.
Peas are part of the plant family, Fabaceae, also known as the bean family or pulse family. Although their beginnings may trace back to Asia and the Middle East, peas are grown worldwide today.
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.
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.
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
- Vtamin E
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
- Caffeic acid
- 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 helps to control your blood sugar. Studies show that eating a high-protein diet decreases postprandial (after meals) blood sugar 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.
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 ½ cup serving of green peas (about a handful) contains:
- Calories: 59
- Protein: 4 grams
- Carbohydrates: 12 grams
- Sugars: 4 grams
- Calcium: 21.2 mg
- Iron: 1 mg
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.
How to Prepare Peas
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.
- Bring ⅛ to ¼ cup of water or light stock to a boil
- Add enough peas until the liquid just covers them
- Cover pan and simmer on low for 5 to 10 minutes or until the peas are tender and bright green
- Drain the water and toss peas with melted butter or any fresh herbs of your choice