What are the benefits of Green Peas?

Green peas

What’s New and Beneficial about Green Peas

 

  • We don’t usually think about green peas as an exotic food in terms of nutrient composition—but we should. Because of their sweet taste and starchy texture, we know that green peas must contain some sugar and starch (and they do). But they also contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients. One of these phytonutrients—a polyphenol called coumestrol–has recently come to the forefront of research with respect to stomach cancer protection. A Mexico City-based study has shown that daily consumption of green peas along with other legumes lowers risk of stomach cancer (gastric cancer), especially when daily coumestrol intake from these legumes is approximately 2 milligrams or higher. Since one cup of green peas contains at least 10 milligrams of coumestrol, it’s not difficult for us to obtain this remarkable health benefit.
  • The unique phytonutrients in green peas also provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Included in these phytonutrients are some recently-discovered green pea phytonutrients called saponins. Due to their almost exclusive appearance in peas, these phytonutrients actually contain the scientific word for peas (Pisum) in their names: pisumsaponins I and II, and pisomosides A and B. When coupled with other phytonutrients in green peas—including phenolic acids like ferulic and caffeic acid, and flavanols like catechin and epicatechin—the combined impact on our health may be far-reaching. For example, some researchers have now speculated that the association between green pea and legume intake and lowered risk of type 2 diabetes may be connected not only with the relatively low glycemic index of green peas (about 45-50) and their strong fiber and protein content, but also with this unusual combination of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.
  • Green peas stand out as an environmentally friendly food. Agricultural research has shown that pea crops can provide the soil with important benefits. First, peas belong to a category of crops called “nitrogen fixing” crops. With the help of bacteria in the soil, peas and other pulse crops are able to take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into more complex and usable forms. This process increases nitrogen available in the soil without the need for added fertilizer. Peas also have a relatively shallow root system which can help prevent erosion of the soil, and once the peas have been picked, the plant remainders tend to break down relatively easily for soil replenishment. Finally, rotation of peas with other crops has been shown to lower the risk of pest problems. These environmentally friendly aspects of pea production add to their desirability as a regular part of our diet.
  • Even though green peas are an extremely low-fat food (with approximately one-third gram of total fat per cup) the type of fat and fat-soluble nutrients they contain is impressive. Recent research has shown that green peas are a reliable source of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In one cup of green peas, you can expect to find about 30 milligrams of ALA. About 130 milligrams of the essential omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, can also be found in a cup of green peas. This very small but high-quality fat content of green peas helps provide us with important fat-soluble nutrients from this legume, including sizable amounts of beta-carotene and small but valuable amounts of vitamin E.

 

WHFoods Recommendations

 

Many public health organizations—including the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society—recommend legumes as a key food group for preventing disease and optimizing health. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends 3 cups of legumes per week (based on a daily intake of approximately 2,000 calories). Because 1 serving of legumes was defined as 1/2 cup (cooked), the Dietary Guidelines for Americans come very close to recommending of 1/2 cup of cooked legumes on a daily basis. Based on our own research review, we believe that 3 cups of legumes per week is a very reasonable goal for support of good health. However, we also believe that optimal health benefits from legumes may require consumption of legumes in greater amounts. These greater amounts are based on studies in which legumes have been consumed at least 4 days per week and in amounts falling into a 1-2 cup range per day. These studies suggest a higher optimal health benefit level than the 2005 Dietary Guidelines: instead of 3 cups of weekly legumes, 4-8 cups would become the goal range. Remember that any amount of legumes is going to make a helpful addition to your diet. And whatever weekly level of legumes you decide to target, we definitely recommend inclusion of green peas among your legume choices.

Nutrients in
Green Peas
1.00 cup raw (137.75 grams)
Nutrient%Daily Value


 vitamin K44.6%


 manganese36%


 vitamin C32.5%


 fiber30.3%


 vitamin B124%


 vitamin A22%


 folate21.6%


 phosphorus16.1%


 tryptophan15.6%


 vitamin B615%


 protein14.7%


 vitamin B313.9%


 magnesium13.4%


 vitamin B212.3%


 copper12%


 iron11.7%


 zinc10.9%


 potassium10.6%


 choline9.6%


Calories (115)6%

This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Green peas provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Green peas can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Green peas, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.

  • Health Benefits
  • Description
  • History
  • How to Select and Store
  • Tips for Preparing and Cooking
  • How to Enjoy
  • Individual Concerns
  • Nutritional Profile
  • References

 

Health Benefits

 

Given their exceptionally strong nutrient composition, we’ve been surprised at the relatively small amount of research specifically focused on green peas as a health-supporting food. Green peas have been largely overlooked in research studies on legumes, which have tended to concentrate only on beans. In studies where the health benefits of green peas have been directly examined, it’s usually been in their dried versus fresh form. These research trends are ones that we would really like to see reversed! Due to the lack of wide-scale health research on green peas, many of the connections that we would expect to see need further research substantiation. Despite the lack of studies directly linking green pea intake to improved health, we believe that the outstanding nutrient composition of green peas will eventually be shown to have far-reaching health benefits, extending well beyond the ones presented in this Health Benefits section.

Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

 

If you have traditionally thought about green peas as a “starchy vegetable” that cannot provide you with very much in the way of phytonutrients or body systems support, it’s time that you change your thinking. Green peas are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, and these health-supportive nutrients are provided in a wide range of nutrient categories. For example, in the flavonoid category, green peas provide us with the antioxidants catechin and epicatechin. In the carotenoid category, they offer alpha-carotene and beta-carotene. Their phenolic acids include ferulic and caffeic acid. Their polyphenols include coumestrol. Pisumsaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B are anti-inflammatory phytonutrients found almost exclusively in peas. Antioxidant vitamins provided by green peas include vitamin C and vitamin E, and a good amount of the antioxidant mineral zinc is also found in this amazing food. Yet another key anti-inflammatory nutrient needs to be added to this list, and that nutrient is omega-3 fat. Recent research has shown that green peas are a reliable source of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In one cup of green peas, you can expect to find about 30 milligrams of ALA.

Ordinarily, we would expect this extraordinary list of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients to be associated with lower risk of most inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis. Although large-scale studies on green pea intake and these chronic health problems remain unavailable, researchers have already begun to suggest connections in this area, particularly with respect to type 2 diabetes. We know that chronic, unwanted inflammation and chronic, unwanted oxidative stress increase our risk of type 2 diabetes. We also know that intake of green peas is associated with lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, even though this association has traditionally been understood to involve the strong fiber and protein content of green peas. Researchers now believe that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients in greens peas play an equally important role in lowering our risk of this chronic health problem.

Support for Blood Sugar Regulation

 

As mentioned in the previous section, blood sugar regulation has been an area of special interest with respect to green peas and its fellow legumes. Few foods provide us with such substantial amounts of protein or fiber (about 8-10 grams per cup for each of these macronutrients) as green peas. These outstanding fiber and protein amounts directly regulate the pace at which we digest our food. By helping to regulate the pace of digestion, protein and fiber also help regulate the break down of starches into sugars and the general passage of carbs through out digestive tract. With better regulation of carbs, our blood sugar levels can stay steadier.

Recent research has greatly expanded our understanding of these health benefits. What we now know is that green peas and other pulses can help us lower our fasting blood sugar as well as our fasting insulin levels. Our long-term control of blood sugar (as measured by lab testing of glycosylated hemoblobin and fructosamine) is also improved by intake of green peas. When combined with an overall high-fiber diet, these benefits are increased. They are also increased when green peas are consumed as part of an overall diet that is low in glycemic index.

The outstanding antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrient composition of green peas are very likely to play a role in these blood sugar benefits. Regular consumption of antioxidant nutrients can help us prevent chronic, unwanted oxidative stress, while regular consumption of anti-inflammatory nutrients can help us prevent chronic, unwanted inflammation. Chronic inflammation and chronic oxidative stress are well-established risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Lowering our risk in these two areas is very likely to be one of the mechanisms involved with the diabetes-preventing benefits of green peas.

Heart Health Promotion

 

An area we expected to find well-documented health benefits from green peas is the area of cardiovascular disease. While we did not find specific research documentation in this area, we are confident that future research will confirm key health benefits from green peas in relationship to cardiovascular protection. Our reasoning here is simple. First, we know that strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection is needed for healthy functioning of our blood vessels. The formation of plaque along our blood vessel walls starts with chronic, excessive oxidative stress and inflammation. Few foods are better equipped to provide us with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients than green peas. Second, we know that intake of omega-3 fat lowers our risk of cardiovascular problems. Green peas are a reliable source of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. One cup of green peas provides us with ALA in an amount of approximately 30 milligrams. Third, we know that high levels of homocysteine raise our risk of cardiovascular disease, and that ample amounts of B vitamins are required to help keep our homocysteine levels in check. Green peas provide us with very good amounts of vitamin B1 and folate, and good amounts of vitamins B2, B3, and B6. The critical cardioprotective B vitamin, choline, is also provided by green peas in amounts of approximately 40 per cup. In combination, these nutrient features of green peas point to a likely standout role for this food in protection of our cardiovascular health.

Protection Against Stomach Cancer

 

Excessive inflammation and oxidative stress are risk factors not only for the development of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, but also for the development of cancers. A recent research study has begun to examine the benefits of green peas with respect to one particular type of cancer—stomach cancer. Stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) is a disease that occurs more commonly in persons who have very low intake of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, including key nutrients called polyphenols. A recent study based in Mexico City has shown that daily consumption of green peas along with other legumes is associated with decreased risk of stomach cancer. In particular, decreased risk of stomach cancer in this study was associated with average daily intake of a polyphenol called coumestrol at a level of 2 milligrams or higher. Pulses (including green peas) were determined to be a key food contributor to coumestrol in this Mexico-based study. Since one cup of green peas contains at least 10 milligrams of coumestrol, green peas are very likely to provide some unique health benefits in this cancer-prevention area. Of course, coumestrol is not the only cancer-protective nutrient present in green peas! The wide variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in green peas is very likely to play a primary role in the cancer-preventive benefits of this food.

Description

 

Legumes are plants that bear fruit in the form of pods enclosing the fleshy seeds we know as beans. Peas are one of the few members of the legume family that are commonly sold and cooked as fresh vegetables. Other members of the legume family, including lentils, chickpeas, and beans of all colors are most often sold in dried form. There are generally three types of peas that are commonly eaten: garden or green peas (Pisum sativum), snow peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) and snap peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv.). Garden peas have rounded pods that are usually slightly curved in shape with a smooth texture and vibrant green color. Inside of them are green rounded pea seeds that are sweet and starchy in taste. Snow peas are flatter than garden peas, and since they are not fully opaque, you can usually see the shadows of the flat peas seeds within. Snap peas, a cross between the garden and snow pea, have plump pods with a crisp, snappy texture. The pods of both snow peas and snap peas are edible, and both feature a slightly sweeter and cooler taste than the garden pea. Peas and other legumes belong to the plant family known as the Fabaceae, which is also commonly called the bean family or the pulse family. In fact, commercial production of peas is commonly placed within the category of pulse production, and like its fellow legumes, peas are often referred to as “pulses.”

History

 

The modern-day garden pea is thought to have originated from the field pea that was native to central Asia and the Middle East. Because its cultivation dates back thousands and thousands of years, the green pea is widely recognized as one of the first food crops to be cultivated by humans. Peas were apparently consumed in dry form throughout much of their early history, and did not become widely popular as a fresh food until changes in cultivation techniques that took place in Europe in the 16th century. Peas are now grown throughout the world in nearly every climatic zone, and are widely consumed in both fresh and dried form.

While growing approximately 3 million tons of peas per year, Canada is currently the largest world producer and exporter of peas. France, China, Russia, and India are also large-scale producers of this legume. Despite being a large-scale producer of peas, India is also the world’s largest importer of this food due to its great popularity in that country.

How to Select and Store

 

Only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh; the rest are either frozen or canned. When trying to decide between frozen and canned green peas, the following information may be helpful:

  • Frozen peas are better able to retain their color, texture, and flavor than canned peas. Recent research has confirmed that these “important sensory characteristics” of green peas are not affected by freezing over periods of 1-3 months.
  • Both canned and frozen peas may contain relatively high levels of sodium. Unless labeled as “low sodium” or “reduced sodium” or containing “50% less sodium” or something similar, you can expect to find 650-800 milligrams of sodium in one cup of canned green peas. Some of this sodium can be removed by thorough rinsing, and we definitely encourage you to do so. Reduced sodium canned peas will often bring the sodium content down to 250-300 milligrams of sodium. Even in this case, you can lower the sodium even further by thoroughly rinsing the peas. In the case of frozen green peas, it’s not uncommon to find 300 milligrams of sodium in one cup of frozen green peas—approximately the same amount as found in reduced sodium canned peas. This relatively high sodium level in frozen peas results from green pea processing methods, not from the natural sodium content of the peas. When large batches of peas are prepared for freezing, producers separate out the older and starchier peas prior to freezing. A common method used to separate out the starchier peas is to immerse them in salty water. This process, called the salt brine process, allows the younger, more tender, and less starchy peas to float on top of the salt water, while letting the older, less tender, and starchier peas to sink to the bottom. Even though the younger and less starchy peas are rinsed with water after being separated out, they can still contain relatively high levels of sodium.
  • Neither frozen peas nor canned peas have an unlimited shelf life. In the case of frozen peas, it’s not uncommon to see “use by” dates that indicate a 24-30 month shelf life. However, based on the overall research findings on nutrient content of frozen peas during storage, we recommend that you consume your frozen peas within 6-12 months of the packing date. (If no packing date is available, just make the “use by” date 50% sooner.)

 

Overall, we recommend the selection of frozen peas over canned peas and recognize the convenience of frozen over fresh. However, we also encourage you to consider fresh peas whenever possible, and to choose them according to the following guidelines.

When purchasing fresh garden peas, look for ones whose pods are firm, velvety and smooth. Their color should be a lively medium green. Those whose green color is especially light or dark, or those that are yellow, whitish or are speckled with gray, should be avoided. Additionally, do not choose pods that are puffy, water soaked or have mildew residue. The pods should contain peas of sufficient number and size that there is not much empty room in the pod. You can tell this by gently shaking the pod and noticing whether there is a slight rattling sound. All varieties of fresh peas should be displayed in a refrigerated case since heat will hasten the conversion of their sugar content into starch.

Unlike the rounded pods of garden peas, the pods of snow peas are flat. You should be able to see the shape of the peas through the non-opaque shiny pod. Choose smaller ones as they tend to be sweeter.

To test the quality of snap peas, snap one open and see whether it is crisp. They should be bright green in color, firm and plump.

Garden peas are generally available from spring through the beginning of winter. Snow peas can usually be found throughout the year in Asian markets and from spring through the beginning of winter in supermarkets. Snap peas are more limited in their availability. They are generally available from late spring through early summer.

If you will not be using fresh peas on the day of purchase, which is the best way to enjoy them, you should refrigerate them as quickly as possible in order to preserve their sugar content, preventing it from turning into starch. Unwashed, unshelled peas stored in the refrigerator in a bag or unsealed container will keep for several days. Fresh peas can also be blanched for one or two minutes and then frozen. If you decide to blanch and freeze your green peas, we recommend a maximum storage period of 6-12 months.

Tips for Preparing and Cooking

 

Tips for Preparing Green Peas

 

Before you remove the peas from the pod, rinse them briefly under running water. To easily shell them, snap off the top and bottom of the pod and then gently pull off the “thread” that lines the seam of most peapods. For those that do not have “threads,” carefully cut through the seam, making sure not to cut into the peas. Gently open the pods to remove the seeds, which do not need to be washed since they have been encased in the pod.

The classic way of cooking garden peas is to line a saucepan with several leaves of washed Boston or Bibb lettuce and then place the peas on the lettuce. You can then add fresh herbs and spices if you desire. Cover the peas with more lettuce leaves, add one or two tablespoons of water, and cover the pan. Cook the peas for about 15 to 20 minutes, after which they should be tender and flavorful.

Snow peas and snap peas can be eaten raw, although the cooking process will cause them to become sweeter. Either way, they should be rinsed beforehand. Healthy Sautéeing is one of the best ways to cook these types of peas.

The Healthiest Way of Cooking

 

Of all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking green peas, our favorite is Healthy Sauté. We think that it provides the greatest flavor and is also a method that allows for concentrated nutrient retention.

To Healthy Sauté green peas, heat 3 TBS of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form add green peas, cover, and Healthy Sauté for 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with our Mediterranean Dressing.

How to Enjoy

 

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

 

  • Add fresh peas to green salads.
  • Healthy Sauté snap peas with shiitake mushrooms.
  • Mix green peas with chicken, diced onions and almonds to make a delicious and colorful chicken salad.
  • Fresh pea pods are a great food to pack in a lunch box.

 

WHFoods Recipes That Feature Green Peas

 

  • Mediterranean-Style Salad
  • Seared Tuna Salad
  • 15-Minute Maui-Style Cod >li>Lemon Fish with Puree of Sweet Peas
  • Minted Green Peas & Carrots
  • Pureed Sweet Peas
  • Sautéed Mushrooms with Green Peas
  • Sautéed Vegetables with Cashews

 

Individual Concerns

 

Green Peas and Purines

Green peas contain naturally-occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as green peas. For more on this subject, please see “What are purines and in which foods are they found?”

Nutritional Profile

 

While not always recognized as a food unique in phytonutrients, green peas are actually an outstanding phytonutrient source. Flavanols (including catechin and epicatechin), phenolic acids (including caffeic and ferulic acid), and carotenoids (including alpha- and beta-carotene) are among the phytonutrients provided by green peas. Even more unique to this food are its saponins, pisumsaponins I and II and pisomosides A and B. The polyphenol coumestrol is also provided in substantial amounts by this phytonutrient-rich food.

Green peas are a very good source of immune-supportive vitamin C; bone-building vitamin K and manganese; heart-healthy dietary fiber and folate; energy-producing thiamin (vitamin B1); and vision-supportive vitamin A. They are also a good source of

energy-producing iron, phosphorus, niacin, and riboflavin (vitamin B2); heart-healthy vitamin B6 and potassium; bone-healthy copper and magnesium; and muscle-building protein and immune-supportive zinc.

For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Green peas.

In-Depth Nutritional Profile

In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Green peas is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn’t contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food’s in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients – not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good – please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you’ll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food’s nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling.” Read more background information and details of our rating system.

Green Peas
1.00 cup raw
137.75 grams
115.71 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin K 35.68 mcg 44.6 6.9 very good
manganese 0.72 mg 36.0 5.6 very good
vitamin C 19.56 mg 32.6 5.1 very good
fiber 7.58 g 30.3 4.7 very good
vitamin B1 0.36 mg 24.0 3.7 very good
vitamin A 1103.38 IU 22.1 3.4 very good
folate 86.78 mcg 21.7 3.4 very good
phosphorus 161.17 mg 16.1 2.5 good
tryptophan 0.05 g 15.6 2.4 good
vitamin B6 0.30 mg 15.0 2.3 good
protein 7.38 g 14.8 2.3 good
vitamin B3 2.78 mg 13.9 2.2 good
magnesium 53.72 mg 13.4 2.1 good
vitamin B2 0.21 mg 12.4 1.9 good
copper 0.24 mg 12.0 1.9 good
iron 2.12 mg 11.8 1.8 good
zinc 1.64 mg 10.9 1.7 good
potassium 373.30 mg 10.7 1.7 good
choline 40.91 mg 9.6 1.5 good

 

World’s Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%
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