How Green Peas Impact Our Health
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. As noted in the worlds healthiest foods.
Green peas have a strong nutritional value of also increasing the methylation process in our cells each day. Vitamin B-12 is a deficiency that we see on a regular basis and the bodies inability to methylate properly many times is the result of this. Green peas are a unique superfood that can help this process.
Known as America’s Health Coach, Dr. Asa Andrew is a national best-selling author and host of the #1 Health Talk Radio Show in North America. In addition to his hit television series, Dr. Asa is a regular contributor to NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and FOX and regarded as a healthcare leader in the field of lifestyle medicine.
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