Health Benefits of Green Peas

We don’t usually think about green peas as an exotic food in terms of nutrient composition, but we should. They 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. Studies have shown that daily consumption of green peas along with other legumes lowers risk of stomach cancer, especially when daily coumestrol intake from these legumes is 2 milligrams or higher. Since one cup of green peas contains at least 10 milligrams of coumestrol, it’s not difficult to obtain this remarkable health benefit.

The unique phytonutrients in green peas also provide key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Included in these phytonutrients are some recently-discovered green pea phytonutrients called saponins. 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 are 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.

Green peas are loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. 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 peas. 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.

This extraordinary list of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients is associated with lower risk of most inflammatory diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and arthritis.

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.

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. The 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 stomach cancer. Stomach 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. 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.

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