Celebrate the Pea

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The simple pea is probably not something you’ve spent much time contemplating. But it can pack some health advantages into your diet.

Peas have gotten a bad name, often coupled with carrots in canned or frozen succotash, for instance, the sort of side-dish kids push away. It was a single pea in the silly story of the Princess and the Pea, concealed beneath 20 mattresses and featherbeds, that proved to a prince that the girl at the door, soaked from the rain, was really a princess, so delicate that even a pea disrupted her slumber. Some people have been scared off by the phytates in peas that potentially bind minerals in the gut and make them unavailable for absorption, causing some people to blame the excessive gas and bloating that can result after consuming peas on phytate content. And because low-carb diets are finally replacing awful low-fat diets in more and more Americans, many people have forgotten about the lonely pea, fearful of the carb content of this starchy legume.

So here is a reminder of what the simple pea can do for you as a component of your diet. Like apples, there are many strains (“cultivars”) of peas from English peas to sugar peas, so these statements refer generally to a variety of peas.

  • Carb content—The carbohydrate content of peas is actually quite manageable: One cup of peas contains 21 grams total carbs, 7 grams fiber, meaning that there are 14 grams net carbs per cup.
  • Prebiotic fiber—One cup of peas also provides around 3-5 grams prebiotic fibers (mostly galactooligosaccharides and amylose; figures vary due to different testing methods, as well as different pea varieties or cultivars), a nice contribution towards our target daily intake of a minimum of 20 grams prebiotic fibers per day. It is likely the prebiotic fiber content of peas that is responsible for the gas and bloating that people experience after consuming a serving of peas, a sign that is indicative of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, and likely has nothing to do with phytates. Obtaining a plentiful intake of prebiotic fibers every day is among the most important strategies you can follow for overall health, more beneficial than taking a probiotic, for instance.
  • Phytate content—The phytate content of peas, i.e., the phosphorus-rich compound that binds minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc in the gastrointestinal tract and make them unavailable for absorption, is negligible, compared to very high content in grains such as corn and oats. (Phytate content of some legumes, such as fava and kidney beans, are as high as those in wheat and grains, but the content of phytates in peas is next to nothing.) The negligible phytate content of peas cannot therefore be blamed for the gas and bloating that can result after consuming them.

Peas are therefore a food you should consider adding to a variety of dishes. While you can shuck them by hand from pods, or consume them whole as in sugar peas, you can also take advantage of the convenience of the big bags of frozen peas that the big box stores sell, adding, say, a few tablespoons to an omelet, soups, other vegetables. Here is a simple recipe for Curried Cauliflower With Peas:

Curried Cauliflower With Peas

Makes 2 servings; 12 net carbs per serving

3 tablespoons butter
3 cups riced cauliflower
1 cup peas, frozen
1 13.5-ounce can coconut milk
2 tablespoons curry powder
Sea salt, black pepper to taste
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)

In large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter then stir in cauliflower and peas, stirring frequently until cauliflower tender, approximately 5-7 minutes.

Sitr in coconut milk, curry powder, salt and pepper. Simmer for another two minutes, then remove from heat. Serve topped with cilantro.

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