Split Peas for Your Heart

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What is delicious, nutritious, convenient, inexpensive, and comes in two colors? Split peas! Split peas are dried yellow or green field peas that have been split along a natural seam to allow for quicker cooking. They are ready when you are – once purchased, they can be kept on the shelf almost indefinitely. Although people have relied on their homey goodness for thousands of years, modern science has given us a new respect for the value of this ancient food.

Knowing beans about nutrition

Split peas are legumes, just like pinto, navy, kidney and other dried beans. And just like these other legumes, split peas are nutritional stars. They are high in protein, fiber and potassium and also contain varying amounts of many other vitamins and minerals. A one-half cup serving of cooked split peas provides 8 grams protein, 8 grams fiber, and 350 mg potassium for only 115 calories.

Good news on the health front

Heart disease. Legumes can significantly lower cholesterol levels to reduce the risk for heart disease.
Diabetes. A diet high in legumes can help control diabetes. The soluble fiber content of dried beans slows the release of carbohydrates, keeping blood sugar at a more even level. As a result, some diabetes patients may need less medication if they regularly eat enough split peas and beans.
Colon cancer. Split peas and other legumes contain resistant starch, which is hard to digest. Bacteria in the colon break down the starch and as a by-product produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, that may help prevent colon cancer.

Pass the peas, please!

Including split peas in your diet is probably easier than you think. They cook quickly – just 30 minutes for firmer peas that hold their shape in pasta salads or casseroles. For soups and stews, you can let them simmer for another half hour or longer while you do other things. Split peas do not need to be soaked – simply cover dry split peas with water (2 cups water for each cup peas) and let simmer. Add extra water if necessary.

Here are easy ways to use split peas:

• Add split peas to the water when making soups or stews. They add color and nutrition and also help thicken the broth.
• Cook split peas with brown rice to make a delicious, hearty pilaf.
• Children who won’t eat green foods may love a soup made with yellow split peas.
• Leftover split pea soup thickens in the refrigerator, making it a consistency much like refried beans. Use thickened peas in burritos or pita sandwiches, or as the base for a dip. Add Mexican or Indian spices for a taste treat.

By Cheryl Sullivan, MS, RD.

Classic Split Pea Soup

2 cups split peas
8 cups water (or more)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 large potato, diced
1 tsp thyme leaves
1/2 tsp pepper

Directions:

Combine split peas, water, bay leaf and salt in large kettle.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours.  Stir occasionally and check to make sure there is enough water and that the split peas do not stick. Add more water if it becomes too thick.  Add the remaining ingredients and continue to simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes longer.
Serves 8. Each 1-1/4 cup serving: 194 calories,
0.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 184 mg sodium, 36 g carbohydrate, 13 g fiber, 12 g protein.

Fun Facts About Peas

• Peas were among the first crops cultivated by humans.
• One variety of pea is named after William the Conqueror, who encouraged the cultivation of peas all over England.
• The study of genetics began with looking at how peas passed on their characteristics from generation to generation.

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