When I was a child, the only peas I ever ate were canned, and the only reaction I ever had was ick!
Mushy and tasteless, canned peas forced me to develop an important culinary survival skill: “food dispersion.”
These days, however, I couldn’t fathom leaving one pea behind!
What prompted my pea epiphany? Two discoveries: fresh and frozen. Make that three: a pea’s remarkable nutrition.
Much like other legumes, these tiny green globes carry quite a punch when it comes to fiber and protein, with a ½-cup portion delivering about 4 grams of each. Both nutrients slow the breakdown of carbohydrates, which means you are less likely to have sudden spikes in blood sugar after eating them. This slower digestion also promotes feelings of fullness, making it easier to resist snacks.
Peas are vitamin superstars, boasting impressive amounts of vitamins C, K, thiamine (B1) and folate (B9), many of which are antioxidants that help reduce inflammation. Multiple studies suggest that anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as these, may help protect against some chronic illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and more.
Concerned about your blood pressure? Peas teem with minerals that play a major role in blood pressure control: magnesium, potassium, and calcium. High blood pressure, which damages your arteries by making them less elastic, can lead to heart disease or even a deadly heart attack or stroke. In addition, the high fiber content of peas has been shown to lower total cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol, both of which increase the risk of heart disease when elevated.
Eating peas regularly may reduce the risk of cancer. Karen Collins, RDN, nutrition adviser for the American Institute for Cancer Research, says peas contain phytochemicals that help support the body’s antioxidant defenses. Antioxidants disarm compounds that may cause the kind of cell damage that contributes to inflammation and an increased risk of diseases such as cancer.
Similar to other legumes, peas are a bit high in carbs, with ½ cup serving up around 11 grams. A few comparisons: ½ cup carrot slices, 6 grams; 1 medium tomato, 5 grams; and 1 stalk celery; 1.2 grams. However, because peas are nutrient dense, garnering the benefits of those nutrients tends to outweigh a pea’s carbs. Nonetheless, for those watching carbs, monitoring intake of peas is often advised.
Final pea perk? These bead-sized jewels are super low in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and relatively low in calories—only 60 per ½-cup serving.
Sweet Pea Soup with Coconut and Ginger
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens Serves 4-6
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons minced ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
2¼ cups water (or more if too thick)
1 13.5-oz. can fat-reduced coconut milk
1 16-oz. bag frozen peas (or 3¾ cups fresh)
Small handful of cilantro leaves (optional)
Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently for 6 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper and cook 2 minutes more, stirring frequently.
Add the water and coconut milk and increase the heat to high. Once the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to low and add the peas. Cook just until the peas are bright green and tender, about 5 minutes.
Puree the soup using an immersion blender or a regular blender. Season the soup to taste with salt, ladle into bowls, top with cilantro leaves (optional) and serve.
If buying fresh peas, look for firm, plump pods that are a vibrant medium green. Unwashed, unshelled peas will last several days in the refrigerator. If buying processed peas, many recommend frozen over canned—for taste, texture, and nutrition. Steaming peas in as little water as possible helps to preserve the vitamin C.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.