by Rachael Link, MS, RD
Green peas may be tiny, but they pack in tons of nutrients and health benefits. Rich in both pea protein and fiber to boost weight loss and digestion, green peas also boast a high amount of antioxidants as well as micronutrients, such as vitamin K, vitamin C and manganese.
Besides being super nutritious, there are tons of ways to enjoy this delicious vegetable. Green peas can be consumed raw, cooked, boiled, or blended into soups and spreads. They can even be used to help bump up the nutritional value of some desserts while also adding a vibrant green hue.
With the versatility and numerous health benefits, there are plenty of reasons to give this healthy veggie a try. Keep reading for why you should add green peas to your diet, plus some quick and easy ways to enjoy.
What Are Green Peas?
Technically speaking, green peas are the seed of the pod-fruit Pisium sativum. They are made up of pods that contain several small peas that are either green or yellow in color and, interestingly enough, are actually considered a fruit rather than a vegetable since they have seeds and develop from the ovary of the pea flower.
Despite being botanically classified as a fruit, green peas are most often used as vegetables in cooking. Different pea varieties, such as snow peas, sweet peas and sugar snap peas, are enjoyed raw or cooked and added to everything from soups to stir-fries and desserts. With a rich history of culinary use, green peas are considered a staple in many types of cuisines and can be found in Indian, Chinese, Mediterranean and British dishes alike.
Packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, fiber and protein, green peas have been associated with a number of potential health benefits. Adding green peas into your diet may help support healthy digestion, keep your blood sugar in check and even promote weight loss.
Green Peas Benefits
- Aid in Weight Loss
- Rich in Protein
- Support Blood Sugar Control
- Promote Healthy Digestion
- May Protect Against Cancer
1. Aid in Weight Loss
Low in green pea calories yet rich in both protein and fiber, adding a few servings of green peas into your diet can work wonders for your waistline. The fiber and protein both help keep you feeling full to ward off cravings and reduce appetite, ramping up weight loss even more.
So how does it work? Protein slows the emptying of the stomach and has also been shown to reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone that’s responsible for stimulating hunger. (1) Meanwhile, fiber is digested very slowly, which helps promote satiety to aid in weight loss.
For best results, be sure to combine peas with plenty of other high-fiber protein foods to reduce your appetite even more. A few examples of nutrient-dense foods that can seamlessly fit into a weight loss diet include green beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
2. Rich in Protein
Protein is an integral component of overall health. Not only does it make up the foundation of your hair, skin, muscles and bones, but it’s also used by the body to build and repair tissues as well as synthesize important hormones and enzymes. A protein deficiency can wreak havoc on health, causing symptoms like impaired immunity, stunted growth and decreased energy levels.
Green peas are an excellent source of pea protein, with each cup providing a whopping 8.6 grams. This puts the green peas protein content right on par with other top plant-based protein foods, such as hemp seeds, quinoa, amaranth and nutritional yeast.
3. Support Blood Sugar Control
Loaded with both protein and fiber, green peas can help manage blood sugar levels to prevent diabetes symptoms like fatigue, increased urination and headaches. Fiber works by slowing the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to aid in maintaining normal blood sugar levels. Meanwhile, upping your intake of protein has been shown to decrease blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes. (2)
Not only that, but green peas also have a relatively low glycemic index, which is a measure of how much your blood sugar increases after eating a certain food. According to a review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating lots of foods with a low glycemic index, such as peas, may be associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. (3)
4. Promote Healthy Digestion
With 8.8 grams of dietary fiber per serving, a single cup of green peas can knock out up to 35 percent of your daily fiber needs. Incorporating more high-fiber foods into your diet can have a beneficial effect on several aspects of health, especially when it comes to digestion.
Fiber moves through the gastrointestinal tract undigested, adding bulk to the stool to increase stool frequency and promote regularity. (4) Fiber may also be beneficial in the treatment of digestive conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), stomach ulcers, diverticulitis and hemorrhoids.
5. May Protect Against Cancer
Green peas are packed with antioxidants that can help fight free radicals to relieve inflammation and reduce oxidative damage to cells. Thanks to the high concentration of antioxidants in green peas, they have even been shown to have anticancer properties in some in vitro studies.
Saponins, in particular, are a type of antioxidant found in green peas that may help inhibit tumor growth and kill off cancer cells. In fact, a 2009 review out of Canada reported that the saponins found in green peas and other legumes may have therapeutic effects against several different types of cancers. (5) Another review published in Filoterapia noted that saponins have been shown to prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells in some in vitro studies. (6)
Green Peas Nutrition
Take one look at the green peas nutrition facts and you’ll quickly notice that each serving contains a long list of important vitamins and minerals. Green peas are low in calories but high in fiber and protein, plus an array of micronutrients, such as vitamin K, manganese, vitamin C and thiamine.
One cup (about 160 grams) of cooked green peas contains approximately: (8)
- 134 calories
- 25 grams carbohydrates
- 8.6 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 8.8 grams dietary fiber
- 41.4 micrograms vitamin K (52 percent DV)
- 0.8 milligram manganese (42 percent DV)
- 22.7 milligrams vitamin C (38 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram thiamine (28 percent DV)
- 1,282 international units vitamin A (26 percent DV)
- 101 micrograms folate (25 percent DV)
- 187 milligrams phosphorus (19 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram vitamin B6 (17 percent DV)
- 3.2 milligrams niacin (16 percent DV)
- 62.4 milligrams magnesium (16 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram riboflavin (14 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram copper (14 percent DV)
- 2.5 milligrams iron (14 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams zinc (13 percent DV)
- 434 milligrams potassium (12 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, green peas also contain a small amount of selenium, pantothenic acid, calcium and vitamin E.
Types of Peas: Green Peas vs. Other Peas
There are several different types of green peas that each have minute differences in terms of taste and appearance, including snow peas, snap peas and sweet peas.
Snow peas are flat and contain small peas with an edible pod that can be consumed raw or cooked and added to dishes like stir-fries.
Sugar snap peas, on the other hand, have a much sweeter flavor and are a bit crunchier. You can eat the entire pod of sugar snap peas and they can be either cooked or consumed raw.
Meanwhile, sweet peas, which are sometimes called English peas or garden peas, are the most common type of peas and are often found frozen or canned. These peas have a slightly sweet yet mild flavor and need to be removed from the pod before consuming.
Green split peas, another common ingredient found in many kitchen pantries, is actually made from peas that have been dried, peeled and split. They are a staple in many types of Indian dishes as well as split pea soup.
In addition to green peas, cowpeas, such as black-eyed peas, are another popular pea variety. Cowpeas are a legume that belong to the same family of plants as green peas but are cooked and consumed in different ways. While green peas can be enjoyed raw, cowpeas are generally cooked around 25–30 minutes and then added to salads, curries, stews or soups. Both are high in fiber and protein, but green peas contain more vitamin K and vitamin C while cowpeas are a richer source of micronutrients like folate and iron.
Green Peas in Ayurveda and TCM
Like other fruits and vegetables, green peas fit right into both Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
On an Ayurvedic diet, green peas work especially well for vata and pitta doshas and are believed to improve digestion, reduce appetite, relieve nausea and decrease inflammation. They are also said to have an alkalizing effect, which can help balance the pH of the body.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, green peas are used to strengthen the spleen and stomach, enhance digestion, lubricate the intestines, and aid in fluid balance. In particular, peas are often utilized to treat conditions like indigestion, constipation and bloating, all thanks to their powerful medicinal properties.
Where to Find and How to Use Green Peas
Green peas are easy to find in most supermarkets. In fact, you can usually find most green pea varieties at your local grocery store with little trouble, including sweet peas, sugar snap peas and snow peas. In addition to buying them fresh, canned or frozen green peas are also available and can be used in the same way in most recipes.
Although commonly considered little more than a side dish, green peas can actually be an incredibly versatile dietary component. They can be added raw to salads, boiled and blended into soups, or added to pastas, rice dishes and risottos.
Peas can also be pureed into dips and spreads. They’re the perfect way to spice up your guacamole or make a batch of pesto, which can be added to sandwiches or used as a delicious veggie dip.
Because of their mild yet slightly sweet taste, green peas can even work well in some desserts. Peas can be added to cookies, cakes, cupcakes and puddings to squeeze in some extra nutrients while still satisfying your sweet tooth.
Green Peas Recipes
There are plenty of ways to enjoy this nutritious and delicious vegetable. Looking for some new and exciting ways to add green peas to your diet? Give one of these green peas recipe ideas a try:
- Pea Fritters with Greek Yogurt Sauce
- Creamy Pea Salad
- Crunchy Roasted Green Peas
- Blended Pea Soup
- Vegan Samosa and Green Chutney Wraps
Green peas have been grown for centuries and were one of the first cultivated crops, although they were originally grown solely for their dry seeds. Their name is believed to stem from the Greek word “pison,” which later turned into “pise” and then “pease.” By 1600, the last two letters had been dropped to form the word “pea” that we still use today.
Archaeologists have found evidence of wild pea consumption dating all the way back to the year 9,750 B.C. Written records of green peas can even be traced all the way back to the 3rd century B.C. when Greek philosopher Theophrastus mentioned that peas, among other pulses and legumes, are sown late in the winter due to their tenderness. Peas were also an important part of the diet in Rome; in fact, the ancient Roman cookbook “Apicius” even included nine recipes for cooking dried peas with herbs, meat and various other vegetables.
During the Middle Ages, peas were an important ingredient that helped ward off famine. In later years, peas became more of a luxury and were even considered a delicacy in some parts of Europe. By the 1800s, however, canned vegetables helped make peas even more affordable, allowing everyone to enjoy the taste and health benefits of green peas. Just a century later in the 1920s, the rise of frozen foods, including frozen peas, helped extend the shelf life and skyrocket the popularity of this nutritious vegetable even more.
Although generally safe for consumption, some people have reported allergic reactions after consuming green peas. For these individuals, eating peas can trigger food allergy symptoms, such as hives, swelling, itching, nausea and skin rashes. If you experience these or any other adverse side effects after eating green peas, discontinue use and talk to your doctor.
Because peas are high in fiber, they may also cause gastrointestinal problems in some individuals. They also contain lectins, a type of carbohydrate that is fermented in the gut, which can worsen symptoms even more. Some of the most common side effects of green peas include bloating, nausea and flatulence. If you notice any digestive issues after eating green peas, try soaking your green peas before consuming to reduce the amount of lectins, and be sure to keep your intake in moderation.
Additionally, green peas contain antinutrients, which are substances that can interfere with the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. While this shouldn’t be a major concern for most people, it may be something to keep in mind, especially if green peas make up a major part of your diet. To minimize the amount of antinutrients in your diet, opt for fully cooked peas over raw peas, keep intake in moderation and try soaking or sprouting your peas before consumption.
- Green peas are a type of seed from the pod-fruit Pisium sativum. Although they are technically considered a fruit, they are typically used as a vegetable and served in side dishes and main courses alike.
- Nutritionally, green peas are high in fiber and protein, plus vitamin K, manganese and vitamin C. They also contain powerful antioxidants that can protect against chronic disease.
- Other green peas benefits include improved digestion, better blood sugar control and increased weight loss.
- Snow peas, sugar snap peas and sweet peas are all different types of green peas. Split peas are made of peas that have been dried, peeled and split.
- Enjoy them raw or cooked as part of a healthy diet to take advantage of all of the unique health benefits that they have to offer.
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