In this post, I will be gently reminding you to increase your intake of beans, lentils, and seeds compared to grains by explaining the reasons why they are better.
Ok, before we dive into the numbers…What do we Indians eat every day? Broadly speaking, if you are a South Indian, you are eating a plate of rice with sambar and veggies. If you are a North Indian, you eat chapathi with dal and subzi. Yes, I do realize there are exceptions, but as a general rule – typically, the grain (wheat or rice) comes in the center of the plate surrounded by beans (or lentils) and some veggies.
But, let us examine 4 important nutrients to the body and compare grains vs beans and seeds on how they fare. The 4 nutritional factors I want to bring up are:
Why is fiber so important? Fiber is the one nutrient that can slow down the absorption rate of sugars/carbs in our body. Given that Indian vegetarians eat a lot of carbs, it is important we eat a good amount of fiber to keep our sugar levels in control.
Fiber in Grains
Just look at how meager these fiber values are…For e.g., Eating an entire cup of brown rice will only give you 4g of fiber. Now, you may think, 4g does not seem so bad. But, wait until you see the fiber values for beans and seeds.
|Amaranth, grain||1/4 cup||6g|
|Barley, pearled, cooked||1 cup||6g|
|Oats (old fashioned), dry||1/2 cup||4g|
|Millet, cooked||1 cup||2g|
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||5g|
|Teff, grain, dry||1/4 cup||6g|
|Wheat flour (whole wheat), dry||1/4 cup||4g|
|Brown rice, cooked||1 cup||4g|
|Bulgur, cooked||1 cup||8g|
Fiber in Lentils and Beans
Now take a look at the fiber numbers for daals and beans. See how, easily they are double, even triple levels for the same 1 cup of food.
|Lentils and Bean||Serving size||Fiber (g)|
|Garbanzo beans, cooked||1 cup||12 g|
|Lentils, cooked||1 cup||16 g|
|Kidney beans, cooked||1 cup||16 g|
|Navy beans, cooked||1 cup||19 g|
|White beans, small, cooked||1 cup||19 g|
|French beans, cooked||1 cup||17 g|
|Mung beans, cooked||1 cup||15 g|
Fiber in Seeds
Now, look at Chia and flax (OMG!!). Just 2 tbsp (1oz) of chia has 10g of fiber which is the same fiber in 2.5 cups of rice.
|Chia Seeds||1 ounce||10 g|
|Sesame seeds||1/4 cup||4 g|
|Flaxseed||1 ounce||8 g|
|Banana||1 medium||3 g|
|Raspberries, raw||1 cup||8g|
Forget all that, even eating 1 cup of raw raspberries will give you the same fiber as 2 cups of brown rice. 1 pear has more fiber than 1 cup of rice. Isn’t that amazing??
Fiber Winner – Beans, lentils, fruits, seeds
Proteins are major building blocks of our body. They are needed in so many functions ranging from immune strength, bone strength, muscle maintenance, etc. So, let us look at the numbers for protein comparing grains, beans, and seeds. These are numbers from the USDA database complied by organic.org Plant Based Protein Chart
|Nut/Seed (1/4 Cup; 4 tbs)||Protein (g)|
|Beans (1 Cup cooked)||Protein (g)|
|Garbanzos (chick peas)||15|
|Grains (1 Cup cooked)||Protein (g)|
|Whole Wheat Couscous||6|
When it comes to protein, clear winners are beans and lentils. Chia seed numbers shocked me too.
Protein winners: Lentils, Beans, Chia Seeds, Millet, Amaranth
Side note – Millet which is a protein grain superstar, is quite low in fiber levels
Next, we want to look at Calcium values. All kinds of bone problems arise with calcium deficiency. Are Indian vegetarians eating foods that are high in calcium?
These are values based on National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, India
|Food Name||Calcium per 100 g.|
|Ragi (Finger Millet)||344 mg|
|Kulthi (Horse Gram)||287 mg|
|Rajma (French Beans) (Dry)||260 mg|
|Soyabean (White) Seeds||240 mg|
|Matki (Moth Beans)||202 mg|
|Chana (Bengal Gram)||202 mg|
|Udad (Black Gram) Daal||154 mg|
|Moong (Green Gram) (Whole)||124 mg|
|Chavli (Cow Peas)||77 mg|
|Peas (Dry)||75 mg|
|Moong (Green Gram) Daal||75 mg|
|Masur (Lentil)||59 mg|
|Chana (Bengal Gram)(roasted)||58 mg|
|Chana (Bengal Gram) Daal||56 mg|
|Bajra (Pearl Millet)||42 mg|
Ok, fine, you got me – Ragi is #1, and you can say, Ha, Swetha- that is a grain?!! Yes, I agree ragi is off the charts when it comes to calcium, but that seems to be the exception and not the rule. Look at all the others – they are all a form of lentil or bean.
If you are looking for rice, it is so low that it is not in the chart. 1 serving size of boiled white rice has 4 mg of Calcium. (Take into consideration – Daily calcium requirement is anywhere from 500mg to 1200 mg – nice try reaching those levels with rice alone).
With respect to seeds, chia seed in particular, seems to have very good calcium levels. According to food.NDTV.com, 100 grams of chia seeds contain a whopping 631 mg of calcium. i.e. about three tablespoons of chia seeds will have more calcium than a glass of milk.
Winners: Ragi, Beans, Lentils, Chia Seeds
|Rice bran, crude 1.0 cup||21.88|
|Mothbeans, mature seeds, raw, 1 cup||21.27|
|Beans, white, mature seeds, raw, 1 cup||21.09|
|Seeds, sesame seeds, whole, dried 1.0 cup||20.95|
|Cereals, QUAKER, Quick Oats with Iron, Dry 0.5 cup||19.78|
|Cowpeas, mature seeds, raw 1 cup||16.62|
|Beans, black turtle, mature seeds, raw, 1.0 cup||16.01|
|Beans, kidney, royal red, mature seeds, raw 1.0 cup||16.01|
|Mungo beans (whole urad), mature seeds, raw 1 cup||15.67|
|Amaranth grain, uncooked 1.0 cup||14.69|
|Lentils, raw 1 cup||12.5|
|Rice, brown, medium-grain, raw 1 cup||3.42|
Again, you may see rice bran topping the list, but who, pray tell, is eating a cup of rice bran with sambar in South India? After the bran, there is a whole bunch of beans like moth beans, white beans, black beans, kidney, and urad dal. (Urad dal too, isn’t that interesting?? – Now I understand why Urad dal/sesame oil kali is given to girls who just reached puberty in some parts of South India.)
The Cereal Quaker, is enriched with iron, so it reflects iron added during manufacturing and not a natural source. Amaranth is another grain exception, but I have already talked about its awesomeness in the Amaranth blog post. As usual, rice is at the bottom of the list.
Iron level winners: Moth beans, kidney beans, sesame seeds, Amaranth
After reading all this, you may think I must hate rice. I keep posting articles on Alternatives to Rice or Which grain has most fiber, protein? The truth of the matter is, I cook rice, I eat rice too. Why? Force of habit, yummy taste, traditions, etc. If I have a meeting in the morning, what is easier than putting rice in the cooker and going into automatic “paruppu sadam” (daal rice), thair sadam (curd rice) mode?
But, given my analysis – over and over again I keep looking at the abundance of nutrition in other items – especially beans and seeds. Mathematically, I see the low ROI of white rice compared to legumes, especially.
Given that there are only x amount of calories one can consume every day, eating excess rice means less space for other nutritious items.
But what if I could make lentils or seeds as my main meal – like a steamed lentil salad, or 6-seed cereal? Then I am really adding so much variety and nutrition to my body, and not just plain carbs over and over.
And that’s what I want my readers to think about. – How are you going to flip the proportions in your plate, so that rice takes a supporting role and not the main star?
And here’s hoping your lunch/dinner plate is filled with numerous daals, beans, greens, and seeds instead.
While this post gives you a good picture for the 4 nutrients I have compared – fiber, protein, Ca, Fe; there are limitations to the scope. For e.g., other macro and micro numbers have not examined- eg fat levels, other minerals like magnesium etc.
I am not a nutritionist/nurse/doctor. I am just an engineer who studies numbers and reports them. Consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.