Peas get a bad rap as being a boring vegetable, often being characterized in cartoons as something kids shy away from. The root of this negative image, I believe, is that most of the peas eaten are from freezers – no wonder people don’t enjoy eating peas. Once frozen peas are defrosted they become soggy and mushy – definitely not the peas they once were when they were fresh. If people were to experience fresh green peas, they would know just how refreshing a crunchy, sweet, juicy pod of peas really are.
Beyond their deliciousness, they’re also great for your health. As peas are a legume, they are filled with many of the same nutritional qualities that other beans have, and some others to boot! Try to incorporate fresh peas into your weekly diet when they’re in season, and enjoy all the health benefits they have to offer!
Peas Culture and History
Green peas originate in the Eastern Mediterranean. Archeological studies have found evidence of peas going back as far as 4400BC in Egypt. From here, they appear to have spread over most of Asia naturally. Some guess that the pea was one of the earliest cultivated crops, but they were mostly eaten in their dried form, rather than fresh.
Canada produces some 3 million tons of peas each year, and exports a large percentage of this. Canada’s climate is well suited for current varieties of peas – cold and wet with fertile soil. India is the world’s largest importer – as the pea does not grow well there, but is enormously popular.
Health Benefits of Peas
Peas have high levels of all sorts of vitamins and nutrients – a well rounded treat. It has 51%DV vitamin K, 40% manganese, 38% vitamin C, 35% dietary fiber, and plenty of folates, vitamin A, phosphorus, vitamin B6, magnesium, cooper, iron, and zinc – all in 1 cup, or 134 calories. Talk about efficiency!
Green peas are stuffed with all sorts of antioxidants that help improve overall health, as well as help prevent cancer. Vitamin C, A, and E, zinc, and an array of phytonutrients found in peas all act as antioxidants. These actively seek out and neutralize free radicals that are roaming around the body, which, studies have shown, are partially responsible for causing cancer. Free radicals stress cells out, causing them to have difficulty in reproducing, and have a better chance of mutating. Eating peas can help combat these free radicals.
Peas are thought to be a heart healthy food, as well. Their high dietary fiber content helps reduce bad LDL cholesterol in the heart. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties that help regulate inflammation in the cardiovascular system. There is also a good amount of ALA fat found in peas (one of the Omega-3 fatty acids), which has been shown to promote heart health.
The high protein and fiber levels also help keep blood sugar levels in check. Both of these work to regulate the rate at which food is digested, keeping blood sugar levels in check. Dietary fiber – regularly consumed – has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Eating More Peas
Although peas are best fresh, eating frozen peas is still a healthy alternative. Freezing peas not only makes them unappetizing, it effects the nutrients in peas in a negative fashion. Peas can also be purchased in cans, but their nutritional content is even more compromised than that of frozen peas.
Fresh peas can often be found at Farmers’ Markets still in the pod. These are referred to as Sugar Snap or Snow peas. Snow peas are found most commonly in much of Asian cuisine, while Sugar Snaps aren’t found much of anywhere. If you see these at market, be sure to snatch them up – they’re incredibly delicious!
Try eating peas when they are in season – generally from late spring through early winter. There is actually a window in the summer when peas cannot be grown, so peas grown in the spring and fall will be at their peak freshness.
Peas can be used in all sorts of ways in the kitchen. Eat them fresh by the handful, or try cooking them up in a stir fry. Try to add peas at least once a week into your diet – along with the other beans you’re already eating – and you’re sure to feel the health effects!