Green peas are one of the most nutritious and healthy vegetables you can eat. Though small in size, they pack a nutritional punch and offer an array of vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals that provide many health benefits.
From regulating digestion to stabilizing blood sugar levels, boosting immunity, supporting heart health, and more, adding green peas to your diet can do wonders for your overall health and wellbeing. This article will provide an in-depth look at all the reasons why green peas are considered a super healthy food that should be a regular part of a balanced diet.
The nutrient profile of green peas helps explain why they are so good for our health. In just one cup of cooked green peas, you get nearly 10 grams of fiber, 5 grams of plant-based protein, plus substantial amounts of vitamin K, folate, vitamin C, thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, niacin, and pantothenic acid.
Green peas provide all this stellar nutrition yet contain less than 125 calories per cup, with minimal fat and no cholesterol. The wealth of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants found in green peas gives them their superfood status.
Excellent Source of Fiber
One of the biggest benefits of green peas is that they are an excellent source of fiber, with nearly 9 grams per cup. This accounts for approximately 30-40% of the recommended daily fiber intake. Fiber plays many important roles in our health.
First, fiber slows down the digestion process to prevent sharp spikes in blood sugar levels. This helps keep energy levels steady and hunger at bay. Fiber also softens and adds bulk to stool to promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation.
Multiple studies show that getting enough fiber reduces the risk of developing numerous health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, diverticulitis, and some cancers. Fiber also lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol while improving immune function.
The fiber found in green peas has both soluble and insoluble qualities. Soluble fiber dissolves in water to form a gel-like material that has been found to lower blood cholesterol and improve blood sugar control. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve but rather absorbs water to add bulk to stool and speed up digestion. This combination of soluble and insoluble fiber provides optimal digestive and cardiovascular benefits.
Rich in Vitamins
Green peas provide an array of important vitamins including Vitamin K, Vitamin C, folate, and several B vitamins like thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, and pantothenic acid. Here’s a look at the major vitamins found in green peas and how they benefit your health:
Vitamin K – Green peas are rich in vitamin K, providing over 30% of the recommended daily value. Vitamin K plays a vital role in blood clotting and bone metabolism. It helps activate proteins required for blood coagulation as well as bind calcium to bones. Low vitamin K levels have been associated with osteoporosis and increased fracture risk. The vitamin K in green peas can help keep bones strong and reduce risk of excessive bleeding.
Vitamin C – Green peas contain a decent amount of immune-boosting vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant to prevent cellular damage from free radicals. It also supports collagen production for healthy skin and tissues. Vitamin C boosts the immune system to help fight off infections. Just one cup of peas supplies over 10 mg of vitamin C.
Folate – Green peas are high in folate, a B-vitamin that plays a key role in new cell formation and growth. Folate is especially critical for pregnant women as it prevents neural tube defects including spina bifida in newborns. The folate in green peas also helps produce new red blood cells and DNA.
Thiamin – Also known as vitamin B1, thiamin enables enzyme reactions needed to metabolize nutrients for energy. This includes breaking down carbohydrates. Thiamin also supports nerve cell function. Just a cup of green peas provides over 10% of the RDA of thiamin.
Vitamin B6 – Green peas supply vitamin B6, an important cofactor in reactions related to amino acid and glycogen metabolism. Vitamin B6 is required to make neurotransmitters and helps maintain normal nerve function. It’s also necessary to produce hemoglobin which carries oxygen in red blood cells throughout the body.
Good Source of Minerals
In addition to vitamins, green peas contain a variety of minerals that are vital to health like phosphorus, zinc, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, selenium, and potassium. Here is a summary of the main minerals in green peas and their health benefits:
Phosphorus – Green peas are high in phosphorus, an essential mineral primarily used for growth and repair of cells and tissues. Phosphorus also maintains the pH balance in the body and plays an integral role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats. In addition, phosphorus helps filter waste and toxins from the kidneys.
Zinc – Peas supply zinc, a trace mineral needed for proper immune function. Zinc enables the activity of immune cells that fight infection in the body. It also promotes wound healing through increased cell growth and tissue repair. Zinc deficiency weakens immunity and can lead to more frequent illness and disease.
Iron – As a good plant-based source of iron, the iron in green peas helps transport oxygen through the blood to all parts of the body. Iron is a critical component of hemoglobin which is found in red blood cells. The iron in peas helps prevent anemia caused by low iron levels.
Copper – Green peas contain the trace mineral copper which assists with iron absorption in the body. Copper also helps ensure proper functioning of the nervous and cardiovascular systems. In addition, it provides antioxidant protection against free radicals.
Manganese – This mineral is a cofactor in many important enzymatic reactions in the body. It assists with protein and amino acid metabolism, bone development, and wound healing. Manganese also helps activate key antioxidants like superoxide dismutase.
Potassium – With over 300 mg of potassium per cup, green peas help control blood pressure and balance fluid levels in the cells and body. Potassium counters some of the negative effects of sodium in the diet. Proper potassium levels reduce risk of high blood pressure, kidney stones, and stroke.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, green peas contain beneficial plant compounds like carotenoids and phenolics that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity in the body. The main antioxidants in green peas include:
Lutein and Zeaxanthin – Green peas are rich in the carotenoid antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants accumulate in the eyes to help prevent damage from blue light and ultraviolet radiation. They lower risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye disorders.
Phenolic Acids – Green peas provide antioxidant phenolic acids like ferulic acid and caffeic acid. These phenolics scavenge harmful free radicals that can damage cells. They also exhibit anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Carotenoids – In addition to lutein, green peas contain small amounts of beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and other carotenoids. These antioxidants boost immune function and some convert to active vitamin A, important for vision and cell growth.
The combination of these antioxidants plus vitamin C, vitamin E and other nutrients in green peas provides protection against oxidative stress and chronic inflammation – protecting cells against damage that can lead to disease development.
Green peas provide around 9 grams of protein per one cup serving, a significant amount from a plant food source. The protein found in green peas contains all 9 essential amino acids, making it a complete protein just like animal proteins.
Consuming foods with complete proteins is beneficial as the body readily utilizes essential amino acids. The protein in green peas promotes the maintenance and growth of muscle mass. Protein also helps preserve bone matrix and is needed to produce enzymes, hormones, and important tissues like cartilage.
Those on a vegetarian or vegan diet can rely on the protein in green peas along with other beans, legumes, grains and nuts to meet daily protein needs, support lean muscle mass, and provide essential amino acids often lacking in plant-based diets. Compared to meat, pea protein offers the benefits without unhealthy saturated fat or cholesterol.
Low Glycemic Index
Despite their sweet flavor, green peas have a low glycemic index, meaning they do not cause large or rapid increases in blood glucose levels compared to other high glycemic index foods like white bread or rice.
Green peas have a GI value of just 22, while pure glucose has a GI of 100. The starch in green peas is digested slower, resulting in a more gradual release of sugars into the bloodstream. This steady release helps avoid energy crashes and spikes in hunger.
The low glycemic load of green peas makes them a diabetic-friendly food choice. Eating low glycemic index foods has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, reduce blood sugar levels, and decrease risk factors for heart disease. This stabilizing effect on blood glucose means green peas are an excellent addition to any meal, especially for those with diabetes.
Heart Health Benefits
Regularly consuming green peas provides many benefits for heart health. The high fiber content helps reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol which in turn lowers risk of heart disease. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract and escorts it out of the body before it can be absorbed.
Green peas also provide a number of heart-healthy minerals. Potassium helps control blood pressure. The B vitamins help reduce levels of homocysteine, an inflammatory marker that damages arteries. Vitamins C, E and the carotenoid antioxidants reduce oxidation of cholesterol, which initiates plaque buildup in vessel walls.
In addition, the phenolic acids in peas improve blood flow and relax blood vessels, lowering stress on the cardiovascular system. The folate in green peas reduces buildup of artery-clogging homocysteine. All of these nutrients and antioxidants support cardiovascular function and make green peas a heart-smart food choice.
Digestive health is yet another way green peas benefit the body. Both soluble and insoluble fibers in green peas help normalize bowel movements and maintain regularity. This reduces issues like constipation and diarrhea.
Green peas act as a prebiotic to feed probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome. A healthy microbiome is essential for proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Phenolic compounds in peas also help modulate gut bacteria populations.
The high manganese content aids enzyme function and metabolism of carbs and proteins. And B-vitamins like niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamin and folate help optimize enzyme reactions needed for gastrointestinal health and energy production. All of these functions make green peas helpful for overall digestion.
The extensive mix of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals in green peas boosts the body’s immune response to illness and infection in several ways. Vitamins A, E, C, and the carotenoid antioxidants enhance the production and activity of white blood cells that defend against pathogens.
Vitamin C, zinc, and selenium also activate different components of the immune system including T-cells, B-cells, and NK cells that target viruses and bacteria. Fiber provides nutrients for healthy gut flora, which supports immune function. The combination of nutrients in green peas strengthens immunity against disease.
Supports Healthy Pregnancy
Green peas provide an array of nutrients beneficial during pregnancy including iron, folate, zinc, vitamin K, and protein. Iron helps prevent anemia and low energy. Folic acid reduces risk of neural tube defects in baby’s brain and spinal cord development. Zinc boosts immunity which dips during pregnancy.
Vitamin K builds strong infant bones and proteins repair fetal tissues. Magnesium relieves pregnancy-related leg cramps. Antioxidants protect both mother and developing baby against cellular damage from free radicals. Adding green peas provides excellent nutrition for a healthy pregnancy.
Helps Manage Weight
Enjoying green peas can help with healthy weight management in a few ways. First, they are low in calories and fat, providing only about 125 calories per one cup serving. Their protein and fiber together promote fullness to curb overeating and decrease hunger between meals.
The high fiber content also means green peas have a low glycemic load so they help stabilize blood sugar rather than cause spikes and crashes. This helps reduce food cravings. Green peas provide a lasting energy boost so you eat less later. Incorporating more green peas into meals promotes healthy weight and body composition.
May Reduce Risk of Certain Cancers
Research indicates that regularly eating green peas may lower risk for certain types of cancer, especially colorectal cancer and stomach cancer. This is attributed to green peas’ rich mix of antioxidants and fiber. The wide range of antioxidants neutralize free radicals that can damage DNA and cause cells to become cancerous.
Fiber binds to toxins and moves waste through the digestive tract quicker, reducing exposure. Fiber also provides nutrients to healthy gut bacteria which improve the integrity of the intestinal barrier, limiting inflammation. This multi-pronged anti-cancer effect makes green peas a smart dietary addition.
Easy to Add to Diet
One of the great things about green peas is their versatility which makes them easy to incorporate into a wide variety of dishes. You can easily throw some green peas into soups, salads, pasta, rice, veggie sushi, frittatas, stir-fries, curries, and more. They pair well with so many foods and add nutrition plus color wherever used.
Unlike some vegetables, green peas do not require peeling or complicated prep. You can use them frozen, fresh, or canned for quick access. Blend them into hummus or pesto for a nutrition boost. Green peas work with almost any cuisine. With so many possibilities, there are endless ways to add green peas into your daily diet.
Green peas are safe for most people to consume and do not contain common allergens or compounds found in beans and legumes that can cause gas and bloating in some individuals. But there are a couple things to be mindful of:
Purines – Green peas contain a moderate amount of purines. Those with gout or kidney stones may want to limit intake of purine-rich foods which elevate uric acid. But green peas can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy gout diet.
Pesticide residue – Conventional peas may contain traces of pesticide residue so choosing organic peas is best whenever possible. However, the fiber in peas helps bind and eliminate any chemical residues so this is likely only a concern with very frequent pea consumption.
Oxalates – For those prone to kidney stones, green peas do contain measurable amounts of oxalates which can contribute to stone formation in sensitive individuals. But this again requires eating them very regularly.
As with any food, moderation is key. But for most people, green peas are completely safe to enjoy on a regular basis as part of an overall healthy diet. The incredible nutrition they offer far outweighs these minor concerns.
Green peas offer an impressive nutritional package of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more for minimal calories. The wealth of nutrients provides anti-inflammatory effects, optimizes digestion, boosts immunity, supports cardiovascular health, aids healthy pregnancy, helps manage weight, and may reduce risk of certain chronic diseases.
Green peas are also very versatile – easy to incorporate into many different recipes to boost your daily nutrient intake. Considering all their amazing benefits, green peas are one of the healthiest foods you can choose to eat regularly as part of a balanced diet. The unique mix of fiber, plant-based protein, vitamins and minerals in green peas makes them a true superfood that provides tremendous nutrition for good health.