Nutrition, benefits, types, and more

There are many types of peas, each with its own nutritional value, but generally speaking, peas are an excellent source of plant protein.

Peas have been a key ingredient in cooking and food preparation for thousands of years. They are nutritious, versatile, and healthy. Common types include green peas, snow peas, and black-eyed peas.

As well as being a good source of protein, peas may be beneficial for heart and gut health, and they are a good blood sugar stabilizer.

Keep reading to learn more about the health benefits and nutrition details of different types of peas, as well as some cooking ideas.

The following nutritional data assumes 1 cup of mature peas rather than an immature pod of peas. Nutrition data for immature peas in pods may differ. Mature peas are simply those that have been growing longer, though the exact time frame for when an immature pea becomes mature depends on the variety.

Green peas (garden peas)

According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) data, 1 cup (160 grams) of cooked green peas contains:

  • Calories: 134 calories (kcal)
  • Protein: 8.6 grams (g)
  • Carbohydrates: 25 g
  • Dietary fiber: 8.8 g
  • Sugars: 9.5 g
  • Fat: 0.4 g

Green peas are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt. They are a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, and magnesium.

They are also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamin, and manganese.

Snow peas (sugar snap peas)

The USDA provides the following nutritional information for 1 cup (160 g) of sugar snap, or snow, peas:

  • Calories: 67 kcal
  • Protein: 5.2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 11.3 g
  • Dietary fiber: 4.5 g
  • Sugars: 6.4 g
  • Fat: 0.4 g

Sugar snap peas are also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt and are a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, and potassium. They are also a very good source of vitamins A, C, K, thiamin, and iron.

Black-eyed peas (cowpeas)

The USDA provides the following nutritional data for 1 cup (185 g) of frozen black-eyed peas, also known as cowpeas:

  • Calories: 278 kcal
  • Protein: 15.2 g
  • Carbohydrates: 42.6 g
  • Dietary fiber: 11.5 g
  • Sugars: 8 g
  • Fat: 5.88 g

Mature black-eyed peas are low in salt, fat, and cholesterol and are a good source of protein, thiamin, iron, and magnesium. They are also a quality source of fiber, folate, and manganese.

Pigeon peas (red gram peas)

The USDA provides the following nutritional data for 1 cup (168 g) of cooked, mature pigeon, or red gram, peas:

  • Calories: 203 kcal
  • Protein: 11.4 g
  • Carbohydrates: 39 g
  • Dietary fiber: 11.3 g
  • Fat: 0.6 g

As well as being low in saturated fat, carbohydrates, salt, and natural sugars, pigeon peas are a good source of protein and copper and a high quality source of fiber, folate, and manganese.

Chickpeas

According to USDA data, 1 cup of cooked chickpeas (164 g) has the following nutritional content:

  • Calories: 269 kcal
  • Protein: 14.5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 45 g
  • Dietary fiber: 12.5 g
  • Sugars: 7.9 g
  • Fat: 4.3 g

Chickpeas are very low in cholesterol and low in saturated fat and salt. They are a good source of fiber, protein, and copper and a very good source of folate and manganese.

Fresh, frozen, canned, or dried peas contain many nutritional benefits. Most varieties are low in calories, saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium, making them a good option as a side dish or the star ingredient in the main meal.

Provides a good protein alternative

Peas are a good source of protein, making them an ideal alternative to animal protein in a plant-based diet or an alternative to soybean protein.

Provides a good iron alternative

Peas are also high in nonheme iron, which is commonly found in animal flesh. This means peas can be a great alternative source of iron, helping the body to produce red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body.

Stabilizes blood sugar levels

Peas have a low glycemic index (GI), which means they don’t cause blood sugar levels to rise rapidly after eating. Diets rich in low-GI foods stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of obesity in people at risk of diabetes and people who already have the condition.

Improves gut health

All types of peas are rich in dietary fiber, which can improve gut health by making stools softer and easier to pass. The USDA recommends a daily intake of around 25 g of dietary fiber for women and 38 g of fiber for men. Currently, Americans are only averaging around half of this daily intake.

A 2020 study into the health benefits of peas on iron and gut health found that subjects who included peas as part of their diet had significant improvements in “good” gut bacteria.

Reduces the risk of cancer

Peas are a rich source of antioxidants, which can help protect the body against cancer. A 2017 study into green peas found that high levels of phytochemical substances in peas, including isoflavones, lectins, and saponins, helped prevent and inhibit cancer.

Protects against heart disease

People who eat lots of vegetables, including peas, are at lower risk of cardiovascular problems. Peas are good sources of dietary fiber, plant protein, and potassium, all of which contribute to lowering blood pressure, particularly among middle-aged people.

The low calorie, low fat nutritional profile of peas also makes them a promising food to help lower obesity, further reducing the risk of heart disease.

Steaming peas, or eating them raw, may be the best way to retain their nutritional benefits. People can eat garden peas raw straight from the pod or lightly steam or boil them before eating.

Other varieties, such as black-eyed peas, cannot be eaten raw. Typically, a person would purchase black-eyed peas dried, frozen, or canned and precooked.

Sugar snap peas are also delicious raw, and people can eat the entire thing, including the pod.

Canned peas are usually ready to eat once drained and rinsed, but people can also add them to stews and soups — ideally toward the end of the cooking process, so as not to overcook them.

Below are a few simple recipes for people to enjoy more peas in their everyday diet:

Easy hummus

  1. Drain a can of chickpeas and whizz them up in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of tahini, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 4 tablespoons of water, and a couple of garlic cloves.
  2. Add 1 teaspoon of ground paprika or cumin for flavor. A bit of lemon juice is also a great way to enhance the taste. Serve with raw sugar snap peas as crudités.

Pea salad

  1. Lightly steam a couple of handfuls of garden peas.
  2. Toss with a small handful of fresh mint or basil leaves and chunks of feta cheese or cooked halloumi.
  3. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice before serving.

Pea-based dhal

  1. Make a basic dhal by frying up onion, garlic, fresh ginger, and chilies with spices such as cumin or turmeric.
  2. Drain and rinse some canned black-eyed peas and add to the pan, along with 1–2 cups of water.
  3. Simmer until the peas are warm and any vegetables have softened. Serve with brown rice or whole meal pita bread.

Peas have a range of nutritional benefits, which include protecting heart and gut health and reducing the risk of cancer. They are also a good alternative source of protein and iron, especially in a plant-based diet.

There are several types of peas that people can easily incorporate into their diet. People can eat peas raw or cooked in soups, stews, or salads, depending on the variety.

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