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International Journal of Cancer: “Dietary intake of polyphenols, nitrate and nitrite and gastric cancer risk in Mexico City.”
Health Benefits of Peas
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
- Vitamin C 48%
- Iron 6%
- Vitamin B6 0%
- Magnesium 0%
- Calcium 2%
- Vitamin D 0%
- Cobalamin 0%
- Vitamin A 11%
If you think that peas are humble, ordinary vegetables, think again! These tiny bead-sized jewels carry quite a punch when it comes to nutrients and health benefits.
Peas are in the group of foods known as legumes. Legumes are plants that produce pods with seeds, or beans, inside. Other foods in the legume family include lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, and all types of beans.
There are three varieties of peas that you eat:
- Garden or green peas
- Snow peas
- Snap peas
Garden or green peas grow inside green, rounded pods. The peas inside are sweet and starchy. Snow peas and snap peas grow inside edible pods, and their taste is slightly sweeter than garden peas.
Peas are part of the plant family, Fabaceae, also known as the bean family or pulse family. Although their beginnings may trace back to Asia and the Middle East, peas are grown worldwide today.
The high concentration of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients in peas provides important health benefits that range from keeping your eyes healthy to protecting you against certain cancers.
Peas contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These nutrients help protect your eyes from chronic diseases, such as cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. Lutein and zeaxanthin act as filters from harmful blue light, which contributes to cataracts and macular degeneration.
Peas are rich in coumestrol, a nutrient that plays a role in protecting against stomach cancer. A 2009 study done in Mexico City showed that daily intake of peas and other legumes lowered the risk of stomach cancer by 50%.
Peas are also high in fiber, which helps move food through your gut for easier digestion.
Immune Health and Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Peas are packed with antioxidants, which help build your immune system. The following are nutrients in peas that act as antioxidants:
- Vitamin C
- Vtamin E
Anti-inflammatory nutrients in peas have been associated with lowering the risk of inflammatory conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
The following vitamins and nutrients found in peas help reduce inflammation:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Caffeic acid
- Pisumsaponins I and II
- Pisomosides A and B
Blood Sugar Control
Peas are loaded with fiber and protein, which help to regulate the way you digest starches. The protein and fiber in peas slow the breakdown of carbohydrates and helps to control your blood sugar. Studies show that eating a high-protein diet decreases postprandial (after meals) blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.
Peas also have a low glycemic index. This means that you are less likely to have sudden spikes in blood sugar after eating them.
Inflammation and stress caused by free radicals (oxidation) can contribute to plaque formation along blood vessel walls. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in peas help to reduce oxidation and inflammation and prevent plaques from forming.
In addition, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals found in peas can lower your risk of high blood pressure.
Peas are a good source of vitamins C and E, zinc, and other antioxidants that strengthen your immune system. Other nutrients, such as vitamins A and B and coumestrol, help reduce inflammation and lower your risk of chronic conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
Nutrients per Serving
A ½ cup serving of green peas (about a handful) contains:
- Calories: 59
- Protein: 4 grams
- Carbohydrates: 12 grams
- Sugars: 4 grams
- Calcium: 21.2 mg
- Iron: 1 mg
Although peas are a powerhouse of nutrients, they are also relatively high in carbohydrates. Be careful not to go overboard with your starch intake. All you need is a half-cup serving to obtain all the health benefits of peas.
How to Prepare Peas
There are a number of ways to cook peas. To preserve the most nutrients in your peas, you can steam them in a small amount of liquid for a short time and add seasonings at the end.
- Bring ⅛ to ¼ cup of water or light stock to a boil
- Add enough peas until the liquid just covers them
- Cover pan and simmer on low for 5 to 10 minutes or until the peas are tender and bright green
- Drain the water and toss peas with melted butter or any fresh herbs of your choice
Harvest to Table: “How to Prepare Spring Peas with No Recipe.”
International Journal of Cancer: “Dietary intake of polyphenols, nitrate and nitrite and gastric cancer risk in Mexico City.”
Journal of Ophthalmology: “The Photobiology of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in the Eye.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “An increase in dietary protein improves the blood glucose response in persons with type 2 diabetes.”
The World’s Healthiest Foods: “Green peas.”
USDA: “FoodData Central: Peas.”
What are the health benefits of peas?
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Lightly steam a couple of handfuls of garden peas.
- Toss with a small handful of fresh mint or basil leaves and chunks of feta cheese or cooked halloumi.
- Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice before serving.
- Make a basic dhal by frying up onion, garlic, fresh ginger, and chilies with spices such as cumin or turmeric.
- Drain and rinse some canned black-eyed peas and add to the pan, along with 1–2 cups of water.
- Simmer until the peas are warm and any vegetables have softened. Serve with brown rice or whole meal pita bread.
5 Healthy Reasons to Eat More Fresh Green Peas
Laura Fisher is a sustainability and health professional with a passion for good food, the outdoors, and fitness.
Updated on December 16, 2022
Growing up, the typical veggie side dish on our dinner table was a bag of warmed-up frozen peas with a pat of butter and a sprinkle of salt. This was mostly because my mom usually forgot about dinner until it was past a reasonable time to run to the store, and our freezer was the closest thing to the produce aisle. But, as it turns out, Mom was doing us a big favor from a nutritional standpoint. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that green peas are the unsung heroes of the vegetable aisle.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to buy a bag of frozen peas for a specific recipe or to have on hand as a flexible ice pack, then promptly forget they’re there. But it’s time to dig past the ice cream and pull out these sweet little buds for a nutritional punch that can help you do everything from fighting chronic illness to staying full between meals.
What Are Green Peas?
Green peas, also known as garden peas, are the fresh, spherical members of the legume family, which includes other crops like beans and lentils. You may wonder what the difference is between fresh green peas and the dried variety on shelves for recipes like split pea soup. Green peas, yellow peas, snap peas, and snow peas are all varieties of the same plant.
A good rule of thumb to remember when it comes to peas is that all peas that you can eat raw, you can also dehydrate and use as a dried good, but not all dried peas can be eaten fresh. Green garden peas are the seeds inside young pea pods that are picked at the peak of ripeness (which occurs in the spring here in the Northern Hemisphere) and taken out of their casing. The fresh peas are then eaten fresh, either raw or cooked, or they’re steamed and frozen for long-term storage. Dried peas, on the other hand, are harvested, shelled, and then dehydrated. They need to be cooked before consumption, usually by rehydrating and simmering in a hot liquid.
For especially young and fresh peas, you can eat the pods raw (think sugar snaps), but as the peas get older, their outer pods become fibrous and tough, making them less pleasant to snack on. Dried peas have a much longer shelf life than green peas, but freezing fresh peas is a great way to preserve them for up to a year, as opposed to a week or two in the fridge. It’s also an exceptionally affordable way to keep nutrient-dense food on hand.
Fresh Peas Are Super-Good for You
When it comes to nutrition, these little green nubs pack a lot in their small package. According to Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Real Nutrition, each half-cup serving (or 170 grams) of green peas contains 62 calories, 70% of which come from carbohydrates, and offers a host of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. So yes, green peas are very good for you. Read on to learn exactly how fresh green peas can benefit your health and how you can start to incorporate more of these tasty legumes into your diet.
The Health Benefits of Peas
Full of Fiber
A half-cup serving of green peas delivers 4 grams of fiber, which gets you well on the way to the 21 to 26 grams per day recommended for women. According to Shapiro, the mostly insoluble fiber in peas will help with satiety, appetite regulation, and digestion improvement.
While fiber can also help to bulk up stool (i.e., normalizing your bowel movements and making them easier to pass), Shapiro notes that for some people, this could have the opposite effect. “When eating foods with a lot of fiber, make sure to increase your water intake to prevent constipation,” Shapiro adds.
Helps the Heart
It’s been proven that eating a fiber-rich diet can lower your risk of developing heart disease, and as mentioned, peas are a fantastic way to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. But it’s not only the fiber content that gives them cardiovascular benefits. “Peas contain a good amount of heart-healthy minerals, such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium,” Shapiro says.
Potassium is important for lowering blood pressure, and calcium from food sources (like peas), but not supplements, has been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease. Magnesium is responsible for transporting calcium and potassium to the heart, which is why the fact that peas have all three makes them nature’s perfectly designed food to support your ticker.
Supports the Immune System
Strengthening the immune system is a priority for many, especially during the winter months when colds, flu, and other viruses tend to spike. The good news is that it’s easy to boost your immunity year-round with a nutrient-dense diet full of vitamins and minerals. Peas have basically everything you need to support your immune system, including 13% of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C, plus a healthy dose of vitamin E, zinc, and antioxidants to help your body fight off infection.
Protects the Eyes
Carrots usually get all the vision-boosting credit, but peas can do a lot for your eye health too. One serving of green peas contains 24 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, according to Shapiro, which is the most well-known vitamin for maintaining vision and preventing macular degeneration.
Regulates Blood Sugar
“Peas have a relatively low glycemic index (GI), which can help with blood glucose management,” Shapiro explains. The GI index measures how quickly and high your blood sugar rises after eating certain foods. The fiber and protein in peas can also help keep you full for longer between meals, which means less snacking and, thus, further preventing the blood sugar rollercoaster that can make you feel sluggish and moody.
It’s important to remember that while peas have some protein and can help with satiety, they aren’t a complete source of protein on their own. “To obtain needed essential amino acids in your diet, pair green peas with another source of protein,” Shapiro notes.
How to Eat Green Peas
Garden peas are incredibly versatile vegetables, lending themselves well to steaming, sauteeing, and blanching. Their delicate flavor pairs well with simple seasonings: a good drizzle of quality olive and a dash of salt and pepper will do the trick.
When it comes to the pods, you can go ahead and eat fresh, tender young peas raw, including the pod, either by themselves or dipped into hummus. If have a farmers’ market nearby, you’d be amazed at how sweet and flavorful whole pea pods can be when eaten within days of picking.
For older peas, Shapiro recommends charring the pods and dipping them into tamari and oil for a creative appetizer or side dish. She also suggests adding green peas to soup, stews, and salads for a nutritious and tasty bite. Or try sauteeing fresh peas with shallots or onions and a tablespoon of oil, cooking until the peas turn bright green.
For a creative take on the ever-popular avocado toast, try mashing peas with olive oil and salt and spreading on crusty bread or adding them to a sandwich as an alternative to mayo or mustard. I’ve started keeping frozen peas on hand and tossing them into anything I make on a given night, from stir fry to pasta dishes. Need more inspiration? Below are a few of our favorite recipes for enjoying green peas (and all their health benefits!).
Crispy Rice Bake With Shrimp and Peas
This oven-baked take on paella delivers a delightful dish of tender rice in the center with crunchy, crispy edges and juicy, sweet shrimp. Of course, we can’t forget the peas.
Smashed Pea and Ricotta Toasts
Frozen peas and creamy ricotta join forces in these company-worthy toasts. The best part is they come together in 20 minutes flat and are perfect for brunch.
Creamy Peas With Eggs and Bacon
This baked egg dish is worthy of any weekend brunch: eggs, bacon, and a pop of nutrients from bright green peas and fresh herbs.
Pea-Mint Pesto Fusilli
The pesto sauce on this fusilli offers a new twist: slightly sweet peas that transform the sauce into a silky, balanced revelation. The extra nutrition from the peas is a bonus.
Five-Spice Lamb Chops With Snow Pea Salad
Delicious lamb is paired with a colorful green salad of snow peas, dressed up with a gingery vinaigrette, cilantro, and scallions. A light meal that’s perfect for sharing with a loved one.