Snap peas are amazingly versatile and brimming with vibrant taste. They are delicious raw or cooked, alone or alongside other foods. Unlike many legumes, snap peas have edible pods and do not require shelling. They do not need to be soaked, either -- they are ready for a quick snack or addition to salads, soups, or stir-fry dishes. Snap peas pack plenty of nutrition in each vividly hued, crunchy pod. Loaded with soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, the legumes help enhance immunity, vision, and heart health, and reduce inflammation. Adding the benefits of these vegetables to your diet is truly a snap.
The snap pea (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon) is one of the few members of the bean family with an edible pod. It is a cross between the snow pea and the English pea, cultivated in the early 1600s by Dutch and English farmers. The snap pea fell in popularity until 1979, when Dr. Calvin Lamborn introduced a new variety – the sugar snap pea. Dr. Lamborn also produced the Sugar Bon, AAS Sugar Ann, Sugar Rae, and Sugar Mel, as well the purple Royal Snap Pea and golden Honey Snap Pea. Mature snap peas have round, green seeds within the pods, distinguishing this legume from the snow pea which retains a flat shape as it ripens. Although some pods have a tough string many remove before eating or cooking, varieties such as the Cascadia are almost stringless.
Snap peas carry a hefty load of phytonutrients in each pod. One cup (98 g) of the legumes provides just 41 calories and significant amounts of fiber and vitamins A, C, K, and B1. Folate, manganese, and iron are also present in the snap pea, as well as moderate amounts of vitamin B6, niacin, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals.
Immunity-enhancing properties are among the outstanding benefits of snap peas. The peas supply almost all the daily requirement for vitamin C, an antioxidant that strengthens immunity by forming antibodies to fight infections. These vegetables also contain high amounts of vitamin A, which plays a critical role in the functioning of immune cells that ward off pathogens. Additionally, snap peas contain a considerable amount of folate and iron, which are integral to the production of white blood cells.
Snap peas supply almost one-third of the daily requirement for vitamin K. This nutrient is vital to the production of prothrombin, a blood-clotting factor. It is also a critical component of proteins that prevent arterial mineralization and regulate bone metabolism. A study published in Neurobiology of Aging suggests vitamin K may contribute to cognitive health in older adults.
As a member of the bean family, the snap pea is surprisingly low in calories and carbohydrates. Its fiber promotes satiety and binds to glucose to impede its absorption into the bloodstream. This deters drastic spikes in blood sugar levels. Unlike most legumes, which contain higher amounts of carbohydrates, the snap pea stands out as a viable addition to low-carb diets.
The eyes are especially vulnerable to oxidative damage due to constant exposure to light. Research suggests antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients may help protect the eyes from age-related diseases. Snap peas provide carotenoids such as zeaxanthin and lutein, both of which function within a part of the eye called the macula. Increased consumption of foods with these phytonutrients may help prevent night blindness and curtail macular degeneration, which leads to vision loss.
The health benefits of snap peas are largely due to generous amounts of micronutrients that help lower inflammation in blood vessels and decrease the risk of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The soluble fiber binds to cholesterol and helps deter the buildup of arterial plaque. A 2017 study published by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology suggests people who consume high amounts of peas and other legumes have a lower risk of heart disease due to reduced blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol levels.
Fresh and frozen snap peas are widely available in grocery stores; the former excel in texture and flavor. Choose fresh pods that are firm and vibrant in color. Avoid speckled or yellowing pods or any that have loose seeds rattling inside. Store snap pea pods in a plastic bag and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
Snap peas are sweetly savory when eaten raw with dips or in salads. They are also tasty steamed or sautéed alone or with other vegetables or meats. Snap peas bring bright, crispy appeal to any dish. Avoid overcooking to retain color, flavor, and nutrition. Rinse pods with cool water before eating or cooking. Trim the ends and remove the tough fiber from the suture line on either side. Enjoy them as is or add them to a favorite recipe.
Allergies to snap peas are rare, typically occurring in babies and children who eventually outgrow the issue. Individuals who are allergic to peas are often also allergic to other legumes. Symptoms include rash, itchiness, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, or a tingling feeling in the mouth. Call a physician immediately if you experience rapid heart rate, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or swelling of the throat, face, or tongue following consumption of snap peas. These more serious symptoms could signal the onset of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction.
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