Green peas are a great addition to any menu. Not only are the flavorful, their filled with a concentration of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that promote vibrant health. Most of us don’t usually think about green peas as an exotic food in terms of nutrient composition, but because of their sweet taste and starchy texture, we know that green peas contain a natural starch and sugar.

Green Peas Description

Peas are technically considered to be a part of the legume (bean) family. Most of us, however, serve them as vegetables.  Legumes are plants that bear fruit in the form of pods, enclosing the fleshy seeds we know as beans. Peas are one of the few members of the legume family that are commonly sold and cooked as fresh vegetables. Other members of the legume family, including lentils, chickpeas, and beans of all colors are most often sold in dried form.

There are generally three types of peas that are commonly eaten:

Garden or Green Peas (Pisum sativum),
Snow Peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon)
Snap Peas (Pisum sativum var. macrocarpon ser. cv.)

Garden peas have rounded pods that are usually slightly curved in shape with a smooth texture and vibrant green color. Inside of them are green rounded pea seeds that are sweet and starchy in taste.

Snow peas are flatter than garden peas, and since they are not fully opaque, you can usually see the shadows of the flat peas seeds within.

Snap peas, a cross between the garden and snow pea, have plump pods with a crisp, snappy texture. The pods of both snow peas and snap peas are edible, and both feature a slightly sweeter and cooler taste than the garden pea.

Peas and other legumes belong to the plant family known as the Fabaceae, which is also commonly called the bean family or the pulse family. In fact, commercial production of peas is commonly placed within the category of pulse production, and like its fellow legumes, peas are often referred to as “pulses.”

Peas as a Natural Cancer Fighter

Peas contain a unique assortment of health-protective phytonutrients. One of these phytonutrients – a polyphenol known as Coumestrol – has recently come to the forefront of research in regards to stomach cancer protection. Studies show that daily consumption of green peas, along with other legumes, can lower risk of stomach and gastric cancers. Since one cup of green peas contains at least 10 milligrams of Coumestrol, it’s easy to understand the health benefits. Of course, coumestrol is not the only cancer-protective nutrient present in green peas! The wide variety of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in green peas is very likely to play a primary role in the cancer-preventive benefits of this food, as well.

A Natural Anti-Inflammatory

The unique phytonutrients in green peas also provide us with key antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Included in these phytonutrients are some recently-discovered green pea phytonutrients called Saponins. Due to their almost exclusive appearance in peas, these phytonutrients actually contain “Pisum” or “Pisumsaponins” (the scientific name for peas). When coupled with its phytonutrients and other compounds, the combined effect is fantastic.

Peas Can Help Reduce Risk of Diabetes

Recent studies have shown that the association between green peas along with legume (bean) intake lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is because peas have a relatively low glycemic index, high fiber content and high protein content. Blended with the combination of powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, peas are incredibly healthy for balancing blood sugar levels.

Peas Are a True “Green” Food

Did You Know? Peas are considered an environmentally friendly food! What does that mean? We’ll explain… Agricultural research has shown that pea crops can provide the soil with important benefits. Peas belong to a category of crops called “nitrogen fixing” crops. With the help of bacteria in the soil, peas and other Pulse Crops are able to take nitrogen gas from the air and convert it into more complex and usable forms. This process increases nitrogen available in the soil without the need for added fertilizer!

Additionally, peas have a relatively shallow root system, which can help prevent erosion of the soil. Once the peas have been picked, the plant remainders tend to break down relatively easily for soil replenishment.

The rotation of peas with other crops has been shown to lower the risk of pest problems. These environmentally friendly aspects of pea production add to their desirability as a regular part of our diet.

Even though green peas are an extremely low-fat food (with approximately one-third gram of total fat per cup) the type of fat and fat-soluble nutrients they contain is impressive. Recent research has shown that green peas are a reliable source of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In one cup of green peas, you can expect to find about 30 milligrams of ALA. About 130 milligrams of the essential omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, can also be found in a cup of green peas. This very small but high-quality fat content of green peas helps provide us with important fat-soluble nutrients from this legume, including sizable amounts of beta-carotene and small but valuable amounts of vitamin E.

One cup cooked peas, no salt added contains:

8.58 grams of protein
134 calories
8.8 grams of fiber
Potassium – 434 mg
Phosphorus – 187 mg
Magnesium – 62 mg
Calcium – 43 mg
Sodium – 5 mg
Selenium – 3.0 mg
Iron – 2.46 mg
Zinc – 1.9 mg
Manganese – 0.84 mg
Copper – 0.277 mg
Vitamin A – 1282 IU
Vitamin C – 22.7 mg
Niacin – 3.234 mg
Folate – 101 mcg
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) – 0.414 mg
Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – 0.238 mg
Vitamin B6 – 0.346 mg
Pantothenic Acid – 0.245 mg
Vitamin K – 41.4 mcg
Vitamin E – 0.22 mg

Peas also contain phenolic acids, ferulic and caffeic acid, flavanols, catechin, and epicatechin.

Given their exceptionally strong nutrient composition, we’ve been surprised at the relatively small amount of research specifically focused on green peas as a health-supporting food. Green peas have been largely overlooked in research studies. However, evidence has shown green peas to have far-reaching health benefits, extending well beyond what is being reported.

Green Peas Promote a Healthy Heart

Due to their strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, peas offer top blood vessel health and protection. The formation of plaque along our blood vessel walls starts with chronic, excessive oxidative stress and inflammation. Few foods are better equipped to provide us with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients than green peas!

We know that intake of omega-3 fat lowers our risk of cardiovascular problems, and green peas are an incredible source of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. One cup of green peas provides us with ALA in an amount of approximately 30 milligrams. Green peas provide us with an ample amount of vitamin B1 and folate, and good amounts of vitamins B2, B3, and B6, which is great for lowering our Homocysteine levels in check.

The critical cardioprotective B vitamin, Choline, is also provided by green peas in amounts of approximately 40 per cup. In combination, these nutrient features of green peas point to a likely standout role for this food in protection of our cardiovascular health.

History of Green Peas

The modern-day garden pea is thought to have originated from the field pea that was native to central Asia and the Middle East. Because its cultivation dates back thousands and thousands of years, the green pea is widely recognized as one of the first food crops to be cultivated by humans. Peas were apparently consumed in dry form throughout much of their early history, and did not become widely popular as a fresh food until changes in cultivation techniques that took place in Europe in the 16th century. Peas are now grown throughout the world in nearly every climatic zone, and are widely consumed in both fresh and dried form.

While growing approximately 3 million tons of peas per year, Canada is currently the largest world producer and exporter of peas. France, China, Russia, and India are also large-scale producers of this legume. Despite being a large-scale producer of peas, India is also the world’s largest importer of this food due to its great popularity in that country.

How to Select and Store

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to obtain fresh peas. Only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh, while the rest are either frozen or canned. When trying to decide between frozen and canned green peas, the following information may be helpful:

Frozen peas are better able to retain their color, texture, and flavor than canned peas. Recent research has confirmed that these “important sensory characteristics” of green peas are not affected by freezing over periods of 1-3 months.

Both canned and frozen peas may contain relatively high levels of sodium. Unless labeled as “low sodium” or “reduced sodium” or containing “50% less sodium” or something similar, you can expect to find 650-800 milligrams of sodium in one cup of canned green peas. Some of this sodium can be removed by thorough rinsing, and we definitely encourage you to do so.

Reduced sodium canned peas will often bring the sodium content down to 250-300 milligrams of sodium. Even in this case, you can lower the sodium even further by thoroughly rinsing the peas. In the case of frozen green peas, it’s not uncommon to find 300 milligrams of sodium in one cup of frozen green peas—approximately the same amount as found in reduced sodium canned peas. This relatively high sodium level in frozen peas results from green pea processing methods, NOT from the natural sodium content of the peas.

When large batches of peas are prepared for freezing, producers separate out the older and starchier peas prior to freezing. A common method used to separate out the starchier peas is to immerse them in salty water. This process, called the salt brine process, allows the younger, more tender, and less starchy peas to float on top of the salt water, while letting the older, less tender, and starchier peas to sink to the bottom. Even though the younger and less starchy peas are rinsed with water after being separated out, they can still contain relatively high levels of sodium.

Frozen peas have an approximate shelf life of 24-30 months. However, based on the overall research findings on nutrient content of frozen peas during storage, it is recommend that you consume your frozen peas within 6-12 months of the packing date. (If no packing date is available, just make the “use by” date 50% sooner.)

Overall, we recommend the selection of frozen peas over canned peas and recognize the convenience of frozen over fresh. However, we also encourage you to consider fresh peas whenever possible, and to choose them according to the following guidelines.

When purchasing fresh garden peas, look for ones whose pods are firm, velvety and smooth. Their color should be a lively medium green. Those whose green color is especially light or dark, or those that are yellow, whitish or are speckled with gray should be avoided.

Additionally, do not choose pods that are puffy, water soaked or have mildew residue. The pods should contain peas of sufficient number and size that there is not much empty room in the pod. You can tell this by gently shaking the pod and noticing whether there is a slight rattling sound. All varieties of fresh peas should be displayed in a refrigerated case since heat will hasten the conversion of their sugar content into starch.

Unlike the rounded pods of garden peas, the pods of snow peas are flat. You should be able to see the shape of the peas through the non-opaque shiny pod. Choose smaller ones as they tend to be sweeter.

To test the quality of snap peas, snap one open and see whether it is crisp. They should be bright green in color, firm and plump.

Garden peas are generally available from spring through the beginning of winter. Snow peas can usually be found throughout the year in Asian markets and from spring through the beginning of winter in supermarkets. Snap peas are more limited in their availability. They are generally available from late spring through early summer.

At Raw Food Guru we always recommend buying everything Certified Organic if possible. If you are having difficulty locating them ask your local grocer for assistance.

If you will not be using fresh peas on the day of purchase, make sure to refrigerate them as quickly as possible in order to preserve their freshness and nutrition. Unwashed, unshelled peas stored in the refrigerator in a bag or unsealed container will keep for several days.

Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition:

  • exposure to air
  • exposure to light
  • exposure to heat
  • length of time in storage.

Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.

Fresh peas can also be blanched for one or two minutes and then frozen. If you decide to blanch and freeze your green peas, we recommend a maximum storage period of 6-12 months.

Preparation and Cooking


Tips for Preparing Green Peas

Before you remove the peas from the pod, rinse them briefly under running water. To easily shell them, snap off the top and bottom of the pod and then gently pull off the “thread” that lines the seam of most peapods. For those that do not have “threads,” carefully cut through the seam, making sure not to cut into the peas. Gently open the pods to remove the seeds, which do not need to be washed since they have been encased in the pod.

The classic way of cooking garden peas is to line a saucepan with several leaves of washed Boston or Bibb lettuce and then place the peas on the lettuce. You can then add fresh herbs and spices if you desire. Cover the peas with more lettuce leaves, add one or two tablespoons of water, and cover the pan. Cook the peas for about 15 to 20 minutes, after which they should be tender and flavorful.

Snow peas and snap peas can be eaten raw, although the cooking process will cause them to become sweeter. Either way, they should be rinsed beforehand. Sautéeing is one of the best ways to cook these types of peas.

The Nutrient-Rich Way of Cooking

Of all of the cooking methods we recommend a light sauté. Keep the heat low and do your best not to overcook.  A great way to cook peas is with a few tablespoons of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form add the green peas, cover, and sauté for about 3 to 5 minutes tops. Transfer to a bowl and toss with dressings or seasonings.

Now that you have learned everything you could possibly imagine about green peas, go pick some up today!

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