5 Healthy Reasons to Eat More Fresh Green Peas

Pass the peas, please!

Bowl of whole and opened peas in pods
Photo: Getty Images

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!).

Overhead View of Crispy Rice Bake with Shrimp and Peas in Cast-Iron Skillet
Antonis Achilleos

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.

Overhead View of Smashed Pea and Ricotta Toasts on White Serving Platter and on Blue Plate, Surrounded by Flowers and a Cup of Tea
Victor Protasio

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 Recipe
Caitlin Bensel

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.

Overhead View of Fusilli Pasta With Minty Pea Pesto in a White Bowl
Jennifer Causey

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.

Overhead View of Five-Spice Lamb Chops With Snow Pea Salad on Plate with Fork and Knife, Surrounded by Glasses of Water
Greg DuPree

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.

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