9 Surprising Benefits of Pigeon Peas

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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There is a wide range of impressive health benefits associated with pigeon peas, including their ability to stimulate growth, manage blood pressure, prevent anemia, and boost heart health. It also aids in weight loss, improves digestion, strengthens the immune system, increases energy, and eliminates inflammation.

What are Pigeon Peas?

Scientifically known as Cajanus cajan, pigeon peas are a legume. They belong to the Fabaceae family and are a tropical pea-like seed. These peas are often mixed with other grains, maize, or sorghum, or crushed into flour and used to make bread. The flavor is rather unremarkable, which is why they are so often combined in culinary uses, their benefits are undeniable, which has led to them being such a huge crop around the world.

In terms of medicinal benefits, pigeon peas can thank their diverse blend of protein, minerals, vitamin, organic compounds, dietary fiber, antioxidants and other unique components, all of which impact human health in different ways. The plant grows easily, even in harsh conditions, dries quickly and can be stored for extended periods of time, which makes them even more desirable in certain arid regions.

Close-up image of pigeon pea seeds

A blanket of pigeon peas Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Pigeon peas (red gram), mature seeds, raw
Serving Size :
Water [g]10.59
Energy [kcal]343
Energy [kJ]1435
Protein [g]21.7
Total lipid (fat) [g]1.49
Ash [g]3.45
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]62.78
Fiber, total dietary [g]15
Calcium, Ca [mg]130
Iron, Fe [mg]5.23
Magnesium, Mg [mg]183
Phosphorus, P [mg]367
Potassium, K [mg]1392
Sodium, Na [mg]17
Zinc, Zn [mg]2.76
Copper, Cu [mg]1.06
Manganese, Mn [mg]1.79
Selenium, Se [µg]8.2
Thiamin [mg]0.64
Riboflavin [mg]0.19
Niacin [mg]2.97
Pantothenic acid [mg]1.27
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.28
Folate, total [µg]456
Folate, food [µg]456
Folate, DFE [µg]456
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]1
Vitamin A, IU [IU]28
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.33
16:0 [g]0.31
18:0 [g]0.02
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.01
18:1 [g]0.01
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.81
18:2 [g]0.78
18:3 [g]0.04
Tryptophan [g]0.21
Threonine [g]0.77
Isoleucine [g]0.79
Leucine [g]1.55
Lysine [g]1.52
Methionine [g]0.24
Cystine [g]0.25
Phenylalanine [g]1.86
Tyrosine [g]0.54
Valine [g]0.94
Arginine [g]1.3
Histidine [g]0.77
Alanine [g]0.97
Aspartic acid [g]2.15
Glutamic acid [g]5.03
Glycine [g]0.8
Proline [g]0.96
Serine [g]1.03
Sources include : USDA

Health Benefits of Pigeon Peas

Over the centuries, these legumes have gradually gained the reputation as a health food, so let’s take a closer look at the unique health benefits of pigeon peas.

Regulate Blood Pressure

One of the key minerals found in pigeon peas is potassium. It is perhaps best known as a vasodilator, which is able to reduce the constriction of blood vessels and thereby lower blood pressure. For those suffering from hypertension or at a high risk of cardiovascular disease, adding pigeon peas to your daily or weekly diet is a wise move.

Growth and Development

The reason that pigeon peas have become such an irreplaceable part of the diet in many parts of the world is their densely packed protein content. A single cup of cooked pigeon peas contains 11 grams of protein. Protein is essential for normal growth and development, as it is the building block of everything from cells and tissues to muscles and bones. Protein is also important for normal healing and regeneration of cells throughout the body.

Prevent Anemia

The incredibly high levels of folate found in pigeon peas play a dual role within the body. First of all, folate deficiency is closely linked to anemia and certain neural tube defects in unborn children. Anemia is a very common affliction in tropical and developing countries, which makes pigeon peas all the more important. A single cup of pigeon peas provides more than 110% of the daily recommended intake of this important vitamin.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Every part of the pigeon pea plant has been used in some form to cure inflammatory issues, including the leaves, seeds, and peas themselves. The organic compounds found in pigeon peas can quickly reduce swelling and inflammation throughout the body. More specifically, a paste made from mashed pigeon peas is a popular traditional medicine for piles, commonly known as hemorrhoids.

Weight Loss

Despite being loaded with nutrients, pigeon peas are moderate in terms of calories and very low in saturated fats and cholesterol. One of the problems with any diet is the feeling of hunger between those small, conscientious meals. The dietary fiber and wealth of nutrients found in pigeon peas will keep you feeling full, increase the rate of your metabolism and not lead to weight gain. In fact, most of the nutrients in pigeon peas convert to usable energy than storable fat.

Boost Energy

As mentioned above, the conversion of pigeon peas to energy is impressive, to say the least, and this is mainly thanks to the presence of B vitamins in these legumes. Niacin and riboflavin actively promote the metabolism of carbohydrates by the body and prevent the storage of fat, thus boosting overall energy levels without packing on any pounds. This is ideal for people who live in arid climates, work physically demanding jobs, or deal with unusual climates that deplete energy quickly.

Strengthen Immune System

Sometimes raw is better when it comes to maintaining nutrients, and when it comes to vitamin C levels in these legumes, it is a smarter choice to chew on the raw green peas. The vitamin C content drops by nearly 25% once you cook the peas, so if you need a boost for your immune system, keep them uncooked! Vitamin C can stimulate the production of white blood cells and acts as an antioxidant in the body, thus promoting overall wellness and strong immunity.

Heart Health

The combination of potassium, dietary fiber, and low levels of cholesterol make pigeon peas a great choice for maintaining heart health. Potassium reduces strain on the heart by lowering blood pressure, dietary fiber can help balance cholesterol levels and prevent atherosclerosis. By still delivering essential nutrients without unbalancing overall cholesterol with saturated fats, your heart will thank you!

Improve Digestion

Like many legumes, pigeon peas are a rich source of dietary fiber, which is well known to improve digestion. Fiber can bulk up the stool and promote more regular bowel movements, thus reducing strain and inflammation, and lowering the occurrence of constipation, bloating, cramping and diarrhea. Furthermore, fiber can improve the efficiency with which the gut absorbs nutrients, meaning that you get more out of your food!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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