Black-eyed peas are not pizza or hamburgers. That’s for sure. Black-eyed peas are associated with soul comfort food. However, I don’t think the amount of black-eyed peas consumed in the United States can even be compared to the amount of pizza or hamburgers we eat. I mean, be honest. Which of the three food items would you choose as comfort food? It is estimated that collectively, Americans eat 3 billion pizzas a year. If that is difficult to imagine, consider the estimate that 100 acres of pizza are eaten daily in this nation. If you can’t relate to acres of land, consider that 350 slices of pizza are sold every second in the USA.1 It is, hands down, the favorite food choice for children ages 3-11. While we scarf down a lot of pizza, as you can see, we consume even more hamburgers. Apparently, we eat approximately 50 billion hamburgers a year. That’s three burgers a week for every single person.2 Since there are plenty of vegetarians in this country, that means someone is picking up the extra three a week. Picture this though, according to one internet site, “Americans eat enough burgers to circle the earth 32 times every year”!3
Black-eyed peas? They’re not even a runner up.
Black-eyed peas have a long history, going further back than our nation’s existence. Ancient Greeks and Romans ate them. They were cultivated and eaten in western Africa for centuries. Today, however, they are associated with Southern cooking.
Black-eyed peas pack a lot of nutrition, like all beans.
Black-eyed peas are considered good luck food, especially when eaten on New Year’s Day in the South. Legends abound as to why this is done, but one I found quite interesting pertained to the Civil War. The story goes that Sherman’s troops had looted much of Georgia of its food, including animal grain. With no FEMA, Red Cross, or ADRA, food shortage was inevitable until the Southerners found that the Northern army had disregarded the fields and silos filled with the lowly black-eyed pea. It was largely considered food for animals or slaves. Reportedly, Robert E. Lee referred to the black-eyed pea as “the only unfailing friend the Confederacy ever had.”4
The black-eyed pea is actually a bean, from the legume family and is eaten around the world and is still commonly consumed in the South. Black-eyed peas pack a lot of nutrition, like all beans.
One cup of cooked black-eyed peas provides:
- 130 calories
- 0.5 grams of fat—next to nothing
- 27 grams carbohydrates
- 13 grams protein
- twice as much folic acid as collard greens!
- a wide array of minerals including copper, zinc, potassium, selenium, and calcium
- 11 grams fiber
- an abundance of polyphenols (compounds that behave like Navy Seals within, protecting the body from damage and disease)
One of the most common reasons given for why people do not eat beans very often is increased intestinal gas. Interestingly, black-eyed peas were specifically used in a study to assess if indeed beans cause excessive intestinal gas production. Researchers measured change in gas, bloating, and stool characteristics. While less than 50 percent of the participants in the study experienced increased gas with pinto beans, only 19 percent of the study group experienced increased gas with black-eyed peas! One of the conclusions of the authors is that people’s perceived increase of flatulence may be exaggerated.5 If gas is preventing you from eating beans, you may want to give black-eyed peas a try.
The excess fat and protein we are obtaining from pizza and hamburgers, in combination with low fiber intake, is killing us by killing them.
Components that promote intestinal gas are the indigestible fibers found in abundance in black-eyed peas and other beans. Those who grew up eating black-eyed peas typically have no problems digesting them. Their microbial population is not only accustomed to processing the indigestible components of black-eyed peas, but they thrive on them. Dietary fiber has been shown, consistently, to be associated with reduced chronic disease risk, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. One of the mechanisms through which an improved health status occurs is via the impact dietary fiber has on the microbiota—the community of microbes thriving in our gut. Fiber is, in essence, indigestible carbohydrates, which are fermented and broken down by various species of bacteria. Western diets low in these indigestible carbohydrates “may irreversibly reduce microbial diversity and lead to the disappearance of specific bacterial species in the digestive system.”6 The excess fat and protein we are obtaining from pizza and hamburgers, in combination with low fiber intake, is killing us by killing them. An imbalance of strains of specific bacteria results from our imbalanced intake of certain nutrients. Plus, chronic low fiber intake damages the protective mucus layer in the large intestine where the microbial world largely exists. Researchers have found that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet reduces the production of beneficial compounds in the gut and increases disease-promoting substances that result from amino acids being fermented by bacteria. These substances promote inflammation and contribute to disease progression.7
There are so many factors that lead Americans to choose some foods over others. Texture, flavor, how we ate growing up, what we eat where I come from, etc. What I see and have been led to conclude as the greatest contributor to our food choices is that here in America food has become entertainment. If it makes me happy, if it makes me feel good, brings me pleasure, tastes good, provides the right texture, meets my specifications, then I will eat it. Robert E. Lee called black eye peas an unfailing friend because it remained during the tough times, when shame, loss, devastation, and pain engulfed the South. The Unfailing Friend we have in Jesus is will remain and strengthen you through your darkest days.
- “America’s pizza obsession: By the numbers,” The Week, 6/22/11, https://theweek.com/articles/483784/americas-pizza-obsession-by-numbers.
- “Hamburger Trivia: Everything you ever needed to know,” Huff Post, 7/28/13, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/burger-facts-trivia_n_3654636.
- Nick Hines, “American’s Eat Enough Burgers to Circle the Earth 62 times,” Vine Pair, 6/12/17, https://vinepair.com/cocktail-chatter/how-many-burgers-americans-eat-per-year/.
- Nina Martyris, “A Black Food Historian Explores His Bittersweet Connection to Robert E. Lee,” NPR, 9/5/17, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/09/05/547562682/a-black-food-historian-explores-his-bittersweet-connection-to-robert-e-lee.
- Donna M. Winham, and Andrea M. Hutchins, “Perceptions of flatulence from bean consumption among adults in 3 feeding studies,” Nutrition journal, vol. 10 128, 11/21/11, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3228670/.
- Mike Kassern et al., “The Impact of Dietary Fiber on Gut Microbiota in Host Health and Disease,” Cell Host and Microbe, Retrieved from: https://www.cell.com/cell-host-microbe/pdf/S1931-3128(18)30266-X.pdf.
Risë Rafferty, RDN
Risë is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and has been writing and teaching about health for many years. She loves the health message and takes great pleasure in seeing people thrive by the application of its principles. Her research and down-to-earth manner allow her to offer up the health message in both an intelligent and accessible manner. She and her husband, James Rafferty, have two children.