Peas are often served as a side dish and you might see them added as a flavor accent to dishes like shepherd's pie. Other than that, they don't make the menu's spotlight very often. It may be small, but the mighty pea deserves a closer look. Rediscover one of the world's earliest cultivated foods.

More Peas, Please!
The power of peas starts with the vitamins A, C, and K. Peas also pack a decent amount of antioxidants, folate, iron, protein, and fiber. A one cup serving of peas has 8 grams of protein and 7 grams of dietary fiber. But peas are also healthy because of what they don't have. There's no cholesterol and very little sodium in these veggies naturally, and in terms of fat and calories, peas don't rank very high.

Pod of the Equation
Peas are relatively high in carbohydrates (carbs), or "starch," with about 21 grams of carbs in a one cup serving. Comparatively, one cup of raw spinach has only a single gram. Choosing pea varieties like snow peas or sugar snap peas allows you to eat fewer carbs per serving, since the pods themselves are lower in carbohydrates.

Pick Your Peas-on
A measly five percent of peas grown are sold fresh. But don't be so fast to discount frozen peas; there are benefits to buying both types. Frozen peas hold up: they retain color, shape, and texture for up to a year of freezing. However, they also contain more sodium than their produce aisle counterparts. This is because many manufacturers use a method called "brining" to separate tender, younger peas from the rest: they soak batches of the green guys in salt water. The old peas sink while the fresher ones swim. Some residual salt is inevitable in most frozen varieties. Canned peas come in last for nutritional value. They pack an unforgiving amount of sodium, even after rinsing.

While frozen peas offer convenience, nothing beats fresh produce. To select the freshest garden peas, look for medium green pods that are firm, velvety, and smooth. Avoid any that are dark or light green, yellow, speckled, moldy, or puffy. For the sweetest snow peas, choose smaller ones with flat, shiny pods that you can see the peas through. Snap peas should be bright green, firm, and the ends should snap right off.

Hint: The fresher the produce, the more nutritious it is, and the sooner you should use it. Unwashed, unshelled fresh peas will keep for a few days if stored in an unsealed container bag.

Ap"peas"ing Your Appetite
Sugar, snap, and snow peas have the most nutritional value when eaten raw. However, field peas need to be cooked. Toss some in a salad for extra crunch; pack them in your lunch for a satisfying snack; or saut? with mushrooms for a healthy and delicious side. If you have a small patch of soil, you can even grow your own!