Why Legumes Are The Most Valuable Food Group

Legumes are the edible seeds of plants that ripen in sheds or pods. Over 20,000 plant species belong to the Leguminosae, a flowering plant family producing a variety of these soft, vibrant seeds. This exceptional source of nutrients forms the backbone of the global food supply. Let’s look at what legumes are and their benefits.

You can broadly categorize them in pulses and oilseeds. Lentils, peas, and dry grains belong to the first group, whereas soybeans and peanuts carry a huge oil content. However, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) identifies 11 types of pulses alone.

Legume is the culinary staple in many cultures. Due to its sustainable and nutritional wonders, bourgeoisie diet plans are also seeing a resurgence. But it’s still underrated, and here’s why!

Benefits of eating legumes – the powerhouse of nutrients

Legumes are nutritionally superior crops, second to cereal grains only. They contain essential amino acids, antioxidants, and bioactive compounds that promote good health. You’ll also get a significant amount of micronutrients by consuming them.

Protein

Protein works as a fuel for the human body. It develops bones and tissues, thus known as the “building block of life.”
A cooked cup of most legumes fulfills around 35% of daily protein intake requirement; the exact quantity of edamame supplies a massive 63% of lysine-rich protein.

Sulfur-containing amino acids help protein absorb into the body. Although they are scarce in legumes, pairing cereals is beneficial for vegans. Such familiar North American dishes are fried tofu rice and peanut butter sandwiches.

Fat

Fats are generally equated with heart diseases. But it absorbs fat-soluble vitamins. Since our body can’t synthesize fatty acids (i.e., omega-6 and omega-3), a small amount is crucial for a balanced diet. And guess what – legumes help you achieve that!

If you’re willing to cut down on saturated fat and bad cholesterol, legumes are the way forward.
The unsaturated fat supplies only 5% of energy derived from beans and pulses. Of course, oilseeds are an exception.

Carbohydrates

Glucose is the prime source of energy which is made from carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates make up to 60% dry weight of broad beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, green grams, and other legumes. Meanwhile, they are high-carb and low-fat food.

Legume starch digests more slowly than cereals. It suits diabetic and gluten-sensitive patients. Also, you receive nourishing B-group vitamins, such as thiamin and riboflavin.

This resistant starch is a famous brewing and thickening agent of the baking industry.

Fiber

Fiber is also a carbohydrate. It doesn’t break down into sugar and makes you feel full. There are two types of fiber, distinguished by their water solubility.

Harvard School of Public Health estimates that most Americans consume half of the required dietary fiber in a day. Well, the increasing tendency to exclude legumes is the primary cause.

Beans and lentils are the chief sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber. They’re chock-full of healthy monomers and prebiotic properties. So, saying farewell wasn’t a good idea!

Folate

Folate is the fancy name of Vitamin B-9. Alternatively called folic acid, it’s found abundantly in legumes. The entire B-complex maintains cell health and a disease-free lifestyle.

A legume is a lesser-known arsenal of minerals. It has zinc, calcium, copper, phosphorus, and manganese, besides other quality micronutrients. Overall, they support metabolic and physiological functions.

Despite the ample existence of iron, legumes can’t solely prevent anemia because Vitamin C is unavailable.

Legumes: The analog of meat

Nowadays, a debate on protein boils down to beans vs. meat conundrum. Vegetarians stress on medicinal attributes of plant-based sources. Simultaneously, streak lovers hail meat and dairy products as complete proteins.

In fact, both legumes and meat have their strengths and weaknesses. We’ll evaluate them on three grounds.

Effective diet

Red and processed meat have two major downsides. First, they supply no fiber – the regulator of bowel movement and blood cholesterol. Secondly, all high-animal protein food is a colossal source of unhealthy fats.
On the other hand, Legumes add little fat with adequate fiber to your diet. But their protein structure may lack a few essential amino acids.

Comparison Per 100 Calories 
Food Protein (g) Fat (g)
Vegetable 11.1 0.4
Meat 8 7.4

Source: Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Furhman    

Hunger satisfaction

Food is to curb hunger. And the centuries of reinforcements make us declare meat the ultimate winner on this turf. But recent studies prove otherwise.

In research by Copenhagen University, 43 youngsters were served with alternate dining experiences to assess their satiety. Protein constituted 19% energy of both meals: namely pork meat and fava bean patties.

Surprisingly, the legumes-based cuisine was a more effective appetite remover! A veggie burger contains almost 70 calories, while the same serving of beef burger exceeds 200 calories.

Longer, livelier life

The growing consumer awareness increases the demand for legumes. Health-conscious people should swap out/limit meat consumption in favor of earthy-flavored beans and pulses. Researchers believe that this practice can add at least ten years to your life.

According to a Norwegian study, a man can live 13 more years by balancing typical western and blue zone diets. It includes fruits, greens, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish, eggs, meat, and sugary beverages.

In 2016, another study concluded after thirty years. It monitored a whopping 34% decrease in mortality risk by replacing some processed red meat with vegan protein sources.

Legumes: The plethora of health benefits

A healthy diet is the secret to a happy life. And legumes are an inseparable component. They prevent your lifestyle from getting plagued by chronic conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disorders.

These are a few desirable benefits of eating legumes.

  • Energy-boosting, heart-healthy diet
  • Free from cholesterol and gluten
  • Antioxidative, anti-inflammatory properties

A clinical study inspected the impacts of eating beans for three months. All 100 subjects showed a significant decrease in blood pressure, body weight, and sugar levels. The results were more impressive than some specialized pills having side effects.

Therefore, you can lean on legumes as both the prevention and cure for a range of non-communicable diseases.

Heart illness

Heart-related complications are the leading cause of death in the US, costing $1 billion every day in medical treatments. Adding a few beans to your plate can help you escape the risk.

Leguminous protein reduces low-density lipoprotein – the infamous “bad” cholesterol – which develops coronary artery diseases and stroke.

Diabetes

Legumes rank low in glycemic index, increasing blood sugar rather slowly. The soluble fiber is responsible for forming a gel lining along the intestines. It blocks the quick entrance of glucose into the circulatory system.
If you’re a type II diabetic patient or at risk of developing it, legumes will keep your insulin fluctuations in check.

Hypertension

Hypertension is constantly elevated blood pressure. It has devastating consequences for the heart, brain, kidney, and other organs. The WHO estimates that over 50% of the population with hypertension is unaware of its existence.
Beans are high in fiber, potassium, and magnesium ward off high blood pressure.

Celiac disease

It’s an autoimmune disorder, making the small intestine vulnerable to gluten. Celiac disease is often a gateway to coronary heart problems, small bowel cancer, and other long-term degenerative conditions. Currently, the only treatment we have is to observe a gluten-free diet.

Since wheat and barley have gluten, the legume is a viable option to consume important minerals while adhering to the diet plan.

Weight management

You read it right. Anyone can achieve weight loss ambitions with delicious legumes at hand.
Beans and peas are rich in protein while being low in calories. They keep your cravings at bay, skipping those weight-gaining snacks. All studies on legumes proved it a magic wand for obese adults.

Legumes: The paradigms of sustainability

Legumes have been the primary source of food and forage since the dawn of civilization. However, their nutritional supremacy is just half the story. Legumes are a cornerstone of sustainable agriculture practices.

There is a pressing need to optimize crop yield for a booming population, address the threat of climate change, and gear towards producing clean energy.

It might come as a surprise, but growing more legumes is the best agronomic weapon to combat socioeconomic predicaments.

Food security

Hunger and undernourishment are the persisting challenges for humanity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Protein-energy malnutrition (PEM) is common among children, provoking stunted growth and mortality.

The reason for this is that low-income families cannot afford the high prices of animal protein-rich products. Therefore, greater use and production of cheap legumes can solve the food crisis.

Thanks to the unmatched nutraceutical properties, calling them “poor man’s meat” is an understatement.

Soil fertility

Legume plants breed nodules on the roots. It creates a symbiotic relationship with rhizobia, nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria. It independently converts atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia to power enzymes.

Hence, nitrogen fertilizer is not one of the prerequisites of harvesting grain legumes!

In return, they improve soil quality by reducing erosion, weed buildup, and compaction. Due to these characteristics, legume covers are ideal for rotation with nitrogen-demanding crops. It increases the availability of nutrients in organic soil.

Source of income

Resource-poor farmers can’t bear the expenses of manure, fertilizers, and pesticides. Mostly, legumes are cultivated at a household level. And the hardy crop withstands adverse environments.

The optimal use of various beans will prosper low-income groups, both nutritionally and financially.

Legumes are also a perfect fit for livestock-crop farming. The cultivars of perennial forage legumes (i.e., alfalfa) are favored worldwide. Nonetheless, integrated cowpeas yielding grains for human consumption and haulms for animal feed are also appealing.

Eco-friendly crop

It’s well-known that legumes possess the genetic diversity required to adapt to climatic stresses. They are a reliable source of energy despite droughts and temperature changes. Transforming diets into a sanctuary of legumes will slow down climate change in two ways.

First, it doesn’t release nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. This greenhouse gas is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which takes away all the bad press.

Secondly, several legumes are high in oil or starch. It provides feedstock for biofuel and industrial uses. In any case, it discourages the burning of fossil fuels.

Legumes: The peak of versatility

Legumes make a remarkable class of veggies owing to their dynamic applications. You don’t have to compromise on a monotonous diet. Legumes have been assimilated into several traditional cuisines that you can savor in infinite ways.

Examples: Mediterranean-style hummus soup, black-eyed peas for moimoi, Indian dhal, Mexican side dishes, Japan’s favorite dessert filling with red bean paste

Soybeans offer many commercial items like tofu, textured vegetable protein, and dipping sauces. High-starch legumes are also an alternative to dairy products, appealing to Lacto-vegetarian masses. Other by-products include protein isolates and dietary fiber for industrial purposes.

Antinutrients

The presence of antinutrients is a fly in the ointment. These compounds are not toxic but hinder the full realization of legumes’ nutritional value.

Phytochemicals contain lectins, tannins, and protease inhibitors. They interfere with the absorption of zinc and calcium. Where raw pulses can create mineral deficiencies in the body, constipation and flatulence are among the worst results.

But worry not! The detoxification of non-nutrient is simpler than you think!

Cooking Tips

The National Library of Medicine suggests soaking, sprouting, and boiling seeds prior to cooking. These methods have the potential to reduce undesirable traits.

Soak all dry grains (except lentils and peas) in cold water overnight. Don’t forget to change the water between rinsing and processing the beans. Simmering can also denature the notorious carb components.

To avoid the embarrassing problems of gas, try canned products and gradually increase the intake of high-fiber content.

The Bottom Line

Legumes are a complete pack of nutrients that can alleviate malnutrition, poverty, and a fair share of global warming.

The exploding demand translates into increased cultivation. Only 8% of adults include beans in daily meal portions in the US. We must boost the ratio of consumption. And we should see vegetal protein as a stand-in for meat.

Similarly, the production of value-added supplements along with the promotion of orphan crops is crucial to meet long-term sustainable goals.

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