Legumes are the edible parts of a Fabaceae plant. The Fabaceae (or Leguminosae) family has over 20,000 varieties and has been cultivated for thousands of years.
Low GI foods have been known to reduce the risk of heart disease, help with weight control and reduce the risk of diabetes.
In addition, legumes are credited with the following health benefits:
- The high fiber content in legumes helps with weight control. You feel fuller for longer.
- Delivers antioxidants that help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and cancer.
- Lowers blood pressure and inflammation, two contributing factors to the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Lowers the risk of type-2 diabetes and associated conditions like hypertension and cholesterol.
- Gives vegans and vegetarians a great source of plant-based protein.
- Improve digestive health and feed your probiotics, the healthy gut bacteria in your colon.
Which Foods Are Legumes?
Here is a list of commonly found legumes:
- Chickpeas or garbanzo beans
- Pinto beans
- Navy beans
- Black or turtle beans
- Split peas
- Peanuts (Yes! A peanut is not technically a nut)
- Green peas
- Kidney beans
- Mung beans
- Lima beans
- Adzuki beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Fava beans
Why Legumes Are Important Crops?
Food production places an enormous strain on our resources as the world’s population is as high as its ever been.
Agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to deforestation, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, freshwater depletion, and environmental contamination.
Different foods have various impacts on the environment, and the animal agriculture industry is the second biggest contributor to pollution, after fuel.
The production of plant-based food typically uses much less water, land, and natural resources.
For example, it takes 43 gallons of water to produce a pound of legumes.
In comparison, it takes 1,857 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef and 469 gallons of water for a pound of chicken. (Source)
In addition, legumes form a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria in the soil and can obtain nitrogen from the ground instead of the air.
This improves the soil quality and keeps neighboring plants happy.
More on that later!
The UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) has suggested that growing drought-resistant legumes would benefit dry environments where agriculture might be a challenge.
In addition, legumes can be stored dry for long periods without losing their nutritional value, minimizing food waste.
How Do Legumes Benefit Other Plants?
Many farmers know the benefits of rotating legume plants with other crops. Legumes have a symbiotic relationship with rhizobacteria, a bacteria that lives in the soil.
Rhizobacteria have unique properties and can take nitrogen from the air in the soil, feeding the legume plants.
In exchange, these plants give the bacteria carbohydrates.
This symbiotic relationship results in a more nitrogen-rich soil that will benefit the next crop planted and keep the land rich and fertile for agriculture.
The nitrogen is stored mainly in the roots and nodules of a legume plant.
After harvest, these roots eventually decompose and release the nitrogen back into the soil, benefiting the next crop.
It has been recorded that wheat planted after a legume crop enjoyed higher yields and protein levels.
Here are some other ways that legumes benefit the soil quality:
Increasing soil organic matter – Most crop residues from the season leave behind more carbon than nitrogen.
Legumes leave high levels of nitrogen which in turn encourages the decomposition of crop residue.
Helps the soil breathe – Legume plants have long roots of about six to 8 feet.
Nitrogen-rich soil encourages earthworms to move in and make burrows. The roots and burrows aerate the soil and promote circulation.
Fights pests – A legume crop has been known to reduce weeds, insects, and diseases.
This lessens the need for pesticides in the next crop.
Recycles nitrogen – Because of its deep roots, land that legumes are grown on remains nitrogen-rich for many seasons, benefiting all subsequent crops planted on the same land.
Improves soil stability – The protein, roots, and the additional nitrogen work together to bind the soil into a more stable structure, reducing erosion and crusting.
Crusted soil is detrimental to new crops, preventing seedlings from emerging and increasing the risk of erosion.
Balances other crops – Other crops like wheat or corn have carbon-rich crop residue.
A biennial or annual legume crop can balance out other crops and contribute to greater diversity in the soil’s nutrients.
Lowers pH of the soil – Because legumes produce nitrogen, the net pH of the soil is lowered. A lower pH promotes more microbial activity and allows for better growth and development.
Why Are Legumes Important In Agriculture?
Per calorie, legumes contain more protein than meat.
With 690 million people currently suffering from malnutrition and hunger, legumes are an excellent plant-based protein choice.
Storing dried legumes for long periods does not cause any depletion of nutrients.
In comparison, animal agriculture requires vast amounts of energy to store, prepare and transport meat across borders.
Animal agriculture is one of the biggest polluting industries after fuel. The greenhouse gas emissions of the industry are more than the emissions from all vehicles worldwide!
The FAO estimates that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the livestock sector.
In addition, livestock farming often takes place in developing countries with weaker environmental protection laws.
In comparison, legume crops lower greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. In addition, legume crops improve soil quality by increasing nitrogen levels.
This particularly benefits crops planted on the same land in rotation with legumes.
Intercropping is a system of planting two or more crops within the same area simultaneously.
Neighboring crops get to enjoy the richer soil that legume plants provide, reduce the need for pest control, and increase yield.
A study on an intercrop of wheat and chickpea found a 70% reduction in weeds. (Source)
Fewer pests, higher crop yields, and a low carbon footprint make legume-growing a sustainable agricultural choice while depleting our natural resources less.
Unfortunately, the widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer has led to a significant decrease in legume cultivation.
With the exception of soybeans, the global supply of legumes started to decrease.
LEGUME FACTS – Did You Know?
- Nitrogen is a component of amino acids, the essential compound in protein. Since legumes have high protein content, high nitrogen content follows naturally.
- Legume seeds can be coated with Rhizobacteria before planting to ensure the soil gets the helpful bacteria.
- Legume plants can range in size from small plants to large trees.
- In ancient Greece and Rome, black and white beans were used for voting. Black for “no”, and white for “yes”.
- Legumes have a high fiber content. We cannot digest dietary fiber, so the fiber moves into the colon, where they meet your gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria starts munching on them in a fermentation process. That is what causes the gas!
- The top four producers of legumes are Canada, Myanmar, Australia, and the US.
- Peanuts are considered a legume. They grow underground and not in trees like most other nuts.
- The time for planting beans is between late spring and the end of summer. Beans typically take 55 to 60 days from planting to harvest time.
Not only are legumes a superfood with a plethora of health benefits, but they are also proven to be good for the environment and consume minimal resources in their cultivation.
Enjoy legumes and know you are doing your part in living a more sustainable lifestyle!