Is there a good reason to start eating legumes again?

One category of food is particularly noteworthy, and that is that of beans. Why should legumes make a comeback on our menus?

Is there a good reason to start eating legumes again?
As an example, why should legumes be served again? Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash

People talk a lot these days about how important it is to eat foods that come from plants. Fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts are mostly healthy and good for the environment. Dietary guidelines tell us over and over again how many vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber they have. One group of foods, called legumes, is very special.

It is the only vegetarian meal that has enough protein to be a good meat substitute. Nutritionists have found that, in many places, legumes are not taken seriously. Peas and beans are not put on the table quickly. Scientists and farmers agree, though, that plant protein from legumes is the product of the future.

What are legumes?

Plants in the legume family are called legumes. Their pods are their fruit, and we eat the seeds. There are many different kinds of legumes on store shelves today, including Turkish peas, grey peas, split peas, variegated, white, red, and Chinese beans, and brown, green, red, and yellow lentils. Soy is also a type of bean.

These foods have come and gone from plates in cycles. In the past, it has been known as "poor man's food" because it is cheap and has a lot of good nutrients. Up until the Industrial Revolution, people ate a lot. After that, pulses lost their popularity as wheat took their place. Then it was forgotten for a while, but surprisingly, demand has gone up by 70% in the last five years.

This is because more people are looking for meat alternatives and we are learning more about how healthy pulses are. It is no longer a meal for hungry people. On the contrary, eating pulses instead of meat shows that you are well-educated and aware of climate issues.

Scientists and farmers agree that we need to make the most of pulses because we eat more than just food these days. More and more people are becoming vegetarians or vegans because they want to stop climate change and find ways to get the protein that won't hurt the environment.

Legumes as a meat alternative, a source of vitamins and fiber

Three main things give legumes their nutritional value: protein, minerals, and fiber. Dietary guidelines say that vegetarians should eat a lot of legumes because they are a good source of plant-based protein and can help keep the heart healthy. This is very important because coronary heart disease is a bigger problem for us in terms of the number of people who get sick, become disabled, or die from it.

Protein, which is found in all legumes, is what the body is made of. Cells, tissues, and organs are made of them. Meat, fish, eggs, milk, and its products are also good sources of protein. Can we think of legumes as a good substitute for meat? Yes, with a few changes.

To figure out when we can talk about "complete proteins," we need to learn more about how these things are put together. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Proteins are made of amino acids, which are like building blocks that can be put together in different ways to make different proteins. Nine amino acids are essential. This means that the body can't make them on its own. Instead, the body needs to get them from food.

Meat has all of the essential amino acids, but legumes are a little bit behind. They don't have enough of the amino acid methionine, but this is easy to fix by eating cereals and other foods that have methionine. For example, pea soup with rye bread, stewed beans with buckwheat, lentils with brown rice, and hummus with bread will all give us all the amino acids we need.

Minerals like iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium can be found in foods like legumes. One thing to keep in mind is that legumes also have phytic acid, which makes it hard for minerals to be fully absorbed. Luckily, this doesn't have to happen. Minerals, especially iron, are better absorbed when pulses are soaked or left to soak overnight before cooking. Phytic acid will also be lessened by cooking for longer, which will help prevent gas and stomach pain.

And lastly, fiber. There are two kinds of fiber in legumes: soluble and insoluble. They each do something different. Insoluble fiber, which can't be broken down by the body, helps prevent type II diabetes in a big way. How can something that can't be eaten help prevent diabetes? Fiber slows down how quickly sugar is absorbed, which helps sugar get into the blood more slowly.

Insoluble fiber also lowers the risk of colorectal cancer because it scrubs the intestinal walls and helps clean them. On the other hand, soluble fiber helps keep your heart healthy by lowering the amount of cholesterol in your blood. They also make the gut a friendly place for the good bacteria that live there, called microflora.

Legumes can be eaten every day

How often should I eat beans and lentils? In the scientific literature, no one answer works for everyone. From time to time, the groups to which legumes belong change. They have both the good things about vegetables and the protein-rich parts of meat and fish.

If we count legumes as vegetables, we should make sure to eat at least 500 grams, or five servings, of vegetables, fruit, and berries every day. One of these can be beans or peas. What is a serving size? Three tablespoons of chopped, fresh, or steamed green peas, broad beans, or any other legume.

If we count these as sources of protein, the amount we should eat changes. Protein-rich foods should be eaten twice or three times a day. One of these portions can be meat, fish, an egg, or a dairy product, and the other can be legumes. Here, the amount suggested is higher, so a few tablespoons won't do.

A cup, or about 200 ml, of cooked beans, lentils, or other legumes is one serving. Don't stress out if you can't eat the right amount every day. You don't have to be crazy about the numbers. The most important thing is to start putting these foods into your daily life.

From the age of seven months, a baby can eat legumes, and they should be given at least once a week. Start with lentils that have already been cleaned, like hulled lentils. To keep from choking, it's best to mash them or feed them with a spoon.