Why eat legumes: health, environment, budget …

Why do you eat legumes and include lentils, beans and peas in our diet? Here are 5 reasons, environmental, health, taste or financial.

Today, our diet is at the heart of many societal questions. For health, environmental, or ethical concerns, the way we eat changes or must change.

New foods appear or become trendy, while others are consumed less and less. Among the foods that are on the rise: legumes. This food category, which includes lentils, peas, chickpeas and beans, is at the core of the diet of many peoples around the world. But in Western countries, these foods are not always popular. Indeed, its production and consumption has decreased significantly during the last century in most industrialized countries.

However, pulses are foods with multiple benefits, and we would all benefit from consuming more of them. Here are 5 reasons to eat more legumes.

1 – Food rich in proteins, fibers and nutrients

From a nutritional point of view, first of all, legumes are very interesting. These are very well-balanced foods that contain a lot of protein and complex carbohydrates. Thus 100 grams of green lentils contain approximately 20 to 25 grams of protein, which is equivalent to an equivalent portion of meat. So it is a practical food to consume proteins without resorting to animal proteins, which are often rich in saturated fats and generate more pollution. For vegetarians, vegans, and leaners who want to reduce or limit their consumption of animal products, legumes are an ideal choice to get enough protein.

However, there is one vigil: legumes do not contain all the amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) that are needed for our needs. It is therefore necessary to take care to consume grains in addition to legumes, because grains specifically contain the amino acids that legumes lack (and vice versa). But this association rarely poses a problem because we often consume a lot of grains (bread, pasta, rice, etc.).

Legumes are also high in carbohydrates and fiber. 100 grams of beans contain more than 15 grams of fiber, an essential nutrient that we often lack in our daily diet. According to data from Public Health France, insufficient consumption of dietary fiber is one of the causes of gastrointestinal cancers in France, and therefore approximately 5,000 cancer cases each year are directly attributable to a lack of fiber. Legumes contain soluble fiber, which slows down the absorption of certain sugars and fats, thus reducing the risk of diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer.

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Finally, legumes are also rich in micronutrients: green lentils contain a lot of iron, white beans are rich in manganese, magnesium and vitamin B1, while chickpeas are rich in phosphorous and vitamin B9. Each type of legume provides different micronutrients that are beneficial to the organism, and this will

2- Foods that are low in fat and simple sugars

Another advantage of legumes is that they are low in saturated fats and simple sugars. And that’s fine, because it is precisely these nutrients that we consume in very large amounts in the modern diet, which cause a number of chronic health problems that have increased sharply in recent years. The saturated fats found in animal products (cheese, fatty meats and deli meats) thus promote cardiovascular problems, while the mass presence of simple or refined sugars in our food would promote an increase in diabetes, as well as weight gain and obesity.

So incorporating legumes into your diet is a simple way to enrich your diet without adding these problematic nutrients. Replacing some of the meat we eat with legumes makes it possible to replace high-fat protein with healthy protein. Whereas, including a portion of lentils or peas in your meals in addition to cereals can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, thus lowering the glycemic index of the meal. It is a way to reduce chronic exposure to high levels of glucose in the blood, which contributes to the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

In short, from a health point of view, pulses have all the benefits. For this reason, the National Agency for Food and Occupational Safety and Health (ANSES) recommends eating it at least twice a week, a new standard to consider. Eat the famous “5 fruits and vegetables a day”. In fact, legumes have only one drawback: they contain the so-called “antinutrients”, which have the peculiarity of interfering with the absorption of certain micronutrients such as zinc, copper or iron. However, the effect of these anti-nutrients (phytic acid, oxalic acid) can be reduced by some methods: soaking legumes, cooking, fermenting, germinating, or linking to other foods that inhibit the antinutrients.

3 – Ally for the transition to sustainable agriculture

Legumes are also an ideal food to support the transition to more sustainable agriculture. First, growing legumes produces very little carbon dioxide. Legumes are also among the foods that emit the least carbon dioxide. Regarding the amount of protein they contain, legumes are among the most interesting foods from an ecological point of view and especially from a climatic point of view. If we succeed in incorporating more legumes into our diet, and replacing part of the animal proteins we consume, we can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions associated with agriculture. This transition to a plant-based diet is certainly the easiest evolution to implement to rapidly and dramatically reduce our carbon footprint.

But lentils, peas and other beans are not only of interest from a climatic point of view. In fact, these plants are among the rare crops that can capture and fix nitrogen in the air. Specifically, this bacterium is called rhizobia (Rhizobium leguminosarum), which lives in symbiosis with the roots of nitrogen-fixing legumes. So, determining nitrogen, why is it interesting? To understand this, it is necessary to know that nitrogen is the main fertilizer that allows the development of vegetable crops. Without nitrogen, no cultivation. However, there is not always enough nitrogen in the soil for plants to grow well, which requires agriculture to provide nitrogen by other means to fertilize crops. That is why we use natural fertilizers (manure for example) or chemical fertilizers that contain nitrogen.

The problem is that this nitrogen provided by fertilizers can sometimes transfer to the water, and generate nitrogen pollution, which is the cause of environmental problems (algal blooms for example). It is therefore interesting to find solutions to fix nitrogen in the soil to reduce the need for external fertilizer inputs. Pulses, incorporated into the crop rotation of a farm, partially satisfy this need.

For various environmental reasons, it is especially interesting to include more legumes in our agriculture … and therefore in our diet!

4 – Cheap and practical food

To make matters worse, pulses are very inexpensive foods. Because they are simple to cultivate and often very hardy and resistant plants, the production costs of peas, beans or lentils remain very low.

Even in organic farming, we find legumes at very low prices, between 3 and 6 euros per kilogram. This puts legumes at an equal or even lower level than most vegetables and grains, although they sometimes contain the same amount of protein as meat or fish, which are easily 10 times more expensive.

In other words, pulses are a simple way to enrich your diet without affecting your budget. Another advantage: pulses are very practical. They are dry, keep very good, and are not perishable, which means you can always keep them at home without risking wasting them. Culinary-wise, some varieties (such as coral lentils) are cooked quickly and easily. Others require more time, as they need to be soaked and cooked for a long time (this is the case for chickpeas) but they can also be bought canned for ease of use.

5- Modern legumes in the kitchen

Finally, contrary to popular belief, legumes are far from sad and uninteresting in taste. exactly the contrary. First, the legume family is very rich and diverse. There are dozens of different types of lentils with different tastes: green le beau lentils, black beluga lentils, coral lentils, yellow or brown lentils, red or white beans, partridges, chickpeas, or peas, yellow or green. , as well as dozens of endemic species, all over the world … These different types of legumes have different textures and tastes: coral lentils are tender, almost sweet, with a melted texture that is suitable for soups and purees. Black lentils are almost like caviar, with a slightly firm texture and a nutty taste.

There are hundreds of ways to cook legumes. There are many traditional recipes in French soil, such as lentils Dijonnaise style, brine potatoes with lentils, bean casserole… We can also draw inspiration from other culinary cultures, where legumes are central, such as South Asia, the Middle East or South America. Dahl lentils, chickpeas and red bean stews … with spices, coconut milk, curries and legumes allow for a variety of preparations.

Today, a great gastronomy is to grab legumes and bring them out with a lot of creativity. Lentil falafel, lentil bakery, cream bean, chickpea flour fritters alpakora…Great chefs like Alain Ducasse, Regis Marcon or Pierre Gagnaire (a triple Michelin star) are now putting these at the heart of their dishes.

That’s all the more reason to start, because the range of possibilities is huge for cooking these legumes, which are healthy, ecological, and inexpensive.

Photo by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash

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