Legumes are a family of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside them. Popular legumes are peas, beans and peanuts. These plants play a pivotal role in the diets of many regions throughout the globe. They are low in fat and are very good source of protein, dietary fiber, and several micronutrients. This article is going to focus on whether legumes are vegetables, paleo and if they are bad.
What are Legumes?
As mentioned, Legumes are a family of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside them. The popular ones are peas, beans, lentils and other prodded plants that play a role in food consumption. These plants have been cultivated over centuries and have featured in people’s diets for generations.
Several regions around the world have had legumes play a role in their traditional diets, for example a lot of Mexican dishes tend to have beans. Same goes for African, Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
This family of plants also fix nitrogen to the ground from the atmosphere. Nitrogen contains amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. This leads to legumes having a very high protein content and are a rich source of healthy fibers. The fact that they are a good source of protein helps make non meat eaters eating legumes have protein in their diet. Legumes are not only nutritious but tend to be cheaper so this also makes them very accessible to a whole range of people.
Origins of Legumes
Legumes have been part of human diet for a long time now, finding out where legumes originate from is of particular interest to anyone curious enough. History dictates that some of the first plants to be cultivated in the Mediterranean were legumes. Legumes date as far back as 6000 BC. Evidence of lentil cultivation was found in the Egyptian pyramids. Archaeologists discovered pulse production that could date to 3300 BC.
Some historians argue that man used these plants because they discovered that legumes were good at enriching the soil. They had no idea of their nutritional content initially. The Romans placed a huge emphasis on using these crops to reinvigorate the soil and practiced systematic use of crop rotation.
Signs of Legume cultivation could also be found in America. Particularly North and South America. The natives of this land had agricultural practices which did not neglect legumes. Early European immigrants found that in the America, the native people cultivated legumes such as beans, tepary and mesquite.
In African history legumes also played an important role with regard to diet and crop rotation. Legumes such as beans were and are still been used by several tribes.
Before the early explorers left their native countries to see the world, legumes cultivation still existed around the world. This goes to show that legumes have always been integral to the diet of several cultures around the world.
Some facts about Legumes
Legumes tend to have properties that when in a human’s body goes beyond traditional nutrition. Here are what some legumes contain that are massively beneficial to man:
Red beans have a high antioxidant content. Antioxidants protect the body from formation of free radicals that could be potentially harmful and can result in cancer and other diseases. One fruit known to have a high antioxidant content are blueberries and when compared to red beans, gram for gram red beans have a high antioxidant content. Red beans are also a good source of iron.
Kidney beans present a good source of fiber. They are also a good source of antioxidants and in the legume world, their antioxidant content ranks in second after red beans. This is according to the USDA’s list
Black-eyed beans have the highest calcium content compared to any other bean, calcium is good for strengthening bones and improving the cardiovascular system. They are also a good source of folate and magnesium. Magnesium has several benefits to the body and one popular benefit is that it helps with constipation. Black beans on the other hand are a very good antioxidant beam source and a good source of magnesium.
Pinto beans rank higher than blueberries on the antioxidant scale. It has also been proved that these beans are a good source of selenium. Selenium has many benefits to the human body. Some of them include boosting the human system, bettering cognitive function and helping improve fertility in both male and females.
Green peas are a very good source of manganese, vitamin K and dietary fiber to mention a few. Vitamin k plays a role in blood clotting and manganese helps to create essential enzymes for building bones. Green peas have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Consumption of legumes is very beneficial to the body but like most things the consumption of these plants has to be balanced out. Not preparing legumes well or not eating them in moderation may result in some undesired effects. The next section will discuss it further.
Are Legumes bad?
The most common connotation found with regard to legumes being bad is that they are associated with, been a,” poor man’s relish”. To be more specific the legume that carries this assumption are beans. This is not a wide held belief but in certain societies or geographic locations this theory exists. That is not to say they are bad entirely even in these circles because people still acknowledge the nutritional value one can get from consuming legumes, in this case beans.
Unfortunately there is a downside to all the nutritional qualities legumes boast, the shortcoming being that they contain anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are substances that can interfere with digestion and absorption of any nutrients. Most common anti-nutrients found in legumes are phytic acid, lectins, saponins, oligosaccharides and trypsin inhibitors. The following paragraphs will go into more detail concerning the effects these anti-nutrients may have.
Phytic Acid/ Phytate can be found in most plants of an edible nature and legumes fall into this category. The downside with Phytic acid is that it can impair the absorption of minerals in the body and this can increase the risk of having mineral deficiencies later on. Some of the minerals it slows down absorption for include zinc, iron and calcium. This scenario mentioned is of particular concern if the person’s diet does not include meat and consists mainly of grains and legumes. However with meat eaters the effects are not so bad because the absorption of iron and zinc from meat is sufficient, even when Phytic acid is present. Possible strategies to help reduce Phytate content are soaking, sprouting and fermentation.
Lectins are also found in legumes and can make up to ten percent of the protein content in them. The problem to the body that Lectins presents is that they resist digestion and some may even affect the cells lining the intestinal tract. Lectins have different variations and one well studied one is Phytohemagglutinin. Phytohemagglutinin can be very toxic when consumed in high amounts especially when the legumes containing it is raw or undercooked. One type of legume this is found in, would be Red kidney beans. In most legumes the content of Phytohemagglutinin isn’t so high as to cause serious symptoms in human beings. To prevent lectins having serious effects, one should soak legumes overnight and boil at standard boiling point temperatures (100 degrees Celsius). This helps reduce Phytohemagglutinin content as well as content of other legume Lectin variations.
Saponins are a diverse source of nutrients found in plants, and the plant in this case is legumes. Many different variations of Saponins can be found in the same legume. The downside with Saponins is that they form insoluble compounds in the digestive system hence making them resistant to digestion. This may affect the cells lining the gut.
The conclusion with anti-nutrients is that their content is high with raw legumes. Preparing legumes properly tends to either get rid of most of them or reduces the content to safer levels. So this means all in all legumes are not bad because if they are prepared properly, they have a high nutritional content that benefits the human body.
Are Legumes vegetables?
This is a question most people don’t ask, because the basic assumption is that every green plant is a vegetable. Legumes are green sometimes and based on the layman’s description of vegetables, green legumes would be classified as vegetables.
In order to determine whether legumes are vegetables or not, the definitions of the two needs to be revisited. In the Scientific community vegetables would be classified as the part of the plant that does contain seeds or sprout flowers. Roots, stems, leaves and tubers all fit into this definition. Legumes as defined before are a family of plants that produce a pod with seeds inside them.
Another difference between the two is that legumes have nitrogen-fixing bacteria while vegetables do not. This means that legumes will leave nitrates in the soil that will fertilize it while vegetables use up the nitrates and do not replace them. This is why most cultures use Legumes for crop rotation because they are able to restore nutrients to the soil.
After looking at the definitions of vegetables and legumes it can be seen that legumes are not vegetables. Added to that legumes can convert inert nitrogen to nitrates which fertilizes the soil, while vegetables do not convert nitrogen to nitrates in the processing using up the nitrates that were present in the soil before.
Are Legumes Paleo?
Paleo diet simply put, is a diet that relates to the hunter and gatherer era. So foods that could typically be grouped into what Paleo dieting is, meats, fish, fruits and anything that could be hunted or gathered. In modern times this diet would equate to having fruits, beef, chicken and fish.
During the hunter and gatherer phase, cultivating groups wasn’t given any attention. Legumes are crops that need to be cultivated, and serious cultivation of crops only started in the Iron Age. Records from the history books show that old civilizations such as ancient Egypt cultivated legumes such as peas, old world beans and alfalfa.
Due to Legumes only been present in an era when cultivation of crops was essential for survival, and Paleo been something that was practiced in the hunter and gatherer era. One can assume that legumes are not Paleo due to the evidence available.