What are legumes?

What are legumes in a world increasingly desperate for cheap protein? With the Earth's population set to rise dramatically this is a question we will be forced to understand, whether we like it not.

It costs a fraction of the price of red meat to provide us with protein from chickpeas, green beans and lentils. Moreover it uses far less water and unlike cattle and pigs reduces global warming gases, rather than contributing further to climate change.

This raises issues of possible short term gain for the obese wanting to avoid legumes for protein because of their starch at the long term expense of the planet.

Added to that, the World Health Organisation has declared that red meat is 'probably' cancer causing, certainly the way animals are raised today. If they were reared in the wild, free range, that most likely would be 'possibly.'

These are unpleasant facts for many of us, and we will no doubt continue to be ostriches, but the laws of nature are merciless.

Whether we like it not, in the very near future, we will be compelled to get initially some and then later most of our protein from beans and peas. In fact once you learn to cook with them, they are delicious and healthful; you won't need statins for example to lower cholesterol, and will not be continually and painfully dieting, but able to enjoy your food without guilt.

What are legumes?

What are legumes is also important to grasp for those on a very low starch diet such as Banting or Paleo.

Combining green beans and tomato is so important in the fight against breast and prostate cancer. Cooking green beans of course is a cinch. 

Legumes can be divided into those which are a fruit, like  green beans and peas, and those grown for their dry seeds like lentils; there is much overlap, and the distinction is not important.

1. Fruits: green beans and peas

2. Dry seeds

  • Pulses: dried beans and peas and lentils.
  • Oil seeds: soya beans and peanuts. 

What characterises legumes is that they are a rich source of vegetable protein; broad beans (aka fava beans) have the highest amount at 25%).

They also have a large amount of starch which unlike that from potatoes and wheat, for example, is digested not in the small intestine, producing a surge in blood glucose, but in the colon where it is fermented by the bugs to healthy short chain fatty acids. The glycemic response to legumes is central to all those whose diets call for avoidance of peas and beans.

Herein lies the controversy for those on very low carbohydrate diets; they have been fed fake news that the starch in legumes will make you fat, and should be avoided at all costs; it is unnecessarily irksome.

One other important fact when considering what are legumes is that their roots have nodules filled with bacteria that can harvest atmospheric nitrogen and turn it into important fertilizer for other plants. The only other natural source on Earth is lightening.

So, growing beans and peas is important for the gardener, not just for their nutritional value as food, but also because of the great benefit and savings in providing nitrogen for subsequent crops.

These nitrogen fixation bacteria are obviously vitally important when trying to reduce our reliance on inorganic fertilizers for our gardens and farms. It's no coincidence that innovative farmers follow a crop of corn or wheat with soyabeans, for example.

This is all part of what we call permaculture; working with nature, rather than against it.

Bernard Preston's favourite dried pulse is the chickpea, though we grow large amounts of pole beans, green garden peas, limas and favas. All have their virtues, and help getting us off a reliance on red meat for protein.

Don't get me wrong, we are not vegetarians, but we recognise that if we want to live long in the land, and enjoy a life without medication, what are legumes must be uppermost in our minds. We have trained our tongues to love hummus and broad beans because they so promote a long and healthy life. Who actually wants to get Parkinson's disease or cancer, and take pills to lower cholesterol? Ring in the changes before the day of reckoning arrives, is our motto; that means today.

There is a tide in the fortunes of men that, taken at the flood, leads on to sparkling good health, to crib from the bard; and it's in part to discover what are legumes.

Are beans very starchy is something that may be concerning you; yes, they have some carbohydrate, less than a third of a slice of cheesecake.

Healthy hummus recipe

Legumes to be quite honest are not the most interesting and flavoursome foods; rather, we eat them because they are good for us. By adding different herbs and spices, and concoctions such as tahini we balance their proteins and enhance their value, making them tasty and satisfying our hunger pangs; satiety is one of their many virtues.

This healthy hummus recipe must be the most obvious example; we enjoy it almost every day. Vegetarians love it because the balance of amino acids is important for them, more so than for us meat lovers, and we take a leaf from their book.

Famished? Have a large spoonful of hummus, rather than a candy bar.

Don't buy it at the supermarket by the way; it's loaded with preservatives that detracts from the taste and value, and you can make it yourself in only five minutes; I've done so twice a week for the last ten years. I have the T-shirt!

Cooking chickpeas and freezing chickpeas are central to making your own health-giving and inexpensive hummus in your own kitchen. Don't buy the cans if you are planning to do this regularly.

Broad beans and Parkinson's disease

Any blog on what are legumes must surely include something on the importance of broad beans and Parkinson's disease. They are the only source of compounds from food called Dopa that are able to cross the blood-brain barrier where they are converted to L-dopamine, a very important neurotransmitter.

Normally, L-dopamine is produced by two nuclei in the mid brain called the Substantia Nigra; toxic chemicals may destroy these neurons that synthesize dopamine causing Parkinson's disease; the nitrate preservative in processed meat has been fingered. So too has constipation and a dearth of the healthy bugs found in the large intestine; research shows this creates the environment for pathogens that produce the chemicals that foster the neurodegerative diseases in the brain.

Enjoying a handful of broad beans, also known as favas, enables many Parkinson's sufferers to cope with their disease without having to take drugs.

Fava beans nutrition are important for anyone who wants to eat less meat, and also for those who look forward to a life without medication. Only enjoy them when they are fresh and young; old and starchy, they're not much fun.

You won't find them in the shops so you'll have to find out how to plant broad beans. They are the richest source of plant protein of all legumes; about 25%.

I'm glad that we save bean seeds. This year, 2018, broad bean seeds are not to be had in South Africa for love nor money; I'm really not sure why, but I wonder what Parkinson's sufferers are doing, those that rely on them for L-Dopa.

Luckily every year we can back seeds from our lima, Witsa and broad beans.

From the garden

Mixed kale and beans make wonderful nutritious greens, fit for a king who has no desire to go blind, or have a stroke; it's all about lutein and vegetable protein.

Turning it into eggs Hilton makes the perfect healthy breakfast that won't like cereal cause your blood glucose to soar, and you won't be famished at 11 o'clock.

There's a relative simple cycle that enables one to enjoy the fruit of your studies about what are legumes directly from the garden.

In Spring, after the danger of frost is over, find out about growing green beans; they are a wonderful source of the 'fruit legumes'; it's astonishing how long just a few pole beans will go on bearing, and providing the family with a vegetable source of protein.

In early Summer, it's time to figure out growing lima beans; they need a long time to mature and patience is needed. Roll on the sufferin' succotash.

In late Summer, and in Spring for that matter, it's all about how to plant broad beans, also known as favas.

Well before Winter we need to know about how to grow peas to get them established before the cold sets in.

So, there you have it, from the garden you can enjoy legumes for most of the year. Add to them the lentils and chickpeas, and we have little need for red meat; by 2050 our burgeoning population will simply be forced to eat this way. We do it willingly, simply to enjoy better health; we have no desire to get cancer, or have a stroke. It's an important step too if you want to enjoy your meals without a pillbox on the table.

This peanut and ginger sauce is another of our legume-rich condiments to brighten up a green salad.

Useful links

Here are a few more useful links at what are legumes.

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. What are legumes

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