Pulses are highly nutritious edible seeds, essential for a healthy and climate-resilient diet. That is why February 10 is celebrated as World Legume Day. The day was officially designated by the United Nations General Assembly in December 2018, in recognition of the positive properties of these foods and with the aim of promoting their consumption.
There is a wide variety of edible legumes. Among the best-known and most consumed are lentils, chickpeas, beans, broad beans, peanuts, peas, kidney beans, soybeans, lupines and alfalfa. Along with grains and some fruits, vegetables, and roots, these seeds have fed humanity for millennia. Depending on the species, legumes have different origins —such as Mesopotamia, pre-Columbian America and Eastern Asia—, constituting one of the basic foods for various cultures since Neolithic times. Being highly valued, in some places they even served as a bargaining chip.
Legumes are characterized by their high content of essential nutrients. Although their properties vary depending on the species, in general terms they are rich in protein, energy and micronutrients such as iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, sodium, potassium, selenium and vitamins, especially those of the B complex, and A, E and C. In addition, the fat they provide is good and healthy, and they don’t have cholesterol. Although it is believed that plant proteins are of lower quality than those of animal origin, the truth is that what we need to consume are 11 essential amino acids that our body doesn’t produce on its own, which we can obtain without problems by combining legumes with cereals. This means that the proteins in these seeds are equally nutritious if we eat a varied diet based on plants, fungi and algae. In addition, various studies have shown that the consumption of legumes contributes to overall health due to their high fiber and antioxidant content, helping to prevent obesity, heart disease and diabetes, among other diseases.
Currently, a large number of legumes are used to feed animals raised for human consumption, which has led to the expansion of monocultures full of pesticides that are harmful to animals —mainly insects—, human health, and the planet in general. But this is something relatively recent taking into account the long history of legumes, it is related to the increase in animal consumption, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Compared to meat and other products derived from animal exploitation, legumes are much more ecologically efficient, as they need much less land and water to produce the same amount of nutrients. In addition, produced responsibly, they help to fix nutrients in the soil. This is why legumes are considered essential for food security.
Apart from their excellent nutritional properties, legumes are highly versatile, so they can be used for traditional dishes such as stews, soups, and others, but they are also among the basic ingredients of plant-based meat, milk and cheese, and replace eggs in different recipes, making eating a vegan and environmentally friendly diet easier and at the same time very healthy.
With such a wide variety of these fabulous foods available, which allow us to have a varied diet, mimic foods we are culturally accustomed to, and get so many nutrients at the same time, why do we continue to abuse and torture animals to feed on their bodies?