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What Are Legumes & Pulses?

You already know you should be eating them, but do you know what legumes are? Well, the term “legumes” actually covers a variety of different foods, all of which are an amazing source of plant-based protein.
These bite-sized superfoods don’t just taste great. They’re vital as part of a balanced diet and they’re super versatile, too. You’re probably already eating legumes (sometimes called “pulses”) in many of your meals and snacks and you don’t even know it!
To clear things up and help you sneak more legumes into your diet, let’s take a look at what exactly a legume is, their colourful history and why they deserve all of the praise they’re getting.

 

 

Different types of legume

As we already mentioned, multiple different foods can be classed as “Legumes”. Technically, a legume is a plant in the botanical family “Leguminosae”. Check out this list of legumes below:

The history of the Legume

Legumes have a fascinating history and their goodness is spread all over the planet, with around 20,000 different species growing worldwide! But where and when were they first discovered? You may be surprised to learn that the first legumes sprouted around 59 million years ago!

The exact location isn’t known, but experts speculate it could have been Africa. Wherever it was, legumes quickly grew “legs” and spread around the world, picking up their defining characteristics on the way and further diversifying themselves from other plants. They were quickly becoming their very own category.

One quality that sets legumes apart from other plants is their ability to obtain nitrogen, which is what makes them an excellent source of protein. Before our ancestors knew how good legumes were for us, they began using them to enrich soil.

Where would we be without the Legume

Legume are good for more than contributing to a tasty soup or bowl of chilli con carne. Since they also nourish the soil, they’re an important part of the harvesting industry. Legumes soak up nitrogen from the atmosphere and when they’re added to soil, plant species are able to get the nitrogen they need.

For that reason, farmers value legumes highly, plowing them into the soil to help their crops to grow. Even after they’ve been harvested, this nitrogen remains in the soil. They’re widely regarded as the “green manure” which offers a cost-effective way to grow plants, reducing the need for commercial fertilisers.

In simplified terms, without the legume, many plant species would struggle to get the nitrogen they need and the production of food would likely slow down or become more expensive.

 

The health benefits of Legumes

Are you getting enough protein in the form of these little beans? Check out the health benefits of legumes if you need a little more convincing.

  • They’re a great source of protein. Protein is something that most people want to pack into their diet to power the body’s functions. Most legumes are high in amino acids; they’re the building blocks of protein.
  • They’re full of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Beans contain vital nutrients such as zinc, iron, magnesium, fibre and folate (which fights against fatigue, weakness and heart problems).
  • They’re rich in antioxidants. Sprinkling some legumes onto your lunch, dinner or snacks is a simple way to get more antioxidants into your diet, which are important for fighting against processes like aging and inflammation.
  • They could keep your heart healthy. Studies have shown that people who consume beans are less likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems, heart attacks or strokes. They could also help to keep cholesterol levels low.
  • They could lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. Diets rich in plant-based foods, including legumes, as well as one that’s low in processed foods, could lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Studies found that patients who already had type 2 diabetes benefited from moving towards this kind of diet, significantly improving their lipid control.

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