Flowering plants are employed extensively in agriculture, with legumes and cereals taking the top two spots. Legumes are large, fleshy, and colorful plant seeds. They include beans, peas, and lentils and are an important part of healthy diets, and provide numerous benefits, such as protein. Legumes come in various varieties, are inexpensive, and are widely available.
Regarded as high-energy foods, legumes are useful in human and animal food, wood, and soil-improving components of agricultural and agroforestry systems. Food-grade legumes typically have other uses as animal fodder and soil amendment. Some are also significant as industrial crops, most notably soybean.
This article highlights the importance of legumes and why you should sow them:
Table of Contents
1. Source of Sustainable Protein
One of the high-demand legumes, soy, is associated with a high concentration of vital amino acids. As such, soy has become a principal source of protein globally, causing the quantity of this legume grown during the past two decades to double. In addition to being the most widely used source of plant protein in the food industry and one of the most nutritious, soy protein is a versatile, cost-effective, and dependable source of protein in food and beverage innovation.
However, the best part of soy protein is its sustainability. Compared to other irrigated crops, like maize, soybeans need much less water during cultivation. As a result, soy protein production uses far less land, energy, and water than animal-based protein production. And compared to the carbon footprints of dairy and meat proteins, soybean is more eco-friendly. As such, soy may be a great sustainable protein source for animals, people, and the earth when grown and processed ethically.
2. Health Benefits
Nutrient-wise, legumes score very high. Although low in calories, they are high in protein and fiber. Listed as a Low Glycemic Index (GI) food by The American Diabetes Association, legumes’ delayed release of carbs benefits the body, brain, and nervous system list. Besides maintaining blood glucose levels, legumes may help improve weight management, heart health, and cholesterol levels.
In addition, the nutritional value of legumes is comparable to that of meat but without iron and saturated fats. Legumes are a fantastic substitute for meat and dairy due to their high protein content. Many vegetarians and vegans replace meat with legumes. Plant proteins, fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc are all abundant in legumes.
Moreover, antioxidants in beans and legumes may help protect cells from harm, ward off illness, and slow the aging process. Fiber and other nutrients are good for digestion and may even protect against certain types of intestinal cancer.
3. Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emission
The importance of environmental responsibility in modern consumer choices has grown. For reasons of personal and ecological health, consumers are increasingly opting for plant-based alternatives.
In the coming years, ensuring food security, reducing the danger of climate change, and meeting the rising energy needs will become increasingly important concerns. As a result, agriculture and food systems are increasingly centered on sustainable production.
Legume crops might be particularly useful in this situation because they offer a variety of sustainable functions. Legumes provide a vital, global source of wholesome food and animal feed and help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Compared to other crops, legumes release 5-7 times less greenhouse gas per unit area.
4. Human Nutrition
Legumes have provided a substantial portion of the human diet since prehistoric times. Throughout the world, legumes serve as a dietary staple due to their high nutritional value. They are a low-cost way to get protein, vitamins, complex carbs, and fiber into your diet. South Asia depends on lentils, pigeon peas, and chickpeas. Chickpeas, lentils, and fava beans are important in the Middle East and North Africa. Tofu, peanut butter, and soymilk are all common foods made from legumes.
Regarding nutrition, legume seeds have two to three times more protein than cereal grains. Some legumes, like soy and peanuts, also have a lot of oil. In Latin America, many people eat kidney beans and other legumes. According to research, legumes are a great source of protein and fiber, and the second most important food group for humans after grains. Iron, phosphorus, calcium, niacin, lysine, and amino acids are just a few of the many nutrients that legumes provide, making them a welcome addition to people’s diets worldwide.
5. Animal Food
As people’s diets get better in all countries, there is a rise in the demand for animal products like milk, butter, eggs, and meat. Animal feeds with a lot of protein are the only way to meet this need, and grain legumes are the most used in animal feed.
Forage legumes, such as alfalfa, vetch, and clover, produce foliage and smaller seeds fed to livestock and wild animals. During the winter, these legumes are harvested naturally, through grazing, or mechanically to make hay for animals. Flowering legumes, in addition to their foliage, provide nectar for insects and birds.
And since legumes have more crude protein, digestible energy, calcium, and magnesium than grasses, they are planted with grasses in a forage system to improve the nutritional value of the forage.
6. Soil Improvement
Legume crops, also known as green manure crops, can be planted during crop rotation to enrich the soil and protect it from wind and rain damage until a new crop is grown in that location. The nutrients accumulated by legume residues are returned to the soil when left on the field. When legume mulch is combined with soil erosion prevention practices, the added organic material helps to maintain and even improve soil fertility.
During the growth cycle, leguminous crops add nitrogen and other organic nutrients to the soil. Legumes convert unusable nitrogen into ammonia in a process known as nitrogen fixation.
Besides being used in animal and human food, legumes are also used in manufacturing. Gums, tannins, resins, dyes, and essential oils, extracted from legumes are used to produce drugs, perfumes, cooking oils, and colorants. These components are derived from legume bark, wood, foliage, and pulses.
Some legume species provide green manure for crops, and many tree legumes are being planted in many countries as part of agroforestry, soil restoration, and erosion control programs. Legumes, no doubt, are an essential part of agriculture that is in high demand.