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Fun facts that will convince you that legumes and pulses deserve a place in your diet

How many things do you know about legumes and pulses? Chickpeas, kidney beans, dry peas, broad beans, lentils, split yellow peas: they are all part of the same family and a really great plant-based source of protein. Here are some legumes and pulses fun facts that might convince you to show them more love and add them to your diet!

How old are legumes?
The answer is very old! According to evident, found by archeologists in Iraq and Greece, pulses already existed during the Stone Age. What does this mean? It means that our ancestors used pulses when cooking 70,000 years ago.

Are pulses and legumes the same? 
While nowadays many consider these two words the same, in reality, there is a slight difference. The word 'pulses' derives from Latin "puls" and means "thick, gruel, porridge, mush".  It is used to describe the dry grain or the edible seed of the legume plant such as lentils or beans. This excludes vegetable crops such as green beans, green peas, or legumes like soyabeans that are used for oil extraction. Pulses are part of legume family. 

On the other hand the term 'legumes' includes all plants from the legume plant family including pulses, but also leaves, stems and therefore green peas, green beans and other vegetable corps.
Legume facts - lentils
Are peanuts considered legumes?
As mentioned above , legumes are commonly known as the edible seeds of pods. This  includes beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas. But did you know that also soybeans and peanuts belong to the same family of the Leguminosae? However, they contain much higher amount of fat compared to other legumes; that's why peanut seeds are used to make peanut oil and peanut butter while soybeans' fat is used for oil and margarine production.     

Are legumes and pulses a source of protein? 
Yes, legumes and pulses are a good plant-based protein source and they have been considered so, since ancient times. They provide not only protein, but also a high amount of starch. This means they will give you a lot of energy. Also, they are an excellent source of fibers which can contribute to a better intestinal function.  

Moreover, they provide a fair amount of  vitamin B, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorous, calcium and potassium.  The best part? Most legumes, apart from soybeans and peanuts, are low in fat. 

Is there a right way to eat legumes and pulses? 
If your diet doesn't already include legumes and pulses, it's better to increase your intake gradually. Start with one serving per week, then increase it to two and eventually to at least 3 servings per week. 
Dried pulses need to be soaked for at least 12 hours, changing the water once or twice. After soaking, don't forget to rinse them under cold water. Slow cook them, adding salt at the end. For extra flavour don't hesitate to use herbs such as rosemary, sage, fennel, oregano or ginger.
Legume facts: different types of pulses on a table
What are the health benefits of eating legumes? 
Various studies have shown that consuming legumes and pulses as part of your diet provides various health benefits such as reduction of cholesterol, sugar and fat absorption, positive impact on managing blood pressure, etc. In addition, starch, fibers and  protein existing in legumes and pulses promote satiety. Moreover they provide certain bioactive compounds (e.g. isoflavones, saponins, phytates etc.) which have protective effects on our health. 

How many species of legumes are there?
There are nearly 20,000 species belonging to the Fabaceae or Leguminosae family, in other words, the legume family. In fact, did you know that it is the third largest family of flowering plants after the sunflower and orchid family?

However only a few of them are harvested for human consumption. The most common are chickpeas (Cicer arietinum), pigeon peas (Cajanus cajan), cowpeas oir black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata), mung beans (Vigna radiata), urdbeans (Vigna mungo), lentils (Lens culinaris), French beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), horse gram (Macrotyloma uniflorum), field peas (Pisum sativum), Indian peas or chickling peas (Lathyrus sativus), fava beans or broad beans (Vicia faba), Adzuki beans (Vigna angularis), and soybeans (Glycine max). 
Legumes and pulses: fun facts - beans in water
Are legumes sustainable? 
Generally speaking yes. Thanks to their features, legumes can be considered relatively sustainable in terms of farming and consumption. They play a key role in transitioning towards healthier diets, such as the Planetary Health Diet, as well as more sustainable food systems. For example, legumes release less greenhouse gas emissions compared to other crops (source: Harvard) while they can also produce their own nitrogen from the atmosphere, which means reduced amounts of fertilizers. 

Which country consumes the most pulses per capita? 
When it comes to pulses, Afghanistan (average 122,7g/day), Vietnam (104,7 g/day), Sri Lanka 89,6g/day), Brasil (83,0 g/day), and Israel (75,3g/day) are amongst the countries with the highest consumption levels while Norway (1,2g/day), Switzerland (2,9g/day), and Poland (3,7g/day) are among the countries with the lowest consumption levels. 

When it comes to European countries, UK (44,8g/day), Romania (34,6g/day), Spain (22,9g/day), Slovenia (20,1g/day), and Ireland (25,5g/day) are some of the countries with the highest consumption levels while Italy has an average consumption of 14,9g per day (source: Hughes et al 2022).