They star in the recommendations of all types of organizations, from the United Nations to the WHO, and they even have a day of global celebration, February 10, that tries to remember their values and their potential. They are legumes, which have been disappearing from Spanish dishes as the decades have passed. The passing of the years has taken them from being the queens of grandma’s stew to becoming, almost, an ingredient that awaits from the margins of the occasional.
“In effect, consumption has decreased significantly,” concedes Manuel Moñino, dietician-nutritionist, member of the scientific knowledge management area of the Spanish Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In the 1960s, the average daily consumption was 41 grams per person of legumes. It was between 4.6 and 3.6 servings per week. In the 2000s, the expert explains, there were already 1.5 servings. According to the latest Enalia study, each adult eats 10 grams of legumes a day. Spain is thus very far from the healthy eating recommendations, which speak of 4 weekly servings of this delicious food.
But why have we stopped eating legumes? At the heart of the change is the modification of eating habits and access to new products. Legumes were especially popular when the average Spanish population could not easily access more expensive products, such as meat, whose consumption rose in comparison to the diet of the 60s versus that of the 90s. As pointed out Helena Moreno, Greenpeace’s head of sustainable food systems, meat consumption has doubled.
The decline of legumes has, however, more edges. Moreno talks about “a change in the food system”, in how what we eat is produced and how it is consumed. “Consumption of fresh products has been reduced,” he exemplifies.
The truth is that they not only disappeared from the table, but they also disappeared from the fields. Spain grows collard greens, peas and lentils, Moreno points out, and the weight of animal consumption in this production is very high. A walk through a supermarket reading the labels of the legumes serves to practically visualize another of the key data that the expert gives: almost all of them come from China, the United States and Canada, very distant destinations.
Moñino lists “the loss of culinary skills, the association of legumes with some very fatty and caloric preparations, the lack of time to dedicate to cooking and food in general, the offer of pre-cooked foods, and especially, the high consumption of meats and derivatives” as potential causes of the decline of legumes. In fact, this food has been connected to the idea that it requires long periods of preparation – experts clarify this – and, in a fast-paced world, this works against it.
While this occurs, its high potential is lost sight of. If legumes have managed to sneak into all the healthy and sustainable diet recommendations, it is not by chance, but because of their very good values. They are good for people and they are good for the environment. “They are an exceptional dish,” summarizes Moreno.
One of the keys to fighting the climate emergency could be found in grandma’s pot. “They have many environmental benefits,” says the head of Greenpeace. Thus, for example, they fix nitrogen in the soil, they have a very low water footprint —20 times less than meat—, they adapt well to climate change or they usually participate in crop rotations, which helps in the preservation of biodiversity.
For human health, they help in many areas. “Legumes are the queens of vegetable protein and an essential food in the Mediterranean diet, a dietary pattern that has demonstrated its impact on reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases or diabetes, among others,” explains Moñino.
They are “rich in proteins and complex carbohydrates” and provide fiber, B vitamins and minerals; with the addition that “they do not contain fat or cholesterol.” “Its regular consumption has been related to reducing the risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases and cancer,” he adds. The nutrition expert clarifies, however, that its impact “derives from the dietary pattern as a whole.” That is, legumes should be part of a healthy and balanced diet.
Of course, other intangible values must be added, such as “the cultural value that these foods have,” as Moreno points out. Food—we must not forget—is also part of culture.
How to recover them in the diet
Changing those statistics that speak of a decline of legumes in the diet is possible. In a way, there are already signs of hope for its ‘revival’. As Moreno points out, the success of some cuisines in recent years has helped change a certain vision of legumes. Humus is, in the end, chickpeas, even if it is presented in a new way and we find it especially attractive.
Some tips help put legumes back on the plate. First, we should forget the idea that they require a lot of time. “They can be done very quickly,” says Moreno. There are already varieties that do not require hours and hours of soaking and there are recipes that do not involve going through long cooking in a pot.
As Moniño points out, “they can be consumed in traditional recipes, with abundant vegetables, and if applicable, with small amounts of meat or derivatives” but also “in the form of hummus, purees and creams for your first courses, or even in side dishes. ». They can even become appetizers. Seasonal cuisine allows you to experiment with various forms of presentation. They can be salads and cold creams, even spreads for bread. In the pantry they can also be dried, canned or frozen.
Then, you could say that you have to know yourself. The nutrition expert recommends, first of all, choosing “the ones you like the most” among the many varieties of legumes. Nor do you necessarily have to go from 0 to 100 in your consumption. “Try to gradually take it at least once a week, to gradually increase it over the months,” he recommends. Progressively, you will move towards those 3 to 4 recommended servings.
Likewise, it is important to think about what you buy. Moreno invites us to look for “local vegetables.” Paying attention to the places of production or looking for quality seals or designations of origin helps. Not only will this help maintain biodiversity in crops, but it will also reduce the footprint of what we eat. Here, the head of food and agriculture at Greenpeace points out the value of helping farmers to bet on these crops. Taking into account the challenges facing the Spanish countryside, they could be another incentive – “Legumes are naturally a crop that adapts to drought,” she explains.
This news article has been translated from the original language to English by WorldsNewsNow.com.
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