What if you could get all the proteins and fats you want and need, and be all climate-conscious at the same time? It turns out, you can! In this article, we’ll take a closer look at nuts, seeds, and legumes, three foods that help make sure you’re well-nourished, even if you cut back a bit on animal products.
What characterizes nuts, seeds and legumes, and why should I eat them?
Nuts and seeds are a healthy alternative or supplement to animal fat, and apart from being a super tasty and portable snack or meal topping, their health benefits include:
Nuts and seeds are rich in both heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats which lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol. And speaking of unsaturated fats: chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts are great sources of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), the plant-based form of Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Both nuts and seeds are rich in important Vitamins, Minerals, and phytochemicals.
- Nuts and seeds also contain good amounts of protein and fibre that can help keep you satiated and keep your blood sugar stable.
One thing to keep in mind though, before you go crazy with the trail mix, is that they are both nuts and seeds are fairly calorie dense, and that means moderation is key. Research shows that you can reap considerable health benefits with a modest daily portion of about half a handful of nuts per day.
Legumes are a group of vegetables including lentils, beans and peas. Apart from being a very rich source plant protein (the most protein-rich are soybeans, lentils, black beans and kidney beans) legumes also provide plenty of slow-releasing carbohydrates that won’t spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. They are high in folate, iron, magnesium and potassium and have good amounts of fibre.
Although legumes are higher in protein than most other vegetables, their essential amino acid profile isn’t 100% complete - they have low quantities of the essential amino acid methionine compared to grains but have higher levels of the essential amino acid lysine, which grains are lacking. This is important to note, so you can vary your diet to make sure you’re getting all the essential amino acids that you may be used to getting easily through dairy and meat.
To give you some inspiration, here is a list of some of the most popular legumes and some ideas on how to incorporate them into your diet:
- Lentils- Lentils are great in soups, stews and salads and are a staple in many delicious Indian Recipes
- Chickpeas - you can make hummus with chickpeas, lemon, and tahini (sesame seed paste) or enjoy them on their own
- Beans - black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans etc. - These beans are great in salads or as a filler in warm dishes or wraps
- Soybean products: Tofu is derived from soybeans, and can be marinated and cooked in many ways to keep your meals varied and interesting
- Edamame beans ( immature soybeans) - These can be eaten as a tasty snack, or as topping on a salad or bowl
Additional fact, research has found that in populations where legumes are a diet staple have a higher life expectancy, which isn’t surprising considering their uniquely solid nutritional profile. This was published in The Blue Zones where researcher Dan Buettner investigated different populations in the world with the highest concentrations of centenarians (people who live past 100 years).
Are all nuts, seeds and legumes good for the environment?
Not only are legumes healthy, nutritious and affordable: they’re also pretty darned sustainable. Here is an overview of the legumes with the lowest carbon footprint:
- Lentils: Lentils have been named the most ’’climate-friendly’’ protein by the Environmental Working Group, emitting only 0.9kg of CO2 per kg consumed after all emissions involved in production and postproduction are taken into account. This is 40 times less CO2 per kg than the emissions from lamb, one of the highest emitting animal proteins, and 7 times less than chicken, the lowest emitting animal protein.
- Beans: Another key source of plant protein, beans emit no more than 2 kg of CO2 per kg consumed
- Garden Peas: Garden peas (along with peanuts) are a nitrogen-fixing plant, which means they are able to capture atmospheric nitrogen and convert into plant usable nitrogen, which reduces the need for fertilizer and leaves soil rich with nutrients after harvest. They also fare well in cooler conditions, which can make them a local alternative to soy in colder countries.
Soybeans are a contentious legume right now: the soybean industry is guilty of widespread deforestation which has an impact not only on our ecosystems but also on smaller independent farmers and indigenous peoples in the affected areas. What’s important to keep in mind with soy is that 80% per cent of the soybeans produced are used as animal feed, and it takes about 3-8 kg of soybeans to produce 0.5 kg of beef; not the most efficient way of using the crop. To avoid contributing to unethical soybean production, you can try to find out where manufacturers source their soya from.
The perfect soy source lives up to the following criteria:
- Soy that is not grown in rainforest regions
- Soy that is grown as part of a crop rotation system
Is handled by manufacturers that use the entire crop, not just the bean inside the husk
When it comes to nuts and seeds, it is a mixed bag, and if you find it interesting it’s not a bad idea to look up what nuts and seeds are produced locally and are in season in your area.
If you are US-based for example, peanuts (technically a legume!) are grown in the south, hazelnuts are grown in the West, and neither require the same extreme amount of water that almond, walnuts, and pistachios do. It takes 4.9 gallons of water to grow one walnut, 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond, and 75 gallons to grow single pistachio, which contributes to widespread droughts in California -where most almonds are produced- as well as disturbing wild ecosystems and depleting valuable groundwater. It’s important to note that it’s not always black and white with regards to local being better: Brazil nuts, for example, don’t grow well without a diverse ecosystem, and buying them gives farmers an economic incentive to preserve rainforest lands.
Nut seeds and legumes are a great example of the concept that what is a good choice for your personal health can also be what is best for the environment. Making choices about what we eat that keep this symbiosis in mind can go a long way in terms of reducing carbon emissions, and in the recipe below we show that it can taste pretty great too!
About ½ L or 3 cups … more than you can eat at once
10-12 minutes provided you have boiled butter beans
About 1 week refrigerated … but you have probably eaten the Nutella before that
How to use
Butterbeans can be replaced with boiled and drained chickpeas. And when in season, tangerines can be used instead of orange. Try adding a small amount of chilli or paprika, if you want a hint of spiciness. And consider adding even more of the aromatic spices such as cardamom, allspice and cloves. You could also add a tiny amount of liquorice powder for a hint of liquorice flavour.
200 gr or 7 oz hazelnuts
1 can of boiled butterbeans, drained (2½-3 dl or 1 cup if you’ve boiled butterbeans yourself)
300 gr or 10.5 oz good dark chocolate, at least 70 % cocoa solids
Finely grated zest and freshly pressed juice of 1 organic orange
20 dried pitted dates
1 small sprinkle of vanilla powder or the seeds from ½ vanilla pod
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½-1 dl/¼-½ cup coconut milk
How to prepare
Roast the hazelnuts for 15-20 minutes in the oven at 160°C or 320°F until golden. Make sure they do not get burned.
Process roasted hazelnuts, butterbeans, chocolate, orange zest and juice, dates, vanilla, salt and ½ dl or ¼ cup coconut milk in a food processor at high speed for a few minutes, until you have Nutella. Add a bit more coconut milk, if the Nutella needs to be creamier.