Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/27/2005
Publication Date: 7/27/2005
Citation: Grusak, M.A. 2005. Legumes. In: Caballero, B., Allen, L., Prentice, A., editors. Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition. 2nd edition. New York, NY: Elsevier Academic Press. p. 120-126.
Technical Abstract: Legumes have been an important component of the human diet for several millennia and are used throughout the world today. Legumes are a diverse group of plants that belong to the Fabaceae family; they are estimated to include around 20,000 species in 700 genera. However, only a handful of these species have been developed as crops that are in common culture. Legumes are consumed primarily as seed foods, but pods, leaves, and roots or tubers of various species also are eaten. An important nutritional aspect of legume foods is their high concentration of protein, which in most legume seeds is at least twice that of cereal seeds. Legume seeds also contain a broad mix of energy reserves (starch or oil), minerals, and various phytochemicals, all of which are stored in seeds to provide nourishment to the young developing seedling. As omnivores, we humans have been able to take advantage of the nutrient and phytochemical reserves in legume seeds for our dietary requirements and health benefits. This is especially important in the developing world, where malnutrition is an ever-present concern, and legumes can provide an inexpensive source of dietary protein (relative to animal food products), among other nutrients. The protein in legume seeds, although somewhat lacking in sulfur amino acids and tryptophan, is still an important complement to energy-rich carbohydrate staples. However, when eating legumes, we also must deal with the various anti-nutrients and toxic compounds found in seeds. These seed components include various enzyme inhibitors, tannins, phenolics, alkaloids, and neurotoxins.