Pulses, also known as legumes, are a group of plant-based foods that include lentils, chickpeas, beans, and peas. They are an excellent source of protein, fiber, and a range of essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and folate. In addition to their nutritional benefits, pulses are a sustainable food choice for several reasons.
1. Reduced Carbon Footprint
One of the main reasons pulses are a sustainable food choice is that they have a low carbon footprint. A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted during the production, processing, transportation, and disposal of a product. Compared to other protein sources such as meat, pulses have a much lower carbon footprint. According to a study published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology, the carbon footprint of pulses is one-tenth of the carbon footprint of beef per unit of protein produced (1). Another study published in the journal of Food Policy found that replacing 50% of animal-based protein with plant-based protein sources, including pulses, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% (2). Therefore, consuming pulses instead of meat is an effective way to reduce the carbon footprint in our diet.
2. Water Efficiency
Pulses are also a sustainable food choice because they are water-efficient. Water scarcity is a growing global concern, and agriculture is a major contributor to water usage. Compared to other crops, pulses require less water to grow. According to a study published in the journal of Environmental Research Letters, the water footprint of pulses is 50% lower than that of chicken and pork and 10 times lower than that of beef (3). Additionally, pulses can fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil, reducing the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers that require large amounts of water to produce.
3. Biodiversity and Soil Health
Pulses are beneficial for biodiversity and soil health. They are able to fix nitrogen in the soil, which increases soil fertility and reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers. Additionally, pulses can be grown in rotation with other crops, which can help to reduce soil erosion and promote soil health. A study published in the journal of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment found that pulse-based cropping systems had higher soil organic matter content and improved soil structure compared to conventional cereal-based cropping systems (4).
4. Economic Benefits
Pulses also offer economic benefits to farmers and communities. They are relatively low-cost crops to grow, and they can be grown in diverse climates and soil types. Additionally, pulses can be stored for long periods without losing their nutritional value, providing food security for communities in times of need. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, pulses are an important source of income for smallholder farmers in developing countries and provide employment opportunities throughout the value chain (5).
Pulses are a sustainable food choice due to their low carbon footprint, water efficiency, biodiversity and soil health benefits, and economic benefits. Incorporating pulses into our diets can help to reduce the environmental impact of our food choices while providing essential nutrients for our health. By choosing sustainable foods like pulses, we can contribute to a more sustainable food system and a healthier planet.
- Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992. doi: 10.1126/science.aaq0216
- Springmann, M., Clark, M., Mason-D’Croz, D., Wiebe, K., Bodirsky, B. L., Lassaletta, L., de Vries, W., Vermeulen, S. J., et al. (2018). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature, 562(7728), 519-525. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0594-0
- Mekonnen, M. M., & Hoekstra, A. Y. (2012). A global assessment of the water footprint of farm animal products. Ecosystems, 15(3), 401-415. doi: 10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8
- Gan, Y., Liang, C., Hamel, C., Cutforth, H., Wang, H., Zentner, R., & Campbell, C. A. (2015). Soil and crop responses to different pulse crops and their impact on subsequent cereal crops in rotation. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 200, 58-66. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2014.11.015
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2016). Pulses: Nutritious seeds for a sustainable future. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/3/a-i5729e.pdf