Legume plants come in many different varieties, such as peas, beans and lentils. The plants provide not only food for the table, but food for the soil. Instead of depleting the soil of nutrients, legume plants enrich the soil via root nodules. Legumes are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat; they have no cholesterol and are low in fat, high in folate, potassium and other necessary nutrients. The type of legume plants available can vary greatly, depending on where you live.
The pea plant is a bushy plant that grows its legumes in pods. Peas are believed to have originated in Middle Asia and the central plateau of Ethiopia. Peas prefer cool weather and will sprout in early spring. They are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, thiamine, iron and phosphorus. They are also a good source of protein, carbohydrate and fibre. Peas are low in fat, and 1/2 cup has only 5 per cent of the recommended daily value for sodium.
Lentils, like other legumes, grow in pods. They are high in fibre and low in fat and cholesteral. They are a healthy substitute for meat due to their high protein content. Lentils are easier and faster to cook than some other legumes, and don't require pre-soaking prior to cooking. The lentil plant is bushy and planting it near other crops, such as corn or potatoes, is mutually beneficial for them. Plant more than one lentil plant for best results, as each lentil plant has just one stem. Lentils come in three varieties -- brown, green and red -- and each variety is distinct.
Beans come in a wide range of varieties: pinto, kidney, garbanzo and black-eyed peas are just some of the most common beans available today. Soya beans are some of the oldest cultivated plants, with records of their cultivation stemming back 5,000 years in China. All beans contain soluble and insoluble fibre, no cholesterol and beneficial fats necessary for a healthy body. They also contain high levels of protein, making them a healthy supplement for those who don't eat meat. Some beans grow as bushes or as climbing vine varieties. They are also adaptable to almost any climate, which makes them a good addition for many gardens.
Peanuts, unlike other nuts, are in the legume family. They typically grow in warmer climates and are a major crop in the southern United States, Asia, Australia, Africa and South America. According the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Peanut Research Lab, the plant most likely originated in South America. They grow underground and are a cholesterol-free source of protein and folic acid, a nutrient important for pregnant women. Peanuts are a versatile and healthy addition to most diets. All peanuts destined for consumption are tested for the carcinogen aflatoxin. Aflatoxin occurs in some peanuts exposed to harmful fungi. The USDA has established a limit of no more than 15 parts per billion in peanuts for consumption. Processing peanuts into peanut butter or oil eliminates any aflatoxins present.
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