As you have likely caught onto by now, I think beans are the perfect food. Actually, I know beans are a perfect food. Not only are beans and other pulses (e.g., chickpeas, cowpeas, lentils) delicious, incredibly versatile, nutritious and health-promoting, and part of many traditional cuisines from around the world, but the list of the environmental benefits of beans is quite impressive, too. If I’m counting correctly, that’s something like a win-win-win-win-win.
One of my favorite websites to play around on is Our World in Data, which is an absolutely amazing resource. I wanted to share it with you all in case you haven’t seen it before, because it’s simply too awesome not to share. It’s an excellent tool to examine the environmental benefits of beans and their important contributions to sustainable food systems. Let’s look at some of the data, and I encourage you to also explore this website! You can add and subtract foods, look at other comparisons, and much more.
Beans Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Growing beans can help us fight climate change for many reasons. For one, they result in much less greenhouse gas emissions than many other sources of protein, especially when compared to animal proteins like beef. Check out this chart from Our World in Data that shows greenhouse gas emissions that result from 100 grams of protein from different food sources. Legumes (tofu, groundnuts, other pulses, and peas) are all toward the bottom, and the difference is dramatic!
So, moral of the story for beans and greenhouse gas emissions? Growing and eating more beans can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Beans Help Improve Water Quality and Soil Health
Through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in their root nodules, legumes like beans have the unique ability to fix nitrogen, converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by plants. Not only is this basically magical (at least in my opinion), but it also means beans require less nitrogen fertilizers. That results in less fertilizer runoff, which can help improve water quality and reduce eutrophying emissions, or the runoff of excess nutrients that can pollute ecosystems and negatively impact biodiversity.
You can see in the Our World in Data chart on eutrophying emissions to produce 100 grams below that pulses – once again – have a lower footprint than many other foods.
Moral of the story for beans and water quality? One way beans can improve water quality is through lower eutrophying emissions. Not to mention, lower fertilizer requirements help farmers reduce input costs.
Another way that beans can improve soil health is the role they play as a break crop. Rather than growing the same crop over and over again on the same land, including beans in crop rotation helps break up pest and disease pressure that may occur in monocropping.
Beans Help Save Water
As if this list weren’t already spectacular enough, beans also require less water than many other crops and sources of protein. You can see that in the Our World in Data chart below, which shows freshwater withdrawals needed to produce 100 grams of protein.
As population increases and many regions are experiencing drought and rising temperatures, conserving our water resources is becoming even more important. That’s another win for beans!
The Many Environmental Benefits of Beans
In summary, beans and environmental health go hand-in-hand (hence the adorable graphic of the earth thanking a bean below).
The environmental benefits of beans we talked about in this post include:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
- Improving water quality and soil health
- Helping save water
Indeed, we could go on about the environmental benefits of beans for days! But I’ll stop here, to give you time to go explore Our World in Data. Or perhaps to go cook something with beans to celebrate how amazing they are.
PS Want to see what a recent study showed can reduce your environmental impact even further? Check out this post about how cooking large batches of beans is better for the environment.