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Legumes useful as a substitute for meat?

Pulses instead of meat - peas, lentils & Co. as a meat substitute?

In this article I compare whether it makes sense from a health and ecological point of view, Pulses instead of meat to eat. You will also find out which pulses are particularly suitable and what nutritional values they have.

Tip: You can get a good overview of the connection between your food choices and the climate in the Article Nutrition and environment.

Pulses as a meat substitute - spoiled for choice

Eat legumes instead of meat - meat substitute?

You really are spoiled for choice when it comes to pulses. There are countless varieties. In theory, you can eat pulses every day and still enjoy an incredible variety of meals.

Tip: In the contributions Vegetarianism statistics and Veganism statistics you will find facts and figures about vegan-vegetarian nutrition and its positive impact.

Pulses are also known as legumes. Beans, chickpeas and lentils are legumes. Due to the Variety of bean and lentil varieties you definitely need variety when you eat pulses instead of meat.

Bean varieties that you can buy here are kidney beans, white beans, soybeans, green beans, fire beans, mung beans, adzuki beans and probably a few more. The variety of products made from soybeans is particularly large with tempeh, tofu, edamame, soy shreds, bean sprouts, etc.

There is a similar variety of lentils: beluga lentils, mountain lentils, red, yellow and green plate lentils. Red lentils are also available as pasta, for example. Lentil pasta directly increases the protein content of your meal.

Chickpeas can also be prepared in a variety of ways, for example as roasted chickpeas in a vegetable pan or as a salad topping, Hummus or a somewhat less well-known variant, farinata, which is a flatbread made from chickpea flour. Pulses as a substitute for meat therefore offer a great deal of variety.

Nutritional value comparison: pulses vs. meat

A direct comparison of the nutritional values of pulses and meat is not possible without further ado, as pulses and meat are food groups rather than individual foods.

Here is some more information to make it easier for you to compare: the values for cholesterol, saturated fatty acids and sodium should be as low as possible. Higher values are better for all other values.

Nutritional comparison: tempeh vs. beef

Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and originally comes from Indonesia.

NutrientTempeh (100 g)Beef (100 g)
Protein19 g20 g
Cholesterol0 mg60 mg
Saturated fatty acids1,1 g4,1 g
Calcium142 mg10 mg
Magnesium230 mg15 mg
Iron5 mg2.5 mg
Sodium8 mg70 mg
Folic acid156 µg5 µg
Dietary fiber6,5 g0 g

Tempeh has a better nutritional value in almost all the values compared. Tempeh is only just behind beef in terms of protein content, with one gram less.

Tempeh scores particularly well for its high levels of the micronutrients calcium, magnesium, iron and folic acid. Compared to pulses instead of meat, tempeh also scores highly due to its higher fiber content and low cholesterol value.

Fried tempeh - legumes as a substitute for meat

Nutritional comparison: Red lentils vs. beef

One comparison that is often used is that of red lentils and beef. I am comparing the cooked form of red lentils here. In fact, many sources use dried lentils, which naturally have a relatively higher protein content due to the lower water content.

NutrientRed lentils, cooked (100 g)Beef (100 g)
Protein8,8 g20 g
Cholesterol0 mg60 mg
Saturated fatty acids0,1 g4,1 g
Calcium27 mg10 mg
Magnesium46 mg15 mg
Iron3.1 mg2.5 mg
Sodium10 mg70 mg
Folic acid48 µg5 µg
Dietary fiber7,8 g0 g

In terms of protein content, red lentils are clearly inferior to beef. You should therefore not rely exclusively on red lentils to replace meat. Tempeh, tofu, nuts and especially seitan (25 g protein/100 g) have a high protein content and are ideal for replacing meat.

Lentils win in all other respects. Lentils contain around three times as much calcium and magnesium as beef and almost ten times as much folic acid. The low levels of cholesterol and saturated fatty acids are further plus points for lentils. A delicious recipe with red lentils is Kitchari.

Pulses instead of meat ensure greater sustainability

After the comparison of the nutritional value of pulses vs. meat, we now come to sustainability. The benefits of pulses are so numerous that the United Nations declared 2016 the "International Year of Pulses". Pulses have a high protein content, contain many micronutrients such as iron and zinc and also taste really good. This makes pulses a good substitute for meat.

But why exactly should you eat pulses instead of meat? Meat has a poor calorie balance, relatively high water consumption, high greenhouse gas emissions and also requires a lot of arable land. Legumes, on the other hand, actually nourish the soil, use less water and produce fewer greenhouse gases.

Better calorie balance

The calorie balance explains how many calories of feed are needed to produce a certain amount of meat. When we feed 100 calories of crops to animals, we get back between 17 and 30 calories of meat on average. That's like eating one pack of lentils and throwing away two packs of lentils.₁

Legumes, on the other hand, do not require the cultivation of animal feed and therefore the amount of legumes produced is returned without any losses. Consequently, pulses have a much better calorie balance than meat. Logical, isn't it? So the calorie balance is definitely a point in favor of pulses over meat.

Lower water consumption

Admittedly, pulses have a relatively high water consumption per kilo compared to other plants. However, pulses clearly win the comparison between pulses and meat. And as pulses have a higher protein content than other plants, they are a sustainable alternative to meat in terms of water consumption.

In terms of water consumption per gram of protein, pulses actually come out on top compared to other food groups such as vegetables, fruit, cereals, eggs and meat products.

FoodsWater consumption liter/kiloWater consumption liter/gram protein
Chicken meat432534

Source information₂

Less greenhouse gases

In fact, agriculture is is responsible for the second largest proportion of harmful greenhouse gases, only only topped by the burning of coal, oil and gas. Ruminants, i.e. cows and sheep, are mainly responsible for the production of greenhouse greenhouse gases, as they emit methane, which has a much higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Overall, it can be said that the production of greenhouse gases from the production of meat than from the production of of plant-based foods. This is quite logical due to the calorie balance alone.

The Öko-Institut has also published a study which concludes that a vegan diet produces the fewest greenhouse gas emissions.₃ Due to the reduced greenhouse gases, pulses are a good substitute for meat.

Legumes are good for the soil

As already mentioned, the cultivation of legumes is good for the soil. During cultivation, there is a symbiosis with nodule bacteria, so that the cultivation of legumes enriches the nitrogen content in the soil. If other plants that require nitrogen are then cultivated after the pulses, there is already enough nitrogen in the soil thanks to the previously cultivated pulses. Legumes act as so-called green manure. In the comparison of pulses vs. meat, this is another point in favor of pulses.

Reduced cultivation area

Meat production requires a fairly large area of land. This can be explained, among other things, by the poor calorie balance, After all, it's not just the land on which the animals are kept that is needed animals are kept, but also the land needed to grow animal feed. are needed.

A study by the WWF compared a beef burger with vegan pasta and came to the conclusion that the burger requires 3.61 m² and the pasta only 0.46 m² of arable land.₄

Tip: At Article Making nutrition sustainable you will learn many additional tips on how to optimize your diet and improve your health. ecological footprint can reduce!

Dried pulses instead of meat

With pulses, the question always arises the question of whether you should buy them dried or already cooked. already cooked. Depending on what is more important to you, it is best to buy dried or cooked pulses.

If you need something quick, nothing beats cooked pulses. They are ready to eat straight away. So if you want to prepare a quick salad, you can use chickpeas from the jar, for example. Cooked pulses as a substitute for meat are therefore particularly practical and easy to use.

Chicken fruits lentils chickpeas instead of meat

What are the benefits of dried pulses? Overall, there is less waste when buying dried pulses. less waste. You may even be able to buy them in an unpackaged store and there is no waste at all. This not only saves you waste, but also the energy the energy needed to produce the packaging material. Dried pulses are also cheaper.

Cook faster with a pressure cooker

If you often cook dried pulses instead of meat, it is definitely worth buying a pressure cooker. This pressure cooker* is suitable for all types of stoves and has a sieve insert with which you can gently steam vegetables. And the reduced cooking time also saves you some energy.

Or you can get one right away InstantPot*. The original InstantPot can also fry. The big advantage of the InstantPot is of course that it works under pressure and the InstantPot does it all by itself. So you can leave the kitchen to do something else with a clear conscience and the dishes are ready quickly. The InstantPot is largely made of stainless steel, but is unfortunately not completely plastic-free. However, I would estimate that you will save plastic in the long term if you eat dried pulses more often. Provided, of course, that you buy the pulses as plastic-free as possible. And, as mentioned above, you will definitely save energy with your pressure cooker.

Tip: In addition to the InstantPot, the cookbook Vegan Under Pressure by Jill Nussinow* on. The cookbook focuses on healthy dishes that you can prepare quickly.

Pulses as a substitute for meat

As pulses are comparatively sustainable to grow, they are a good sustainable alternative to meat. In particular because pulses enrich the soil with nitrogen, more pulses should be produced again.

In addition, the nutritional profile of pulses is similar to that of meat. Just like meat, pulses are very high in protein, so they can be used as a sustainable substitute for the nutritional value of meat. Especially in a substitute-free nutrition that is valuable.

Another advantage is that there are an incredible number of different types of pulses, so a diet with pulses never gets boring. There are also many different products made from pulses, especially soy.

I hope this article has helped you and inspired you to use pulses as a substitute for meat.

All the best, 

Julian from CareElite

P.S.: In the article "Making nutrition sustainable" you will find many more tips on sustainable nutrition!






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Julian Hölzer

Julian Hölzer

Hi, my name is Julian and I am a trained vegan nutritionist. In 2016 I started to get involved with veganism and quickly learned how big an impact our diet has on the environment and how diverse plant-based diets can be. That's why I want to inspire you to get involved with veganism too.

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