Legume products are increasingly recognised as sustainable foods with environmental, nutritional and economic benefits. For instance, research findings suggest plant-based diets rich in legumes could help optimise human and planetary health.
Research by Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) dietitians Dale Bielefeld, Jaimee Hughes and Dr Sara Grafenauer highlights new developments in the legume food category. Findings of the research, comparing nutrition product data and on-pack claims in the past few years, were published in the international journal Nutrients.
An audit as part of the study examined ingredient lists, nutrition information and on-pack claims for legume products sourced from four Sydney-based supermarkets: Aldi, Coles, IGA and Woolworths. These legume products included baked beans, legume dips, legume flours, legume snacks (including legume chips and whole legume snacks), canned legumes, dried legumes, frozen legumes and pulse pasta.
The audit showed that the total number of legume products on supermarket shelves had nearly doubled, increasing from 312 to 610 products between 2019 and 2021. Leading the expansion, major product growth was observed in canned and dried legumes as well as new convenience-focused options, particularly snacks such as legume chips.
Such product innovation gives Australians the opportunity to consume legumes as convenient, ready-to-eat snack foods, instead of the traditional pattern of legume consumption as a soup ingredient. Although the convenience-based appeal of several products can help lift legume consumption, the nutritional content of some products may not be equivalent to their wholefood counterparts.
The study also found an increase in sustainability claims featured on legume products in the past two years, promoting recognition of legumes as an ecologically sustainable food.
However, the positive health and environmental effects of measures to improve sustainability could be offset by the heavy food processing required for some of these products.
Data from GLNC research might be used in the future to help inform government reform of national healthy eating guidelines, since it indicates that legume consumption is emerging as a distinct category of products, instead of the traditional classification of legumes as vegetables or lean meat alternatives.
By addressing barriers to legume consumption, such as lack of time and knowledge of how to prepare legumes, new innovative products have the potential to influence dietary patterns.
Although consumption of whole, minimally processed foods is preferable, the research suggests that convenience-based legume products in supermarkets are positioned to help Australians lift their overall dietary intake of legumes.
GLNC has comprehensive food and nutrient databases of grain and legume products on Australian shelves.
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