Legumes and Proteins

Proteins and Amino Acids

Meat and dairy products contain high quality proteins as they provide all essential amino acids in the right proportions.

Plant-based proteins, on the other hand, tend to be deficient in one or more of these amino acids. However, this deficit can be bridged through the simple association of several vegetables (for example by combining pasta with beans, a typical dish of the Mediterranean diet).

Although the body lacks protein reserves, there is still a small percentage of free amino acids that can be used to fill any dietary deficiencies. Therefore, even if it is a very important rule, combining legumes with other plant foods should not be seen as an absolute imposition. The important thing is to follow a varied diet, avoiding taking a single protein source for long periods of time.

For further information: Legumes

Legume proteins

In the years following the Second World War, thanks to the increased standard of living of the population, legumes earned the nickname "meat of the poor". This term unfairly discredited their precious nutritional qualities and reflected the tendency to consume more and more meats, dairy products and derivatives that were considered "products of well-being".

In more recent times, after having rediscovered their numerous properties and having noted the dangers of excessive consumption of meat and dairy products, legumes have been decidedly re-evaluated. To encourage their consumption, someone describes them as foods rich in noble proteins, comparing them in fact to meat. In reality this term is used improperly as only foods of animal origin have an amino acid profile worthy of this adjective.

If in some respects the nutritional value of legumes is lower than that of meat, for others it is decidedly higher (also from the point of view of safety and the presence of foreign substances).

Legumes and meat must therefore coexist in a balanced diet, according to the rules that we will see later in the article.

Food Associations

As we have seen, one of the oldest and most successful combinations from a nutritional point of view is to combine cereals and legumes. To promote digestive processes, someone recommends using the following proportion: two parts of cereals and one part of legumes. On the other hand, most nutritionists do not look favorably on the combination of legumes and animal proteins (meat, fish, dairy products or eggs). These associations are considered unfavorable since their amino acid composition (amino acid profile) is quite different and as such could create digestive problems.


The intestinal swellings that many people complain of after eating legumes are caused by indigestible sugars (raffinose, stachyose and verbascose) that reach the large intestine unaltered where they are fermented by the local bacterial flora. Meteorism and other digestive disorders are the consequence of this fermentation.

To speed up cooking and make these foods more digestible, it is good to:

  • soak the dried legumes eliminating those that come to the surface and remain there
  • change the soaking water frequently and throw away the first boiling water (favors the elimination of purines, toxic substances and antinutrients)
  • add salt or acid substances (such as lemon or vinegar) only when cooking is completed
  • the addition of bicarbonate (generally not exceeding one gram per liter of water) accelerates cooking and avoids the formation of insoluble compounds between proteins and calcium salts present above all in "hard" waters; however, bicarbonate is harmful as it depletes the food of vitamin B1 (thiamine)

to prevent digestive problems:

  • add an onion, a carrot and a stalk of celery to the cooking water
  • by pressing the legumes when cooked, a puree is obtained which reduces bloating and intestinal fermentation, improving digestibility and absorption of nutrients.

Note: nutritionists recommend consuming at least three portions of legumes per week

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