The food we eat and how it is produced affects not only our health, but also the environment. Food is grown, processed, transported, delivered, prepared and sometimes thrown away. Each of these steps produces greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and therefore climate change. Around a third of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans are attributable to food production and the resulting diets.
Predominantly animal-based foods (especially red meat, dairy products and certain seafood) are associated with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. Plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, wholemeal products, pulses, etc. generally consume fewer resources (energy, water, land use, etc.) and therefore cause fewer greenhouse gases than animal-based foods. Switching to a plant-based diet can lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to current eating habits in most industrialised countries. At the same time, reducing food waste is of great importance.
In addition to a significant reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure and colon cancer through a plant-orientated or meat-reduced diet, a switch from the prevailing meat-orientated diet to a meat-reduced diet (with 66% less meat) alone could save 28% of GHG emissions per year in Austria. A vegetarian or vegan diet could achieve even greater savings of 48 % and 70 % respectively.
Tips for a climate-friendly diet
- Buy fresh and, above all, minimally processed plant-based foods. These provide important nutrients (such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, phytochemicals and high-quality fatty acids) and benefit the environment.
- Prioritise regional and seasonal products over food imported from distant countries.
- Add variety to your plate with more fruit, vegetables and wholemeal products.
- Favour plant-based sources of protein such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh etc. and try out new recipes.
- Drink tap water! Water is our most important foodstuff - unlike many other countries, Austria can meet its drinking water requirements entirely from its own resources.
- Highly processed foods such as ready meals, sweets or snacks not only contain a lot of fat, sugar or salt, but also consume a lot of resources during production. Therefore, consume them only rarely.
- In Austria, bread, confectionery/baked goods, fruit and vegetables are the most frequently thrown away. Therefore, pay attention to the correct storage of food and utilise leftovers.
- Avoid unnecessary packaging and take your own carrier bag with you when shopping, for example.
Peas, beans, lentils, soybeans, peanuts, chickpeas and lupins are important sources of vegetable protein. Botanically, they belong to the legume family; since their seeds ripen in pods, the umbrella term legumes is also used for these plants. They have many uses - as food and as animal feed.
Pulses do not require nitrogen fertilization; they are self-fertilizing: They can bind nitrogen from the air in their roots via so-called nodule bacteria. This ability and their deep root system improve soil fertility, which in turn benefits other crops grown after them.
Many legumes are coping well with the changes brought about by climate change. For example, as average temperatures rise, lentil cultivation is also increasing in our latitudes. They grow best on poor, dry soils where other crops no longer thrive. Meanwhile, it is warm enough here for peanuts and chickpeas. They also do well with little water and can survive extended periods of drought without problems. Common bean and fire or beetle bean are very sensitive to cold and frost; milder temperatures benefit them.
Cultivation in Austria
The harvest yield of grain legumes and oilseeds in 2022 was 473,400 tons, according to data from Statistics Austria. Soybeans, whose cultivation area and yields have risen steadily in recent years, account for the bulk of this. The cultivated area reached a new record level of 93 700 ha in 2022. In 2022, 245 600 tons of soybeans were harvested.
In Austria, sweet lupins were cultivated on 407 ha in 2021, 57% more than in 2020, with the majority being grown in Lower Austria and Upper Austria. With 3,580 ha of lentils, chickpeas and vetches, 631 ha (+21.4%) more were cultivated than in the previous year, which was primarily due to the increased cultivation of lentils.
Pulses - versatile powerhouses in the daily diet
Pulses are all-rounders, not only in agriculture but also in the kitchen. There they are an indispensable daily component in the diet. They are a particularly good source of vegetable protein - not only in vegan or vegetarian cuisine.
Especially in the vegan diet, it is important to combine legumes with other high-quality plant foods, such as cereals, nuts or even flaxseeds, sunflower seeds or sesame seeds, so that the protein can actually be optimally utilized by the body. Good combinations would include beans and rice, as in chili sin carne, pea stew and bread, or legumes and whole grains, such as pasta with lentil bolognese.
Due to their high fiber content, legumes are true fillers. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and magnesium.
They are versatile - from lentil salads to bean cakes. With the exception of peanut and pea, legumes must be cooked before consumption, as this inactivates substances that are harmful to humans, between 10 and 120 minutes depending on the variety and size.
Soaking dried legumes in cold water in the refrigerator for several hours and adding salt to the cooking water will shorten the cooking time. Canned pulses are already pre-cooked and can be eaten right away. For better tolerance, do not use the soaking water or liquid from canned foods.
Adding baking soda to the cooking water improves digestibility. Generous seasoning with herbs such as thyme, dill or savory, as well as spices such as fennel or caraway, also makes legumes easier to digest. Peas, lupine and shelled legumes such as red and yellow lentils are easier to digest.
Legumes can be used in a variety of ways, are increasingly sourced from regional cultivation and are therefore an important component of a climate-friendly modern diet.
Digital cookbook "Climate fit & healthy - cooking with peas, beans & co"
Together with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Regions and Water Management, we have launched a digital cookbook with Austrians' favourite legume recipes. Every month, a different legume was featured on Facebook and people were invited to submit creative recipes using legumes. Together with HBLA Sitzenberg, we cooked the recipes submitted, collected tips and tricks for preparation and took photos of the dishes. You can download all this information in our cookery book.
Our research on legumes and climate change adaptation.
To promote the cultivation of legumes in Austria, we conduct research on various issues: For example, we have been working on the development of more drought- and heat-tolerant beetle bean varieties to ensure future crop yields even under changing climate conditions. Nanoviruses can ruin the entire harvest of legumes. One of our research projects has therefore looked at the spread of nanoviruses in legumes in order to develop future strategies against the virus.
Last updated: 09.02.2024