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Why cowpeas should be part of your diet

The cowpea is an herbaceous legume from the genus Vigna (a genus of flowering plants in the legume family). Due to its tolerance for sandy soil and low rainfall, it is an important crop in the semiarid regions across Africa and Asia.

Cowpeas can be found locally in markets around at a pocket-friendly price. For instance, a kilogramme of cowpeas in various local markets goes for Rwf 800 to 1000.


Nutritionists say this type of legume is loaded with fibre, protein, iron, potassium, and is low in calories.


For instance, a cup of cowpeas possesses 11.1 g fibre, 13.22 g protein, 4.29 mg iron, 475 mg potassium, 0.91 g fat and 198 calories.


Also, various amino acids such as 0.612 g of tryptophan, 0.41 g of histidine, 0.188 g of Methionine are contained in this seed.

Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, says cowpeas possess threonine which may assist the immune system by promoting production of antibodies.

He says threonine produces the serine and glycine which is essential for collage, muscle tissue, and elastin production.

“Threonine also helps in maintaining health and strong connective muscles and tissues, and cowpeas which are rich in threonine may help boost one’s immune system,” he says.

He says cowpeas are essential as they contain folate (Vitamin B9), which assists in lowering the chances of neural tube defects like anencephaly (a defect in the formation of a baby’s neural tube during development) or spina bifida (a birth defect in which a developing baby’s spinal cord fails to develop properly).

Tabaro explains that the deficiency of folate also leads to other birth defects, such as malformations of limbs and the heart.

Besides, folate is also essential for the replication of DNA because the foetus cells cannot grow without the presence of folate.

“This is an essential vitamin that is necessary for a healthy pregnancy. Pregnant women should consume the prenatal vitamin to get the adequate amount of folate,” he says.

Cowpeas are also known for Vitamin B9 presence, which provides the 89 percentage of the daily recommended value.

Tabaro says cowpeas contain the mineral iron in high amount, which eliminates anaemia.

He says iron assists in protein metabolism which is essential for haemoglobin production and inhibits anaemia.

The nutritionist explains that anaemia is the result of the low haemoglobin and red blood cells, and it affects the body parts and also reduces energy levels.

“Anaemia can lead to the poor functioning of the brain and reduction in immunity, therefore, regular intake of cowpeas can keep such problems at bay,” he says.

World Health Organization (WHO) surveys that half of anaemia cases are caused due to the deficiency of iron and others due to genetic factors.

Vitamins and mineral salts

Studies have shown that cowpeas are rich in potassium, copper, various antioxidants, and folate that all assist to maintain metabolism health.

Copper acts as an essential part of the functioning of metabolic enzymes in the body, according to studies.

Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist at Rwanda Diabetes Association, Kigali, says the reactions of enzymes are vital to maintaining the smooth functioning of metabolism.

Studies have as well established that cowpeas possess the calcium and phosphorus which is a vital mineral to maintain the strength and structure of bones.

Manganese, Musengimana says, assists in the formation of bones by regulating the enzymes and hormones involved in the process of bone metabolism.

In addition to this, he says, phosphorus assists in the mineral density of bones that prevents bone break, fracture, and osteoporosis.

To have healthy bones, the nutritionist recommends balancing calcium and phosphorus levels. 

Musengimana says cowpeas also contain dietary fibres that promote and soften the stool. This reduces constipation with the easy flow of bulky stool.

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