Cowpea, an annual legume, is locally known as lobiya, crowder pea, coupe, southern pea, and black-eyed pea (due to a black scar or mark on its seed). Vigna unguiculata L. Walp. or cowpea, belongs to the Fabaceae family. Cowpea originated in Africa, although worldwide production has increased drastically over the past few years. In India, Uttar Pradesh is the leading producer of cowpeas, followed by Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. These are warm-season legumes (plants belonging to the Fabaceae family) with different varieties depending on the seed colour and type. A few of the varieties available in the market include brown eye, black eye, purple eye, crowder cowpeas etc. These are also called “hungry-season crop” as it was the first crop to be harvested before the cereal crops. Cowpeas leaves, fresh or dried seeds and pods containing seeds all are used as a nutritional component for livestock feed and the human diet. Let us learn more about the health benefits of adding cowpeas (dried seeds) to your dietary routine.
Nutritional Value of Cowpeas:
Cowpeas are rich in proteins, fibres, vitamins like Vitamins A, C and E and minerals like copper, iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, sodium, etc. The nutrients in cowpeas are mentioned in the table below:
|Nutritional components||Value per 100 g|
|Vitamin C||1.5 mg|
|Vitamin K||5.0 mcg|
Table 1: Nutritional value of cowpeas
Properties of cowpeas:
Scientifically proven properties of cowpeas include:
- It may have the potential to manage fungal and viral infections.
- It may have antioxidant properties.
- It may have anticancer properties.
- It may have the potential to manage blood glucose levels.
- It may have the potential to manage blood pressure.
- It may have a hypocholesterolemic effect.
- It may have laxative (promote bowel movement) properties.
Potential Uses of Cowpeas for Overall Health
Some of the potential benefits of cowpeas are described as under:
Potential uses of cowpeas on Type-2 diabetes
Diabetes is a metabolic disorder characterised by increased blood glucose, and there has been growing interest in testing the potential of plant parts for managing diabetes. Barnes et al. conducted a study in 2015 which provides evidence of cowpeas as potential anti-diabetic agents. The anti-diabetic effect is attributed to the presence of cowpea protein molecules similar to insulin obtained from the pancreas of cows and pigs. This indicates that the consumption of cowpeas may manage diabetes. However, more human clinical trials should be conducted to ascertain these claims.3
Potential uses of cowpeas on hypertension
Hypertension or high blood pressure is defined as systolic blood pressure >130mmHg and/or diastolic blood pressure >80mmHg. Hypertension is majorly managed by the use of drugs called ACE inhibitors, which work by relaxing arteries and veins and reducing blood pressure. ACE is an enzyme (angiotensin-converting enzyme), which acts as a vasoconstrictor (substance that increases blood pressure). The inhibition of this enzyme will help reduce blood pressure. Renhart et al., 2014 conducted a study identifying a dipeptide from cowpeas with antihypertensive (blood pressure-reducing) properties similar to ACE inhibitors. Therefore, cowpeas may have the potential to manage high blood pressure, but we need more studies to assess these claims in humans.
Potential uses of cowpeas on lipid profile
Literature studies state cowpeas may help in improving the lipid profile. A study conducted by Frota et al. in 2015 showed that the consumption of cowpeas by 38 patients with high total cholesterol levels positively impacted their lipid profile. Consumption of cowpeas showed a reduction in total cholesterol, bad cholesterol and an increase in good cholesterol. This indicates that cowpeas may improve abnormal lipid profiles. However, studies including more patients should be conducted to increase the reliability of these results.
Potential uses of cowpeas on under nutrition
Broadly, undernutrition is categorised into stunting, underweight, wasting and micronutrient-related deficiency. Indi et al. conducted a clinical trial in 2015 in Malawian children. Results show cowpea, due to their high nutritional content, may help reduce stunting and improve children’s growth. This indicates that cowpeas may help improve under nutrition to an extent by reducing stunting and improving overall growth. However, we need more studies to be conducted globally to claim these results.
Potential uses of cowpeas on Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is characterised by weak and brittle bones. It shows manifestations of lower back pain, fractures, and a stooped spine (hump-like structure). Although it is common in men and women, women after menopause are at an increased risk of osteoporosis due to a deficiency of hormones like oestrogen. Yongsoon et al. conducted a study in 2013 to assess the effects of cowpeas on rat bones. The findings of this study showed that diet containing cowpeas significantly improved bone mineral density and bone volume. These findings suggest that cowpeas can help in osteoporosis. However, to claim these effects in humans, we need more studies.
Other potential uses of cowpeas:
- Being a good source of folate, iron and protein, cowpeas may help lower the risk of babies born with neural tube defects (defects of the brain or spinal cord) in pregnancy.
- Cowpeas are rich in fibre which helps in improving digestion and helps relieve constipation.
- The presence of Vitamins A and C in cowpeas helps in boosting immunity.
- Cowpeas contain the amino acid tryptophan which helps in the formation of melatonin in the body, which may help improve sleep patterns and insomnia.
- Cowpeas are a rich source of iron and thus, may help manage iron-deficiency anemia.
- Cowpeas contain antioxidants like Vitamins A and C and proteins like collagen which may positively impact the skin.
- Cowpeas are known to increase the appetite. However, the mechanism is unclear.
- They are known to alleviate acid dyspepsia or indigestion and kapha,(an ayurvedic element associated with water and earth) dosha; kapha dosha imbalance can result in fluid retention, weight gain, allergies, etc.9
Though there are studies that show the benefits of cowpeas in various conditions, but these are insufficient and there is a need for further studies to establish the true extent of the benefits of cowpeas on human health.
How to Use Cowpeas?
- Cowpeas are used to prepare bean salads.
- It is also added to soups and cakes.
- They also find use as a standalone ingredient in vegetarian gravies.8
You must consult a qualified doctor before taking any herbal supplements. Do not discontinue or replace an ongoing treatment of modern medicine with an ayurvedic/herbal preparation without consulting a qualified doctor.
Side Effects of Cowpeas:
A few side effects related to the consumption of cowpeas include:
- Ndubuaku VO et al. in 1989 stated that consumption of cowpeas can result in abdominal discomfort, vomiting, diarrhoea, indigestion, sleepiness, etc.10
However, if you experience any adverse reactions to cowpeas, it is advised to discontinue its intake and immediately contact a doctor or your Ayurvedic physician who has prescribed it. They will be able to guide you appropriately for your symptoms.
Precautions to Take with Cowpeas:
Eating cowpeas is okay if taken in moderate amounts. However, general precautions must be followed in the following conditions:
- Cowpeas are considered heavy, dry and impair vata dosha. Vata dosha gets aggravated in the rainy season, and thus caution must be taken when consuming cowpeas during rainy season.10
- Safety data related to the consumption of cowpeas during breastfeeding is limited; it is therefore advised to consult a doctor for proper advice.
- Cowpeas contain anti-nutrients like tannins, phytates, etc. which limits their use, methods like boiling, washing and soaking may help reduce the levels of anti-nutrients; it is therefore, advised to boil, wash or soak cowpeas before consumption.11
Interactions with Other Drugs:
- Cowpeas and anti-hypertensive (drugs used to lower blood pressure) drugs when taken together can cause your blood pressure to drop too low. It is advised to avoid the co-administration (consuming at the same time) of cowpeas and your anti-hypertensive medicines. It is recommended to consult a doctor for proper advice.
You must always seek the advice of your Ayurvedic physician about the possible interaction of cowpeas with other drugs and follow the prescription thoroughly, as they will know your health condition and other medications you are taking.