WHAT ARE PULSES?
PULSES are a subgroup of legumes and is classified as plant foods from the Leguminosae family (also called the pea family). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines pulses as legumes with dry, edible seeds, with low fat content. Worldwide, commonly eaten pulses include kidney beans, navy beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.), faba beans (Vicia faba L.), chickpeas (Cicer arietinum L.), dried or split peas (Pisum sativum L.), mung beans (Vigna radiata L.) cowpeas, black-eyed peas (Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.), and several varieties of lentils (Lens culinaris Medik.). There are also many less well-known species of pulses such as lupines (e.g., Lupinus albus L., Lupinus mutabilis Sweet) and bambara beans (Vigna subterranea L.).
- Incredibly rich in their nutritional value, pulses are small but densely packed with proteins – double that found in wheat and three times that of rice, which is the staple food for many populations in developing countries.
- Pulses are also rich in complex carbohydrates, micronutrients, protein and B-vitamins, which are vital parts of a healthy diet.
- heir high nutrient content also make pulses ideal for vegetarians and vegans to ensure adequate intakes of protein, minerals and vitamins.
- Pulses are an excellent complementary food for infants and young children to meet their daily nutritional needs.
- When combined with food high in vitamin C, pulses’ high iron content makes them a potent food to prevent anaemia, particularly for women at reproductive age, who are more at risk for iron deficiency anaemia.
- With a low glycaemic index, low fat and high fibre content, pulses are suitable for people with diabetes. Pulses help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels by reducing spikes after eating and improving insulin resistance.
- The dietary fibre content of pulses also increase satiety (make you fuller for longer) making pulses an ideal food for weight management.
- Pulses may reduce the risks of coronary heart disease. Also because of the high in dietary fibre, which is well known for reducing LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol), a recognized risk factor in coronary heart disease.
- Pulses are good sources of vitamins, such as folate, which reduces the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) like spina bifida in new-born babies.
- Pulses’ high iron content makes them a potent food for preventing iron deficiency anaemia in women and children especially when combined with food containing vitamin C to improve iron absorption.
- Protein quality matters, particularly for growth and development. The protein quality of vegetarian diets and plant-based diets is significantly improved when pulses are eaten together with cereals.
- Pulses are gluten-free.
- Pulses are rich in bioactive compounds such as phytochemicals and antioxidants that may contain anti-cancer properties. Phytoestrogens may also prevent cognitive decline and reduce menopausal symptoms.
GETTING THE MOST FROM YOUR PULSES
In many cultures, pulses are considered as ‘protein for the poor’ and they are wildly underestimated. The most common ones are:
- They can cause bloating, flatulence, and pulses take a long time to cook.
- Pulses contain some anti-nutrients (that reduce the body’s ability to absorb the minerals).
Luckily, many of these problems (bloating, flatulence, anti-nutrients and length of cooking time) can be overcome using traditional cooking techniques, such as soaking, germination (sprouting), fermentation and pounding. Traditional methods can also help to reduce the content of the anti-nutrients.
SOAKING FOR ADDED HEALTH AND NUTRITION
Many pulses are soaked in water from 4 to 8 hours – a practice that will dramatically reduce their phytate* content and cooking time and their propensity to cause flatulence. Soaking ensures that pulses can be more easily digested and their nutrients better absorbed by the body. In fact, soaking dried pulses for several hours brings them back to life, activating their enzymes. Soaking in sodium bicarbonate solutions is more effective to reduce anti-nutrients than soaking in water alone. *Component that reduces the ability to absorb nutrients
PULSES IN YOUR DIET
After reading these amazing benefits it is very clear that you and your family would profit greatly by incorporating beans into your diet. But the most people I encounter either don’t like pulses or don’t know how to include them in their diet in a creative way. PULSES HAVE BEEN USED WIDELY IN CUISINE THROUGHOUT THE WORLD, PARTICULARLY IN INDIA, PAKISTAN, THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION AND THE NEAR EAST. NOT ONLY ARE PULSES EASY TO PREPARE, BUT THEY ALSO CAN SERVE AS A MEAT ALTERNATIVE. There are so many ways to eat pulses. They can be eaten at any meal. In some Asian countries, boiled chickpeas, mung beans and butter beans are a common sight at breakfast. They are also a favourite snack. In other parts of the world, bean burgers or falafel, made from ground chickpeas or fava beans or both, are eaten for lunch. Pulses, especially beans, can be added to soups, salads, and pasta sauces. In some parts of Italy, boiled beans and tuna fish is a common second course. Even children as young as six months can enjoy a puree of boiled pulses with other foods.
A PERFECT PAIRING: PULSES WITH GRAINS
Good news for vegetarians and vegans! The protein of pulses is high in lysine and low in sulfur-containing amino acids. Grains’ protein is low in lysine but high in sulfur-containing amino acids. Combining them (called protein complementation) provides a higher protein quality. This means that the body needs less protein to fulfil its protein needs, which improves nutrition, especially for vegetarians and vegans or in low-income communities, where the availability of other sources of protein such as animal protein is limited. The combination also contributes to a balanced diet.