7 Reasons Why We Should Eat More Pulses

The nutritional benefits of pulses are well-recognised across the world. Plenty of empirical studies have shown evidence of positive health outcomes associated with consumption of pulses. The benefits of their consumption are so extensive that the United Nations declared 2016 as the Year of the Pulses!

What are pulses?

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legumes (Leguminosae) family. Commonly used pulses include chickpeas, lentils, peas, and beans. Bambara groundnuts (a.k.a Bambara bean or scientifically Vigna subterranea) and lupins are also highly nutritious pulses but remain relatively underutilized.

 

Here are SEVEN reasons why we should incorporate these versatile pulses into our diets.

1.     Pulses are rich in micronutrients and antioxidants,

Pulses are generally rich in essential minerals like iron, zinc, selenium, phosphorous, and potassium. They are also abundant in B-vitamins such as folate, thiamin, niacin. These vitamins and minerals are all essential in maintaining healthy bodily functions[1]. Particularly, iron and zinc are highlighted to play central roles in the maintenance of a healthy immune system function[2], [3].

On top of these micronutrients, pulses are also substantial sources of polyphenols [4]. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants, which are theoretical protector against inflammatory molecules, thereby protecting cells against oxidative stresses - the main culprit of aging and precursors to a host of age-related diseases[5].

2.     Pulses are excellent sources of plant protein for your gym gains

Pulses are unique compared to other plant foods in their high protein content. Pulses like the Bambara groundnut contains between 20-25% protein (20-25g of protein per 100g of pulses)[6]. These values can go above 30% for Lupin[7].

This means you can be assured that you can maintain all your gains from the gym on a plant-based diet with plenty of pulses. Better yet, unlike animal sources, protein from pulses comes without the cholesterols!

3.     Pulses are better sources of carbohydrates

Pulses, similar to wholegrain cereals, contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates with a significant amount of soluble and non-soluble fibre along with resistant starch[8]. This carbohydrate profile means that pulses are slowly digested, contributing to its lower Glycemic Index when compared against other common carbohydrates like rice, pasta, and bread.

Why does that matter? That brings us to the next points.

4.     Pulses are great for your waistline

It is widely recognized in the scientific literature that the consumption of pulses contributes towards an effective weight control program. The high fiber content of pulses can act as a physiological obstacle to energy and nutrient uptake by the body. In doing so, pulses increase satiety while decreases the absorption of fats and carbohydrates. Pulses consumption is therefore associated with a low glycaemic index and hypocaloric diets, which are advocated for their weight loss properties[8].

In a review by the British Journal of Nutrition published by the Cambridge University Press, various randomized controlled studies were shown to demonstrate pulses' ability to reduced hunger and satiety for up to 4 hours. Longer-term studies ranging between 3-8 weeks also demonstrated that pulses improve the effectiveness of weight loss programs[1].

5.     Pulses help maintain a healthy gut microbiome

High amounts of fibre and resistant starch in pulses are used as prebiotics - a substrate that is selectively utilized by gut microorganisms. It has been reported the prebiotic potential of pulses can positively contribute to a healthy fecal microbial composition by stimulating the growth of the beneficial Bifidobacterium while decreasing the presence of pathogenic bacteria[9].

Having a healthy gut microbiome confers many benefits, ranging from improved mood modulation to a stronger immune system.

6.     Pulses contribute to a healthier heart and cardiovascular system

Consumption of pulses has been shown, via large randomized controlled studies and clinical studies, to play a supporting role in the management and prevention of cardiovascular diseases. The cardioprotective effects of pulses are proposed to be associated with pulses' ability to attenuate total cholesterol levels[4].

7.     Not only that they are great for you, pulses are great for the environment too!

Pulses are one of the most ecologically sustainable sources of protein. Plants from the Leguminosae family have nodules in their root system which are capable to absorb inert nitrogen from the environment and convert it into useful ammonia through a process called the nitration fixation (Figure 1).  This process allows pulses to be grown and cultivated in highly degraded land with little resources as they can generate their own ‘fertilizer’, without the additional needs for fossil fuel-based chemical nitrogen fertilization[7].

Pulses have been proposed to play a critical role in our transition towards a healthier and sustainable food system as we move away from relying on animal sources for protein. The efficiency is incomparable. One gram of protein from pulses like Bambara groundnut only require 1/10th of the water footprint that would be required to obtain one gram of protein from bovines[10]. In a comparative analysis conducted by researchers from the renowned Wageningen University, amongst all the protein alternatives, pulses were also deemed to be the most viable, scalable, economical, and sustainable protein solution for the future [11].

Figure 1: The nitrogen fixating mechanism of pulses (adapted from FAO,2019).

[1]      J. Curran, “The nutritional value and health benefits of pulses in relation to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer,” Br. J. Nutr., vol. 108, no. SUPPL. 1, pp. 1–2, 2012.
[2]      M. Nairz, D. Haschka, E. Demetz, and G. Weiss, “Iron at the interface of immunity and infection,” Front. Pharmacol., vol. 5 JUL, no. July, pp. 1–10, 2014.
[3]      I. Wessels, M. Maywald, and L. Rink, “Zinc as a gatekeeper of immune function,” Nutrients, vol. 9, no. 12, pp. 9–12, 2017.
[4]      E. M. T. Padhi and D. D. Ramdath, “A review of the relationship between pulse consumption and reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors,” J. Funct. Foods, vol. 38, pp. 635–643, 2017.
[5]      I. Liguori et al., “Oxidative stress, aging, and diseases,” Clin. Interv. Aging, vol. 13, pp. 757–772, 2018.
[6]      R. Azman Halimi, B. J. Barkla, S. Mayes, and G. J. King, “The potential of the underutilized pulse bambara groundnut (Vigna subterranea (L.) Verdc.) for nutritional food security,” J. Food Compos. Anal., vol. 77, pp. 47–59, 2019.
[7]      FAO, “The Global Economy of Pulses,” 2019.
[8]      H. Ferreira, M. Vasconcelos, A. M. Gil, and E. Pinto, “Benefits of pulse consumption on metabolism and health: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials,” Crit. Rev. Food Sci. Nutr., vol. 0, no. 0, pp. 1–12, 2020.
[9]      W. M. U. Fernando, J. E. Hill, G. A. Zello, R. T. Tyler, W. J. Dahl, and A. G. Van Kessel, “Diets supplemented with chickpea or its main oligosaccharide component raffinose  modify faecal microbial composition in healthy adults.,” Benef. Microbes, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 197–207, Jun. 2010.

7 Reasons Why We Should Eat More Pulses