Celebrate the International Year of Pulses

Celebrate the International Year of Pulses

We’re pretty excited about 2016 being the year of pulses — so much so we integrated a few of our favourites into some of our new foods. Read below to learn more about the sustainable source of nutrition that’s going to be huge in 2016.

Celebrate the International Year of Pulses: A Sustainable Source of Nutrition

By Christopher P.F. Marinangeli PhD, RD
Director, Nutrition, Science and Regulatory Affairs at Pulse Canada

On November 10, 2015, the United Nations officially launched 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. What does this mean? Pulses will be celebrated across the globe as a sustainable source of nutrition. Did you know Canada is the world’s largest producer of lentils and peas; and global leader in total exports of pulses? Canada sure has a lot to celebrate this year!

What are Pulses?

Pulses have been around for ages, with archeological evidence dating back as far as 11,000 BC showing that they were one of the first domesticated crops.1. To really define pulses, we have to first start with explaining “legume.” Legumes are edible seeds that grow and develop inside a pod. In North America, peanuts and soybeans are commonly known legumes. Pulses are a subset of legumes, where the seeds within the pod are harvested solely as a dry crop, which means they  contain very little moisture.2 Example of pulses include dried peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans (Table 1). Pulses also contain very little oil.  Therefore, peanuts and soybeans are not considered pulses because they are often harvested as a source of cooking oil. So to be clear, all pulses are legumes, but not all legumes are pulses.

Table 1. Examples of pulses

Peas Chickpeas Lentils Beans
Green peas
Yellow peas
(harvested dry)
Desi chickpeas
Kabuli chickpeas
Green
Red
Yellow
(split or whole)
Black beans
Cowpeas and Black eyed peas
Cranberry beans
Faba or Fava beans
Kidney beans
Lima bean
Lupin (or Lupini) beans
Navy beans
Pinto beans

Why Pulses?

Pulses Are Packed With Nutrients

Most often, it is the protein and fibre content of pulses that captures considerable attention. On average, ½ cup of cooked beans, lentils or chickpeas contains 6-18 g of protein and 3-19 g of fibre.3 Pulses also contain substantial levels of folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. In many areas of the world, including Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, pulses are a dietary staple that provide significant levels of essential nutrients. As demonstrated by dietary guidelines for Canada,4 the U.S.,5 Australia,6 Spain,7 Nordic Countries,8 India9 and the United Kingdom,10 there is consistent inclusion of pulses as foods that contribute to a healthy diet. Studies from Canada and the U.S. demonstrate that, compared to individuals that exclude pulses from their diet, consumption of ½ cups cooked pulses per day significantly increases the intake of protein, fibre, iron, magnesium and zinc.11; 12

Pulses Contribute to Sustainable Agriculture

The benefits of pulses extend beyond that of nutrition, particularly with respect to sustainable agriculture. Compared to other crops, pulses are unique in their ability to extract nitrogen from the air, which is used for their growth and development of proteins. This process of “nitrogen fixation” also enriches the soil with nitrogen and reduces the need for nitrogen-enriched fertilizers. In fact, when pulses are planted in alternate years on farmland that is typically used for wheat, the yields of wheat increases and use of nitrogen fertilizers decreases.13 The ability to enrich soil with nitrogen is a key trait that make pulses one of the lowest carbon footprint foods available.14 Finally, compared to other crops, pulses typically require less water during the growth cycle.15 Overall, farming practices that include pulses help support sustainable agriculture.

Final Thoughts

Renowned as a source of protein, fibre and micronutrients, pulses not only make a considerable contribution to intakes of essential nutrients, but also to sustainable agriculture in Canada and around the world. Although nutritious, pulses also have their challenges. Unfortunately, in Canada, consumption of pulse remains relatively low.12 But in the spirit of the International Year, we encourage Canadians to start incorporating more pulses into their diets. Whole pulses are available in dry or canned forms and whole pulses can be added to an array of traditional and innovative recipes . You can also find pulses that have been ground up into flours, which can bring another level versatility to your cooking. Also, look for new foods in your supermarket where pulses have been added as primary ingredients. In 2016, celebrate sustainable nutrition with pulses.

References

1 Mikic A (2012) Origin of the words denoting some of the most ancient old world pulse crops and their diversity in modern European languages. PLoS One 7, e44512.
2 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1994) Definition and Classification of Commodities. http://www.fao.org/es/faodef/fdef04e.htm (accessed December 3 2015)
3 Pulse Canada (2015) Pulse Nutrition Information. http://pulsecanada.clickonce.ca/site_customs/nutrition/ (accessed December 2, 2015 2015)
4 Health Canada (2011) Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - A Resource for Educators and Communicators. no. 4667. Canada.
5 U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 7th Edition. Washington, DC.
6 National Health and Medical Research Council: Department of Health and Aging (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. Canberra, Australia.
7 Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (2015) Food-based Dietary Guidelines-Spain. http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-based-dietary-guidelines/regions/countries/spain/en/ (accessed December 2 2015)
8 Nordic Council of Ministries (2012) Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012: Inegrating nutrition and physical activity. Copenhagen, Denmark: Nordic Council of Ministries.
9 National Institute of Nutrition (2011) Dietary Guidelines for Indians 2nd Edition. Hyderabad, India: National Institute of Nutrition
10 Public Health England in association with the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland, (2013) Your Guide to the Eatwell Plate: Helping you eat a healthier diet. United Kingdom.
11 Mitchell DC, Lawrence FR, Hartman TJ et al. (2009) Consumption of dry beans, peas, and lentils could improve diet quality in the US population. J Am Diet Assoc 109, 909-913.
12 Mudryj AN, Yu N, Hartman TJ et al. (2012) Pulse consumption in Canadian adults influences nutrient intakes. Br J Nutr 108 Suppl 1, S27-36.
13 St. Luce M, Grant CA, Zebarth BJ et al. (2015) Legumes can reduce economic optimum nitrogen rates and increase yields in a wheat–canola cropping sequence in western Canada. Field Crops Research 179, 12-25.
14 Gan Y, Liang C, Wang X et al. (2011) Lowering carbon footprint of durum wheat by diversifying cropping systems. Field Crops Research 122, 199-206.
15 Angadi SV, McConkey BG, Cutforth HW et al. (2008) Adaptation of alternative pulse and oilseed crops to the semiarid Canadian Prairie: Seed yield and water use efficiency. Canadian Journal of Plant Science 88, 425-438.

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