As a vegetarian, pulses are essential to our diet and there is no meal without pulses in some form or the other in our meal. Also known as legumes, pulses are the edible seeds of leguminous plants cultivated for food. Dried beans, lentils and peas are the most commonly known and consumed types of pulses. Pulses do not include crops that are harvested green like green peas and green beans which are classified as vegetable crops. Also excluded are those crops used mainly for oil extraction like soybeans and groundnuts as well as leguminous crops that are used exclusively for sowing purposes like the seeds of clover and alfalfa.
So why are pulses important crops? Pulses are packed with nutrients and have a high protein content, making them an ideal source of protein particularly in regions where meat and dairy are not physically or economically accessible. Pulses are low in fat and rich in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and help in the control of blood sugar. Because of these qualities they are recommended by health organizations for the management of non-communicable diseases like diabetes and heart conditions and pulses have also been shown to help combat obesity.
In addition to the above, pulses are naturally low in fat and contain no cholesterol, which can contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. They are also low in sodium which is a contributor to hypertension. Pulses are a great source of plant-based protein. 100 grams of dry lentils contain a remarkable 25 grams of protein and during cooking, pulses absorb considerable amounts of water, reducing their protein content to around 8 percent. The protein quality of cooked pulses can be increased by simply combining them with cereals in a meal, like lentils with rice, classic Indian food combination. Pulses are a good source of iron and combining them with food containing vitamin C can help optimise optimise the absorption of iron in bodies from pulses, like lemon juice on a dal perhaps. Pulses are high in potassium, which supports heart health and plays an important role for digestive and muscular functions and are often quoted among the top high fibre foods, necessary for supporting digestive health and helping to reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases as well as an excellent source of folate essential to the nervous system function and especially important during pregnancy to prevent foetal defects. They are low glycaemic index foods and help stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels, making them suitable for people with diabetes and ideal for weight management as well as being naturally gluten-free, they make an ideal food option for coeliacs.
For farmers, pulses are an important crop because they can both sell them and consume them, which helps farmers maintain household food security and creates economic stability. Pulses are also good for the environment because the nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses improve soil fertility, which increases and extends the productivity of the farmland. By using pulses for intercropping and cover crops, farmers can also promote farm biodiversity and soil biodiversity, while keeping harmful pests and diseases at bay. Pulses also contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing dependence on the synthetic fertilizers used to introduce nitrogen artificially into the soil. Greenhouse gases are released during the manufacturing and application of these fertilizers, and their overuse can be detrimental to the environment.
Recognising the value of pulses, the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2013, proclaimed 2016 as the International Year of Pulses which increased the public awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production. Building on the success of the International Year of Pulses, Burkina Faso proposed the observance of World Pulses Day and 10 February 2019 was proclaimed as the first World Pulses Day.
Most cultures and cuisines across the world feature pulses in some form or the other. The Indian cusine across states features pulses in different formats from the staple dals and sambars to other dishes like vadas and pakoras. Other dishes include the hummus and falafel from the Mediterranean made of chick peas, to a traditional full English breakfast which usually include baked navy beans, the Bandeja Paisa from Colombia. So try to incorporate some pulses in your daily diet for health!