Pulses have a lengthy, fascinating past. Around 11,000 years ago, in the Fertile Crescent, a region of the Middle East that was the site of some of the earliest human civilizations, the first indication of pulses was found. Peas were found by archaeologists in caves in what is now Thailand. Lentils, which were intended to support the dead on their passage to the afterlife, were found in royal Egyptian tombs. Additionally, in Italy, the names of the illustrious Roman families Piso, Lentulus, and Cicero were derived from the names of peas (Pisum sp.), lentils (Lens culinaris), and chickpeas (Cicer arietinum).
Umberto Eco, an academic and writer from Italy, asserts that peas, beans, and lentils may have even been responsible for saving Western civilization during the Early Middle Ages (476 to 1000 AD). It is generally known that the inclusion of pulses in crop rotation techniques helped in the repopulation of Europe after the Black Plague outbreak in the late 1340s. It is also credited with preventing generations of people from going hungry because of its high protein content. Many societies have evolved a variety of traditions in which eating peas and lentils play a significant role.
The term ‘pulse’ is derived from the Latin pulse meaning ‘seed or grain can be made into a thick soup or pottage’. Pulses are the nutritionally-dense edible seeds of legumes (plants with pods), which include dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. To distinguish them from other vegetable crops that are taken while still green, the term “pulses” is restricted to crops harvested only as dry grains. Pulses occur in a range of forms, dimensions, and hues and are grown in pods.
Food with a low carbon footprint: Soil microbes convert some nitrogen into nitrous oxide, a more potent and harmful greenhouse gas, when soil is treated with nitrogen from manure, fertilizer, or crop residue. Pulses use soil microbes to capture atmospheric nitrogen. Pulses consume half the amount of energy inputs as other crops because this natural mechanism eliminates the need to provide nitrogen fertilizers to pulse crops. Therefore, compared to other crops, pulse crops that fix nitrogen have a reduced carbon footprint.
Water Efficient Source of Protein: Pulses are a more water-efficient source of protein requiring just 1/2 to 1/10th water as compared to other protein sources. They get adapted to dry environments, extracting water from a shallower depth, leaving more water deep in the soil for the following year’s crop. This increases the water use efficiency of the entire crop rotation.
Pulses are versatile in nature. They can be included into a variety of recipes, including main courses, smoothies, and even desserts. They are a low-fat protein source packed with other nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and B vitamins. Having just half-a-cup of cooked pulses provides about 9 grams of protein.
Pulses are also considered to be effective for weight loss. This is because they have a low glycemic index value (i.e., do not spike blood sugar levels) and it helps people feel fuller. This is due to its fiber content which increases the chewing time and delays emptying of the stomach, thereby reducing the food intake.
Proteins are made up of building blocks known as amino acids. Some of these amino acids are referred to as “essential” since they must be obtained through the diet from foods and cannot be synthesized by the body. Complete proteins are those derived from animals such as eggs, chicken, and beef that contain all the necessary amino acids for body growth and development. A few plant foods, such as quinoa and soy (soybeans, soy milk, tofu, and tempeh), are also complete proteins. However, most plant proteins like pulses, nuts and seeds lack at least one essential amino acid. This means that having only one type of plant-based protein does not provide all the essential amino acids that are required by the body, hence called incomplete proteins.
The good news is that when two or more plant-based sources of protein are combined, each food can provide the essential amino acid(s) that the complementary food(s) is missing. In this way, one plant-based protein source gives some essential amino acids and the other plant-based ingredient gives the remaining amino acids, thereby complementing each other and ensuring that the body receives proper nutrition for good health. Mutual supplementation is the term for combining two or more incomplete protein sources to make a complete protein. For example, combining a pulse (lacks amino acids termed methionine and tryptophan) and grains (lack isoleucine and lysine) would complement the deficit of amino acids and thus provide the body with all the essential amino acids that the body cannot synthesize.
Although oatmeal & milk are good sources of protein, they are NOT an example of mutual supplementation. This is so because milk is a complete protein on its own, as opposed to mutual supplementation, which uses two incomplete proteins. Following are some possible combination choices:
Tips to Incorporate Pulses in the Diet
As pulses are a nutrient-packed food ingredient, it is essential to come up with different ways of incorporating them in everyday meals. However, repeated washing of pulses results in the loss of certain minerals and vitamins and therefore must be avoided. Furthermore, using baking soda for hastening the cooking of pulses should also be avoided, as it results in a loss of vitamins. A few examples of including pulses in the diet are:
- Add cooked kidney or black beans to an omelet for a breakfast that is high in protein.
- Add cooked lentils to a salad of leafy greens.
- Lentil or chickpea curry can be prepared and served with rice or white fish.
- To add more protein and fiber to a salad, add chickpeas.
- Enjoy a hearty lunch or dinner of split pea, black bean, or lentil soup.
|Legumes (includes pulses)||Grains, nuts & seeds||Chana with
|Grains||Legumes (includes pulses)||Rice with Rajmah|
|Nuts & seeds||Legumes (includes pulses)||Chana salad with nuts|
- Use hummus (chickpea purée) to spread sandwiches in place of mayonnaise.
- Add cooked pulses to side dishes made with healthful grains like rice, quinoa, and barley.
- For a vegetarian lunch that is packed with nutrients, toss cooked lentils with sautéed leafy greens like spinach or fenugreek leaves (methi).
- Add mashed cooked pulses to burger recipes to reduce the bad fat and to increase fiber
- With grilled steak, serve split pea salsa as a side dish.
- Make recipes innovative by using pulses as the main ingredient.
Eg: Chickpea Chocolate Cake:
Ingredients: 4 eggs, 3/4 cup white sugar, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or any type of chocolate bar, 300 g of chickpeas (soaked, washed, boiled, and drained). Method of Preparation:
- Set the oven to 180° Celsius.
- Butter a 9-inch round cake pan.
- Melt chocolate chips or a chocolate bar in a bowl suitable for the microwave, stirring until the chocolate is smooth.
- Blend chickpeas and eggs together until completely smooth. Blend in the sugar and baking powder.
- Pour in the melted chocolate, then blend until smooth.
- Pour batter onto a cake pan that has been buttered.
- Bake the cake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Let cool on a wire rack
Each serving of this recipe would provide around 5g of protein!
Through the years, India has seen a tremendous decline in pulses consumption due to its replacement by fast food and microwavable meals. However, going back to the roots and incorporating more pulses in the diet would help to include a more economical source of protein and micronutrients. This way, all sections of society would be able to combat malnutrition and nutritional deficiency in India.
Let’s move another step closer to a Healthy India!