What is green, white, yellow, red or black, often round or ovalish in shape, and rich in various nutrients? For the nutrition savvy, pulses will surely come to mind and they will be correct. Pulses include beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils, of which there are a great variety. They are an affordable alternative protein food; providing different vitamins and minerals as well as fibre. Thus they are a nutritious food offering value for money for consumers.
However, pulses are also a food group which has benefits for the natural and economic environment. Firstly, growing pulses requires little to no nitrogen fertiliser which uses a lot of energy to produce, so regularly eating pulses or foods that contain pulses can reduce the carbon foot print of one’s diet. Secondly, since crop production greenhouse gas emissions are largely driven by nitrogen fertilisers, farmers that grow nitrogen-fixing pulse crops are doing their part to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Thirdly, introducing nitrogen-fixing pulses to crop rotations improves the yield and quality of wheat grown in rotation. This is an important economic benefit to the farmer. So consumers have to do their part as well and shop for pulses and products with pulse ingredients.
Given the multiple positive attributes of pulses, it is no wonder that the United Nations has declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses with the slogan “nutritious seeds for a sustainable future.” a The aim of this year is to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production for improving food security.
Thus, this year is an opportunity for nutrition educators to strengthen and broaden the message around pulses; celebrating and sharing how different nations use these pulses as staples in their diet or as key ingredients in signature regional and national dishes; giving individuals the skills to include pulses in their day-to-day meals; highlighting the dietary versatility of pulses and how they should be eaten as a regular part of a healthy diet to reduce the risk and help manage chronic conditions or diseases such as excess weight, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer; and finally highlighting how these leguminous plants can be integral to a plant-based diet which can help sustain local small-scale farmers, boost soil fertility and protect the natural environment.
In keeping with the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, let us “join forces to raise awareness of the benefits of pulses.” b
a Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations. International Year of Pulses 2016. http://www.fao.org/pulses-2016/en/
b UN News Centre. UN launches 2016 International Year of Pulses, celebrating benefits of legumes. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52505#.VlLAUtKrTGg