Pulses, which are centre staged throughout 2016, have been cultivated for thousands of years. The term ‘pulse’ refers to a family of plants whose fruit is a pod. There are almost 700 genera and over 18 000 species. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the term ‘pulse’ refers only to crops harvested solely for their dry grain seeds. This therefore excludes green peas and beans harvested as vegetable crops (such as French beans and haricot beans) as well as crops that are used mainly for oil extraction. Pulses are divided into three main groups: lentils, dry beans and dry peas.
Their health benefits
Pulses are rich in fibre, carbohydrates, minerals and vegetable proteins. As part of a varied diet, they can replace a portion of meat or other protein-rich food. The nutritional value of pulse proteins is not as high as that of animal proteins (they are notably lacking in methionine, an essential amino acid), but this can easily be compensated by combining pulses in the same meal with cereals or with food of animal origin (milk, cheese etc.).
The pulse/cereal combination is particularly beneficial to vegetarians and especially to vegans.
The dietary fibre found in pulses favours digestive transit. They can however cause flatulence and bloating in some such sensitive people. To avoid this inconvenience, it is advisable to introduce them gradually into the diet.
Pulses are rich in mineral salts such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. The body absorbs the iron contained in pulses better if vitamin C-rich food is eaten during the same meal (citrus fruits, berries, vegetables from the cabbage family, peppers, etc.).