Health benefits of pulses

Pulses are the main source of protein in vegetarian diets. Even those who are supposed to be non-vegetarians, should include pulses in their meals, especially if they are not consuming a non-vegetarian dish with every meal.

Pulses are mainly seeds of a plant and therefore their protein content is high. Even cereals are seeds, but their carbohydrate count is higher and the protein content is lower than that of pulses. The protein quality of cereals is better than that of pulses, while the protein quantity of pulses is higher. A combination of cereal and pulse improves the total protein quality as the amino acid content of both complement each other. If you notice, many of our Indian menus are well balanced, e.g., dhal and rice, dhal and roti, etc. Some dishes are also in good proportion of cereal and pulse, like idli, dosa, adai, pongal and kitchdi.

Some pulses can be consumed in the raw state, like Bengal gram, green gram, red gram, peas and cow pea. But generally they are dried and sold as whole gram or broken and sold as dhals. Whole grams have a higher fibre content due to the outer covering while dhals have this covering removed and hence lose part of the fibre.

Pulses provide B-complex vitamins. They are not too high in mineral content though they can be a reasonable source of iron. They lack vitamins A and C. Sprouts develop vitamin C and can be considered a good source, especially during the first few days of sprouting.

Considering their digestion value, dhals are easier to digest, than whole grams. The easiest to digest is green gram dhal, followed by black gram dhal, toor dhal, Bengal gram dhal and finally the whole grams. Flatulence is also a problem with pulse consumption and increases in the same order as given above for digestion. It is believed that the use of ginger and garlic in these preparations will improve digestion and lower flatulence.

The variety of dishes that can be made from pulses is endless. Starting from roasted pulses, roasted dhal powders like idli podi and parupu podi; the thohayils and pachadis are hot favourites, literally. The plain dhal and pulse sundals, the raw, soaked dhal kosambris, the sambars, the masala dhals, the snacks like adai, pesarattu, chakli, muruku and ompodi are just a few of the common dishes which are popular. They are also used in kheers and halwas. Mysore Pak is an all time favourite. Among soups, pea soup and lentil soup are well known. Salads with sprouted pulses are gaining a prominent place in the present day menu.

Food Protein, g Fat ,g Fibre, g Carbs, g Energy, cals Calcium, mg Iron, mg
Bengal gram,whole 17.1 5.3 3.9 60.9 360 202 4.6
Bengal gram dhal 20.8 5.6 1.2 59.8 372 56 5.3
Bengal gram,roasted 22.5 5.2 1.0 58.1 369 58 9.5
Black gram dhal 24 1.4 0.9 59.6 347 154 3.8
Cow pea, karamani 24.1 1.0 3.8 5l.5 323 77 8.6
Field bean, mochai 24.9 0.8 1.4 60.1 347 60 2.7
Green gram whole 24.0 1.3 4.1 56.7 334 124 4.4
Green gram dhal 24.5 1.2 0.8 59.9 348 75 3.9
Horse gram, kollu 22.0 0.5 5.3 57.2 321 287 6.7
Lentil, masoor dhal 25.1 0.7 0.7 59.0 343 69 7.58
Moth beans, matki 23.6 1.1 4.5 56.5 330 202 9.5
Peas, green 7.2 0.1 4.0 15.9 93 20 1.5
Peas, dry 19.7 1.1 4.5 56.5 315 75 7.05
Peas,roasted 22.9 1.4 4.4 58.8 340 81 6.4
Rajmah 22.9 1.3 4.8 60.6 346 260 5.1
Red gram dhal 22.3 1.7 1.5 57.6 335 73 2.7
Red gram dhal,tender 9.8 1.0 6.2 16.9 116 57 1.1
Soya bean 43.2 19.5 3.7 20.9 432 240 10.4

Source: Nutritive Value of Indian Foods, Gopalan et. al.

From the above table you can see that the protein value of most pulses is ranging from 19g to 25g per 100g of the food.
The only exception is soya bean as it has a high protein, high fat, high fibre, high energy, high iron and low carbohydrate content. The fat quality of pulses is of a high standard, providing essential fatty acids. The minimum requirement of dhals and pulses per meal can be 25g (raw weight).

Pulses have a major role in the Indian menu and must be taken seriously by vegans, vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

They are a must as the primary protein source in the diets of infants, adolescents, adults, pregnant and lactating women, as well as seniors.

So, do feel the pulse of your pulses.

Malathi Mohan

The author is a retired professor of WCC, Chennai; retired Dean, Academy of Fitness Management, Chennai and Past President, Indian Dietetic Association

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