Researchers at the University of Manitoba have insights into the health and heart benefits of these sensational seeds.
Dr. Peter Zahradka, Professor, Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine, St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre, has been conducting clinical pulse consumption trials which involve asking people with peripheral artery disease to eat half a cup of mixed pulses every day for eight weeks. The objective was to observe the health effects that eating pulses had on the body, but from the initial outcomes the results were even better than researchers had hoped. “We had expected there might be something, but we didn’t expect to actually see changes in the blood flow that were measureable by the gold standard technique for diagnosing people with peripheral artery disease,” said Dr. Zahradka.
So what exactly are pulses?
Pulses are a specific branch of the legume family which includes only dried peas and beans, lentils and chickpeas. Their claim to nutritional fame includes being a high source of protein and fibre, in addition to having a low fat content.
Jocelyne Gaudet, Project Coordinator for the Manitoba Consumer Monitor Food Panel (MCMFP) and Professional Home Economist, weighs in on the confusion around what pulses are. When people think about dried beans or dried peas they think that they are the same as fresh peas or beans. Overall, they come from the same legume family, but dried beans and peas, lentils and chickpeas are the separate subcategory of pulses. I think that pulses in the context of food are a new word for people, and it may take some time to really understand the distinction”.
As individuals learn more about what pulses are, researchers are learning about the positive effects that they can have on our bodies. “We’re trying to use animal studies to figure out how they [pulses] work. The result of one study recently published was that eating these pulses physically changes the structure of the blood vessels making them more elastic. Atherosclerosis is hardening of the arteries, and eating pulses reverses that process,” added Dr. Zahradka.
The Manitoba Consumer Monitor Food Panel (MCMFP), in joint collaboration with the University of Manitoba. Panelists are surveyed from across Manitoba and asked questions on their knowledge, reactions, preferences and behaviours around food and health related matters. Panelists identified top health reasons why they put pulses on their plate (Figure 1). It appears Manitobans are aware of the nutritive benefits of consuming pulses. However, many participants indicated that they did not eat them as part of their daily diet. Perhaps pulses aren’t on Manitobans radar when meal time comes around; despite the fact consumers are aware of their health benefits.
“It’s quite surprising considering that pulses contribute a billion dollars a year to the Canadian economy and Canada is a major exporter of pulses in the world,” added Dr. Zahradka.
Dr. Tammi Feltham, CoInvestigator for the Manitoba Consumer Monitor Food Panel said that she does not find the results surprising that pulses may have substantial health benefits. “Our panelists are well aware of the benefits of eating pulses. Almost half of the respondents strongly agreed that pulses were nutritious and part of a healthy diet” (Figure 2). The part that she does find concerning however, is that although the health benefits are well known, that still does not mean that people are eating pulses. “Pulses still seem to be underrepresented at the dinner table. Our panelists indicated that if more information was available about the benefits of eating pulses, more people may purchase them.”