1. Health & Lifestyle

Pulses - Good for Body & Planet

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

Despite being an excellent food that should never be missing in our diet, pulses today appear increasingly rarely on our tables. The modern diet is in fact based on greater use of animal proteins and the pace of life today has oriented consumer choices to convenience foods. Pulses are not only excellent food but they are also sustainable! Let’s learn why pulses are not only good for our body, but also for our planet. First of all, the cultivation of grain legumes requires a low consumption of natural resources, particularly water and soil.  

According to FAO data, the production of lentils or split peas requires 50 liters of water per kilo. In contrast, a kilo of chicken meat requires 4,325 liters, a kilo of beef 13,000. The reduced water footprint also makes the cultivation of pulses an intelligent choice in arid areas and regions prone to drought. 

Secondly, pulses are “nitrogen-fixing” plants that are they are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds thanks to the symbiosis that is established with certain microorganisms (Rhizobium leguminosarum) of the soil in their roots, and therefore they require minimal use of common nitrogen fertilizers. This means that pulses have a low carbon footprint, i.e. low emissions of greenhouse gases linked to the chemical synthesis of pesticides and fertilizers for agriculture. 

Cultivating pulses therefore improves the fertility of the soil and reduces its erosion, enriching it with nutrients and a bacterial microflora which favors the practice of crops in succession, such as for example, the rotation between cereal crops (wheat, barley and spelt) and pulses which, compared to cereal crops only, leads to increased efficiency of nitrogen use. Improving the overall condition of the soil, therefore, pulses foster biodiversity, understood as the genetic diversity of crops.

 “Nutritious seeds for a sustainable future”, the slogan launched by FAO for 2016, sums up in a sentence the importance of pulses, not only for nutrition but also for the preservation of natural resources, given that the fight against malnutrition is also an environmental challenge. 

Not everyone knows that pulses are a complete food because they are rich in nutrients, primarily proteins: in the dry state their content amounts to 20 to 40 percent, a percentage almost doubles that of cereals and very close to that of products of animal origin. They are also low in fat, from 2 to 5 percent, and rich in-fibre, both insoluble, present mainly in the skin and useful for regular bowel function, and soluble, which help to control the levels of glucose and cholesterol in the blood. The energy value of legumes is among the highest in the plant world: carbohydrates, in fact, account for about 50 percent  of their weight. They contain a fair amount of phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron, B vitamins and, when they are fresh, also vitamin C. 

The origins of this pulse are ancient. The first records date back to 2100 BC in Asia Minor. Peas can only be found fresh in the spring and compared to other pulses have less calories because they contain few lipids. They also contain a fair amount of carbohydrates, proteins, minerals and fibre, which exert a beneficial effect on the intestine and cardiovascular system. 

English/ Hindi Indian Dals Names

Black Eyed Peas – RaungiChawliLobhia;Black Gram Lentils, Split and skinned – Urad Dal; Black Gram Whole – black gram lentils – Sabut Urad (these are not black beans, not beluga lentils, not caviar black lentils). They look like black mung beans; Chickpeas, Brown  (Bengal Gram)- Kala Chana;Chickpeas, green – Cholia / Hara; Chana; Chickpeas, split – (Split Bengal gram, split brown chickpeas) , Chana Dal; Chickpeas, white – Garbanzo Beans, Kabuli Chana, Safed Chana,  Chole; Kidney Beans, red – Rajma; Lentils, brown (whole) –SabutMasoor;Lentils, Red/orange/pink (split brown lentils) – Masoor Dal; Lentils, yellow petite – (Split Mung Beans) – Mung Dal; Mung Beans (green gram whole) – Hare Moong; and Pigeon Peas, split – ArharTuvar, Toor  


These are an ancient crop, native to the Middle and Far East, which quickly spread throughout the Mediterranean. Currently they rank third in world consumption, after soy and beans. Chickpeas are a pure concentrate of energy, thanks to the 6 percent of fat and 55 percent of carbohydrates they contain. Despite chickpeas also being rich in other nutritional properties, they are still underrated in Italy even if, in reality, they are very versatile since they can be ground into flour for use in various dishes such as Spanish omelettes. 

Grass Peas

These are lesser known pulses and therefore to be revalued. The grass pea plant is native to the Middle East and for many centuries it was of great importance both for human consumption as well as for forage. Since the last century, its use has become less common in Italy, so much so as to have been almost abandoned, and only in recent years is it showing signs of recovery. In Asia and in Africa, on the other hand, cultivation of the grass pea is widespread and covers one third of the protein requirement per capita.


Perhaps not everyone knows that… peanuts are pulses! In fact, they are commonly more closely associated with hazelnuts, almonds and other types of oily seeds since they are also known as “monkey nuts”. The peanut is native to Brazil, now grown worldwide, especially in Africa and Asia. It contains no cholesterol, has an excellent antioxidant property and is rich in lipids and oleic acid.

The objective of FAO, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization dedicated to pulses is to promote a series of initiatives in order to raise awareness of the value of these foods:

  • Public opinion to learn about the nutritional quality of pulses and make greater use of them as ingredients in their dishes;

  • Farmers to revalue the biodiversity of pulses and use them in crop rotation with a view to organic and sustainable farming;

  • Researchers to learn more about the chemical composition and nutritional quality typical of the various varieties of pulses worldwide in order to create a more detailed database.


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