By Osman Sharif
Credit: Courtesy FAO
Casablanca – This is not a minor issue. Chickpea, faba bean, lentil, common bean, field pea, mung bean, black gram, pigeon pea, cowpea, and grass pea are the major pulse crops produced globally. And these especially play an important role in food and nutritional security and sustainable agricultural production systems in the drylands, which cover over 40 per cent of the world’s land area and are home to approximately 2.5 billion people.“These crops are the mainstay of agriculture and diets in these regions, constituting a major source of protein for billions. With an ever-growing health conscious population, the demand for pulses is increasing, says the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), while announcing its International Conference on Pulses for Health, Nutrition and Sustainable Agriculture for Drylands in Marrakesh, Morocco, 18-20 April 2016.
Coinciding with the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP), the conference aims at sensitising main actors in pulse research and industries about the more recent scientific findings on health, nutrition and environmental benefits of producing, processing and eating pulses.
And the conference is expected to provide a platform to various stakeholders, including scientists, policy-makers, extension workers, traders and entrepreneurs, to discuss the various contributions of pulses to food and nutritional security and ecosystem health.
“Challenges ahead for driving greater production and benefits for all will be addressed with a focus on Central and West Asia, and North Africa,” says ICARDA and adds “a roadmap will be developed for increasing productivity and profitability of pulses through diversification and intensification of cereal/livestock-based cropping systems.
These, among others, are expected to be the main outcomes of this international conference, which is organised, along with the Moroccan National Institute forAgricultural Research (INRA), in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and other national and regional institutions.
How to Get kids to Eat Pulses?
But technical issues aside, the question is how to learn to eat pulses. One of the conference main co-organisers, FAO, apparently recommends to start from the very beginning, by posing this question: How to get kids to eat pulses?
And the response reminds parents and families at large that pulses are a highly versatile ingredient to cook with—as either a main meal or a side dish, they are the perfect complement to even the boldest of flavours.
But just like any new ingredient, convincing the pickiest eaters in the family to try these nutritious beans, peas and lentils can sometimes prove more than difficult.
For this, FAO presents some fun and creative suggestions for getting your kids excited about eating their pulses:
Start with the Familiar
Hummus is a widely popular dip made of chickpeas and many children love it. But did you know you can make it with almost any kind of cooked pulses?
Using your favourite hummus recipe, simply replace the chickpeas with cooked lentils or beans. Try serving with toasted pita or sliced veggies, or spread on a sandwich.
Burgers and meatballs are also a popular food with children, and lentils, beans or a mixture of the two can be substituted for meat to make delicious, homemade veggie patties and meatless meatballs.
Many kids hate the “mushy” texture of beans. This can be eliminated by cooking with dried beans instead of canned beans, which produce a much more palatable texture. Dried beans should be soaked overnight before cooking.
Take the Hands-on Approach
Getting kids involved in the cooking process can excite them about trying the dishes they helped create. Take a trip to the market together and let your children choose the pulses that they want to eat.
When making veggie patties with pulses, let kids help you mix and shape the patties. You can also let kids build their own burritos or tacos using beans as an ingredient.
Play with Your Food
Beans, peas and lentils are easy to arrange on a plate to create different designs. Shape your beans into happy faces or your lentils into shooting stars—or let your children design their own plate of pulses.
What About the Grown-Ups?
For his part, Dr. Francesco Branca, Director of Nutrition at World Health Organization (WHO), knows much about how eating pulses can have a positive impact on nutrition and health.
Good nutrition is really important for physical and mental development, and it allows people to reach their full potential (e.g. in school and at work), he said in an interview. It also underpins a strong immune system, which protects us from both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Undernutrition is a major contributor to the burden of disease. Almost half (45%) of all deaths among children under the age of five are linked to under-nutrition.
Dr. Branca states that unhealthy diet is the greatest underlying cause of deaths worldwide, accounting for 11 million deaths each year. Another measure of the burden of disease is the disability-adjusted life year (DALY), which is the number of years lost due to poor health, disability or early death.
“Unhealthy diet is responsible for 241.4 million DALYs; child and maternal malnutrition accounts for 176.9 million DALYs; and obesity for 134 million DALYs.”
Pulses contain many nutrients, one of the most important of which is fibre. Asked to explain some of the health benefits of a diet rich in fibre?, Dr. Brabca said: When someone has a diet that is high in fibre, this can help prevent him or her from becoming obese, especially when s/he also does sports or other physical activity.
Studies suggest that one of the reasons that type 2 diabetes was relatively rare in rural Africa 40 years ago was because people there were eating a diet that was high in fibre. More recent studies in the United States also indicate that diets that are high in fibre reduce the chances of developing diabetes, he adds
“Eating foods like pulses that are high in fibre can help bring down blood glucose and insulin levels, which is crucial for people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic.”
Many studies indicate that diets high in fibre can reduce the risk of heart disease and reduce blood pressure, according to D. Branca, who adds: “one of the ways this works is because many types of fibre reduce the levels of the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol in a person’s blood, which in turn lowers his or her risk of heart disease.’
There are many other health benefits of a diet rich in fibre, including some suggestion that it may reduce the risk of certain types of cancers and can protect from tooth decay, he said, explaining that in populations that are transitioning away from traditional diets that are high in fibre (e.g. the Mediterranean diet)—fibre intake is going down, spurring an increased risk of non-communicable diseases. – IPS
By Osman Sharif