Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Storehouse of Nutrients

Pulses are eaten in every part of the country. These are a major source of protein in our diet. But do we know anything else besides the fact that pulses are members of the legume family?

Let us discover some facts about the world of pulses today. Try naming the pulses that you are familiar with. How many did you get?

The word ‘pulse’ has its origin in the Latin word puls which in Greek means thick soup like porridge. Proof of cultivation of pulses has been found at the site of the Indus Valley Civilisation near the river Ravi in Punjab.

Traces of these have also been found at the pyramids. Some dry pea seeds were discovered in a Swiss village which are believed to date back to the Stone Age.
In general, the term pulses refers to crops that are harvested for their dry seeds. Have you guessed which part of the plant pulses are? Yes! You are right if your answer is seed. Now on to the basics- I mentioned that pulses belong to the legume family. Do you know what a legume is or what leguminous crops are?

Legumes are plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod. This is one huge family with about 600 genera and 13,000 species. Well! Pulses like toor, moong, chana and masoor are a major part of the legume family but alfa alfa, clover, peanuts and soy also belong to this family. Legumes or leguminous crops are extremely important to the crop rotation practice. Why, you might wonder. Crop rotation refers to the practice of growing different crops as per the season. This leads to the maintenance and rejuvenation of levels of the different resources and minerals present in the soil. Even then the soil needs replenishment of various minerals and this can be achieved either by adding fertilisers or by growing legumes — they fix nitrogen in the soil — between two different crops.

We all know and some of you have seen the horrors that have been wreaked on the health of humans by an overdose of these fertilisers. Growing legumes, which trap nitrogen in the soil and make it available for the crop that is grown, is a healthier, more economic and thus a superior choice to the use of fertilisers. This way pulses help in the environmental sustainability of the annual cropping system.

Now let us examine the health benefits that pulses have in store for us. Pulses are consumed in a variety of forms. They are either eaten whole or split. Often they are consumed as flour after being ground. Many a time they are consumed separated in parts like fibre, starch or protein.

As I said before they are a major source of protein. Pulses contain almost twice the amount of protein present in whole grain cereals like wheat, rice, barley and oats.

Pulses are also a great source of fibre — soluble as well as insoluble. Soluble fibre helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, the insoluble fibre aids digestion and helps regularise bowel movement.

Pulses are high in mineral content. They are a store house of important minerals like zinc, iron and phosphorous. They also contain folate, niacin and thiamine — members of the Vitamin B clan — that help the body produce and build new cells. Pulses deliver all this goodness in a relatively low number of calories.

Adding to this is the fact that pulses are low in fat and contain no cholesterol and you have a perfectly good example of healthy eating.

During the next meal you must get an extra helping of this particular beneficiary.

(This column appeared first in The New Indian Express on Feb 22, 2013)

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