Pulses are the edible seeds of legumes and include peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. The word ëípulseíí is derived from the Latin words puls or pultis, meaning thick soup.

To encourage the further consumption of pulses throughout North America, the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG) organized a two-day media tour to educate food writers. SPG provides leadership for the Saskatchewan pulse industry, through research, market development and communication.

Saskatchewan is the heart of Canadaís pulse industry, responsible for 99, 80 and 99% of the lentil, pea and chickpea crops, respectively. The Canadian pulse industry has experienced dramatic growth in the past few decades. Production increased from 889,000 tons in 1991 to 4,815,000 tons in 2008, with 60% being exported to India, China, Bangladesh, the U.S. and Colombia. 

Pulses are an incredibly nutrient-dense, whole food. Pulses (on average) are considered an excellent source of folate and thiamine (=20% of recommended daily intake (RDI)/serving); a good source of pyridoxine (10-19% of RDI/serving); and a source of riboflavin and niacin (=5% of RDI/serving). They contain several minerals, including potassium, calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc1.

The overall low lipid content of pulses is particularly important, in light of dietary recommendations to lower fat to reduce the risk for chronic disease. Pulses are an excellent source of high-quality protein, containing approximately 20-25% dry weight, and of dietary fiber (approximately 3-7%), of which approximately 30-40% is soluble1.

Studies in both animals and humans consistently demonstrate favorable effects of pulses on plasma lipid concentrations. A recent meta-analysis of 10 trials including 268 participants reported reductions in total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol of 11.8mg/dL (-16.1 to -7.5) and 8.0mg/dL (-11.4 to -4.6), respectively. The benefits of pulses in lowering several indices of cardiovascular disease are most likely due to the combined effects of soluble fiber, vegetable protein and folate, as well as phytochemicals, such as oligosaccharides, isoflavones and saponins2

Pulses possess a low glycemic index (GI): lentils and kidney beans at 27, chickpeas at 33 and split peas at 483. A total of 41 trials with 1,674 participants demonstrate that pulses alone, or as part of  low-GI or high-fiber diets, improved glycosylated blood proteins (HbA1c or fructosamine) and lowered fasting blood glucose4. In subjects consuming muffins made with either whole pea flour or pea fiber, fasting insulin levels were 15% lower than participants consuming control muffins made with wheat flour5.

Consuming pea fiber significantly decreased insulin resistance by up to 18%, compared to control, and resulted in a shift in the android-to-gynoid fat ratio, suggesting pulses help reduce obesity in the abdominal area. Further, eating 1 cup of pulses 5 days/week for 8 weeks improved long-term blood sugar control, reduced the amount of calories eaten and decreased the waist size of 44 overweight and obese study subjects6

Along with this excellent science, there is a continued interest on the part of food companies in using pulses. For example, there were nearly 160 product launches containing pea protein in 2009, according to Mintel figures, in comparison to fewer than 10 products in 2000. Pulses can be easily incorporated into a variety of food products to provide both health attributes and functionality.  NS

For more information:
Saskatchewan Pulse Growers * Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Rachael Kehrig * Rachael.kehrig@saskpulse.com

Pulse Canada * Winnipeg, Manitoba
Tracey Thompson * tthompson@pulsecanada.com


1 Augustin J and Klein BP. 1989. Nutrient composition of raw, cooked, canned and sprouted legumes.  In Matthews, RH. (ed.): Legumes: Chemistry, Technology and Human Nutrition. New York: Marcel Dekker, 187-217.  
2 Bazzano LA. et al. 2009. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. Nov 23. [Epub. ahead of print].
3  Rizkalla SW. et al. 2002.  Brit J Nutr. 88:S255-262. 
4  Sievenpiper JL. et al. 2009. Diabetologia. 52(8):1479-95.
5  Marinangeli CPF. et al. 2009. J. Food Sci. 74(9)S385.
6 Anderson GH. et al. 2009. Unpublished data. Pulse Canada.