Pulses in food-based dietary guidelines

Growing up, you may have learned how to eat healthily by incorporating the right amount of foods from all of the food groups into your diet. But did you know that these recommendations often come from your government through food-based dietary guidelines?

Food-based dietary guidelines are short, science-based, positive messages on healthy eating and lifestyles with the goal of preventing malnutrition and keeping people well-nourished and healthy. These messages are often accompanied by a visual that is culturally appropriate to the country and easily understood by the people, for example, the food pyramid, food plate or food wheel. These guidelines vary by region and country, and are often designed with the food availability, consumption patterns and culture of the specific population in mind.

Due to their nutritional value, pulses make a regular appearance in many of these guidelines across the world. In particular, when designing dietary guidelines, governments consider pulses highly important because when combined with cereals or with small amounts of foods from animal sources they provide critical nutrients at low cost. Below, we take a look at how pulses are incorporated into food-based dietary guidelines in select countries from all regions.

Brazil’s food-based dietary guidelines centre on the golden rule: “Always prefer natural or minimally processed foods and freshly made dishes and meals to ultra-processed foods.” In the Brazilian population, rice and beans alone made up almost a quarter of total dietary energy intake, and this combination is present in nearly all of the suggested lunch and dinner options. The guidelines recommend substituting beans with lentils or chickpeas to make meals more varied and enjoyable. Brazil’s guidelines also promote traditional nutritious foods and healthy ways of preparing meals, in which pulses play an important role.

“Beans, as well as all other legumes, are sources of proteins, dietary fibre, vitamin B complex, and minerals, such as calcium, zinc, and iron. The high content of fibre and the moderate amount of calories per gram, make these foods satisfying, which checks overeating.”

India is the largest producer and importer of pulses in the world, so needless to say, they are an important part of the diet for many Indians. In the country’s food-based dietary guidelines, pulses are featured because of their protein and fiber content. The guidelines also recommend that lactating women add two extra portions of pulses to their diets, and that they consider giving pulses to their infants as a complementary food. 

“Nutritionally adequate diets should be consumed through a wise choice from a variety of foods. . . .Cereals, millets and pulses are major sources of most nutrients.”

In Namibia, a large portion of the population suffers from various forms of malnutrition because of an inadequate food intake. This not only causes individual suffering and hardship, but also places an enormous strain on the country’s economy. The government developed the Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Namibia as part of a widespread effort to address this issue. In these guidelines, Namibians are encouraged to eat pulses like beans, lentils and peas regularly to improve the consumption of protein, iron* and B-vitamins.

Australia’s food-based dietary guidelines highlight the health benefits of eating legumes like pulses. The guidelines note that dietary patterns high in vegetables, legumes/beans and fruit can help protect us against chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke and some types of cancers. They may also prevent excessive weight gain, and are recommended as a food low in saturated fat.

“Most Australians need more vegetables and fruit, particularly green, orange and red vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, capsicum and sweet potatoes, and leafy vegetables like spinach, and legumes/beans like lentils.”

Pulses like beans and lentils are grown and eaten regularly in Italy. The country’s food-based dietary guidelines note that pulses are a good source of complex carbohydrates like starch and fibre. They are also good sources of protein, iron* and calcium, which are particularly important for pregnant women.

“In [the meat, fish and dairy food group] it is advisable—from a nutritional point of view—to include pulses (beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, etc.), expanding the variety of choices and alternatives.”

At FAO, we support a number of member countries in the development, implementation, and revision of their dietary guidelines. Learn more about our work, and view our full collection of food-based dietary guidelines here.


*The iron from animal source foods is better used by the body than the iron obtained from pulses. To improve the iron available from pulses, it is advised to combine them with sources of vitamin C, like citrus fruits.


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