Natural Superfoods: Will pulses lead the next wave of healthy eating?

This blogpost is written by Raghavan Sampathkumar, agribusiness professional.

Ever since the UN promulgated 2016 as the International Year of Pulses (IYP), pulses are gaining more attention globally. Pulses are important sources of not only protein but are easily available and affordable sources of dietary fiber and a wide range of vitamins and minerals for healthy diets. Though utilization of pulses in processed foods remains relatively limited so far, the estimated market potential for novel products made using pulse fractions is promising. As WHO points out, non-communicable diseases (NCD) like Cardio-vascular diseases (CVD) and diabetes surpassed emerged as the deadliest in this century. Both developing and developed countries face double burdens of undernourishment as well as obesity. But up to 80% of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes and over a third of cancers could be prevented by promoting better eating habits and physical activity avoiding sedentary lifestyle, physical and mental stress. The world started realizing the true hidden cost of public health risks such as obesity and diabetes and their dangerous consequences in demographic and economic fronts. Thus the world’s growing quest for “health through food” presents greater opportunities that are not only attractive in terms of return on investments but invaluable good image and reputation for businesses. Diet colas, reduced calories, low fat, low-Sodium, low-sugar foods, and foods rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins and protein are best examples reflecting greater prospects for healthy foods. From North America to Middle East to Asia, consumers consider nutrition as an important factor. These numbers prove that awareness about health and wellness among majority of the global middle-class is definitely growing. There are opportunities waiting to be capitalized by innovative products and solutions for the companies worldwide.

Through pulse fractions, enhancing the protein profile of foods that are typically rich in carbohydrates presents enormous opportunities particularly in countries that not only face huge protein malnutrition problem but a sizeable health-conscious population. These kinds of variants are suitable for markets where consumers are typically calorie-conscious but less willing to make any compromise in taste, texture and appeal of their traditional foods. The Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) is a pioneer institution involved in utilizing pulse fractions into making reformulated pastas, noodles and vermicelli without affecting their original traditional taste, texture and importantly optimizing cost of production. For example, the reformulated pasta with 25% lentil flour qualifies to be labeled “Good source of protein” under the health laws in Canada, which traditional pasta made of 100% durum wheat cannot claim in the market place.

Health, Pulses and Associated Business Opportunities

Value Propositions

Description / Properties

Target consumer segments

Wholesome and nutritious

Rich in protein, dietary fiber and essential elements needed for humans such as folate, amino acids, vitamins, minerals such as potassium and iron. Less fat (1%).

Generally health conscious consumers. Niche segments such as sportsmen, athletes etc

Help in weight management

Clinical research over four decades prove that pulses moderate appetite and increase feeling of fullness and hence help in weight loss and maintenance.

Obese, overweight with high BMI; Niche segments such as sportsmen, athletes etc and people with special needs (e.g. diabetics)


Protein content in different pulses range from 17 – 35% with several important amino acids.

Generally health-conscious consumers; People with special needs (e.g. body builders)

Help prevent chronic diseases

The US Dietary guidelines recommend 3 cups of dry beans per week (as meat alternatives) to prevent diabetes, heart diseases and cancer.

Generally health-conscious consumers; People with special needs (e.g. diabetes, obesity)

Diabetes control (or) Heart-healthy

Pulses have low glycemic index (GI) which makes them perfect foods for preventing and controlling serum cholesterol and other blood lipids.

Primarily diabetics; People with and those who have a high likelihood of having chronic heart diseases

Gluten- free

Gluten allergic

High-dietary fiber

Prevents Celiac diseases that affect the digestive system. Insoluble fiber helps result in greater satiety

Generally health-conscious consumers; People with special needs (e.g. Celiac and other digestive diseases)


Pulses contain anti-cancer components such as selenium, saponins, isoflavones, protease inhibitors, lectins, phytases and zinc and help reduce the risk of cancer

Generally health-conscious consumers; People with special needs (e.g. cancer incl. colon

However, it is critical to match the consumers’ preferences in taste, nutrition and importantly cost because success or failure of a product depends completely on the consumers’ acceptance. While there are differences in the scope, value, size and prospects for each segment mentioned above, taking a customized approach for each market and sub-segments therein will be the key to success for any processed food product and company. Pulses, by their virtue of being wholesome, nutritious and healthy, make perfect ingredients waiting to be taken full benefit of and the IYP 2016 serves as a great platform to spread the message.



Losing Pulses - India's pulses sector - Challenges & Opportunities

The views expressed here belong to the speaker and do not necessarily represent FAO’s views, positions, strategies or opinions.


James willson 14-03-22 12:59
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