Fact sheet: Health benefits of pulses

FAO has developed a series of fact sheets covering the key messages of the International Year of Pulses. These documents provide an in-depth look at how pulses can help to improve health, nutrition, biodiversity, food security and climate change adaptation.

Diet is an important contributor to health, and to disease. Most countries face nutritional problems, from undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies to obesity and diet-related diseases (such as type II diabetes and certain types of cancer), or a mix of these. Pulses are a nutrient-rich food that as part of a healthy diet can help fight malnutrition in both developed and developing countries.

Packed with healthy nutrients

Incredibly rich in their nutritional value, pulses are small but densely packed with protein – double that found in wheat and three times that of rice. Pulses are also rich in complex carbohydrates, micronutrients, protein and B-vitamins, which are vital parts of a healthy diet. Low in fat and rich in fibre, pulses are excellent for managing cholesterol, digestive health and regulating energy levels.

A tonic for the body

While pulses are low in calories (260-360 kcal/100 g dried pulses), they are high in complex carbohydrates and fibre, which means they are slowly digested and give a feeling of satiety. Pulses promote a steady, slow-burning energy while their iron content helps transporting oxygen throughout the body, which boosts energy production and metabolism. The fibre in pulses is not generally absorbed by the body and thus increases stool volume and transit. The fibre also serves to bind toxins and cholesterol in the gut so these substances can be removed from the body. This improves heart health and lowers blood cholesterol.

A perfect pairing

The protein of pulses is high in lysine and low in sulfur-containing amino acids. Grains’ protein is low in lysine but high in sulfur-containing amino acids. Combining them provides a higher protein quality—a complete protein. This means that the body needs less protein to fulfil its protein needs, which improves nutrition, especially in low-income communities, where the availability of other sources of protein such as animal protein are limited.