AUSTRALIA'S DIETARY shortcomings are costing the country more than $2 billion per year in medical and associated expenses, prompting researchers and dietitians to search for healthier food alternatives.
One food that has proved its health benefits over a two-decade US study is chickpea and this could catapult WA chickpea growers into the midst of a health food marketing boom. WA produces 25,000 tonnes of chickpeas per year.
Nancy Longnecker, of WA's Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), is coordinating efforts to better understand how good for consumers chickpeas are.
"A US study tracked over 9,600 men and women for 19 years to compare the effect of diet and found those that ate four or more serves of legumes (including chickpeas) per week were 22 per cent less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease than those who ate less than one serve per week," Dr Longnecker said.
"Researchers around the world are looking at legumes as a good food to assist in improving modern diets. Eating more legumes lowers the risk of heart disease, typeII diabetes and obesity." Pulses such as chickpeas are low in fat, have a low glycaemic index, high fibre, high protein and high levels of nutrients such as iron, calcium and zinc and many of the B vitamins, including niacin, thiamine and folate.
CLlMA, in association with collaborating researchers at the Baker Medical Research Institute and the University of Tasmania, is currently investigating the effect of a chickpea diet on blood cholesterol (see our report pJ7).
Beef up on pulses
The versatile chickpea straddles two food categories - vegetables and the protein category of meat, legumes and nuts - which makes it a low-fat food for people wanting to cut down on animal protein. If mushrooms are meat for vegetarians, then chickpeas must be the way to 'beef up' a salad.
Convenience may boost the nutritional appeal to endear pulses to a wider crosssection of Australians. Pulses are available in supermarkets around the country, are for butter or other spread is a convenient way to boost consumption.
lupins have a lot to offer, too
CLIMA Director Kadambot Siddique said a focus on health research was uncovering some compelling links between pulses and human health.
"Pulses, such as WA's million-hectare lupin crop, have valuable health properties such as high fibre, complex carbohydrates, thiamine, niacin and folate content and contain carotenoids and phytoestrogens. Plus they have low glycaemic index and no gluten," Professor Siddique said.
"The isoflavone, genistein, is also present in high concentrations in lupin. US investigations into genistein in soybean are evaluating its potential application as a treatment for cancer and arthritis. Similar approaches in lupin research warrant immediate attention."
Contact: Dr Nancy Longnecker 08 9380 2492 Professor Kadambot Siddique 08 9380 7012, mobile 0411155 396