New York symposium equates pulses to global health

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A symposium hosted by The Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences has called for pulses to be given a much more prominent role in meeting global nutrition and agricultural challenges.

International health and food experts gathered in New York earlier this year for the Little Beans, Big Opportunities conference, as part of the 2016 International Year of Pulses (IYP 2016).

The symposium explored nutrition security in the context of a burgeoning global population – expected to exceed nine billion by 2050 – and exacerbating pressures from climate change, diminishing land and water resources, increasing urbanisation, and diets based on manufactured foods.

This mix of challenges has produced the ‘global billions conundrum’ – an estimated one billion people afflicted by chronic hunger and another one billion suffering chronic health issues caused by obesity and related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and hypertension.

The symposium reiterated the potential for pulses to help address both ends of the nutrition scale.

Nutrient-dense beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas offer numerous advantages over other plant species grown for protein, including an excellent nutritional profile (amino acids, potassium, iron, B vitamins, fibre, complex carbohydrates, low glycemic index, low fat content) and a low carbon and ecological footprint.

Pulses’ nitrogen-fixing properties and water-use efficiency help improve soil structure and nutrition, and contribute to the sustainability of farming landscapes.

Latest research

The latest research findings presented at the conference included evidence that:
  • diets high in dietary pulses improve glycemic control, lipid targets for cardiovascular disease, blood pressure and body weight, and have an important role in chronic disease prevention and management;
  • a diet high in pulses can reduce blood sugar levels to the same extent as a leading diabetes drug;
  • people typically lose body mass on diets that include pulses, even diets not designed for weight loss, suggesting that not all the calories in pulses are absorbed;
  • pulses could meet the nutritional needs of women and infants during the first 1000 days of life, when deficiencies adversely affect growth, cognitive development and adult quality of life;
  • prebiotic fibres in pulses, which feed microbiota and improve gut health, could reduce malnutrition and help prevent stunting, which affects 25 per cent of children worldwide;
  • eating pulses and grains together ensures all amino acids are available to build proteins in the body; and
  • plant proteins equal animal protein for satiety.

Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) general manager Michelle Broom, who sits on the IYP 2016 global Food Security, Nutrition and Innovation committee, said the conference heard evidence-based predictions that a 1.5-fold yield increase – and a significant investment in technology – would be required to meet a 23 per cent rise in global consumption by 2030, driven largely by demand from Africa, Asia and the value-added pulse-based food and snacks market.

While farm, food and health sectors usually innovate independently, symposium panellists said only multi-stakeholder partnerships could bring about the changes necessary in both industrialised and emerging economies for food innovations that would address both human health and environmental sustainability.

“There was agreement among panellists that public and private partnerships are key to driving nutrition security and sustainable agriculture using pulses,” Ms Broom said.

The Little Beans, Big Opportunities symposium was presented by the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science and Bush Brothers & Company, and sponsored by the Global Pulse Confederation, the American Pulse Association and Pulse Canada.

More information:

Michelle Broom, GLNC general manager,
02 9394 8661,,;

Rebecca Freeman, IYP 2016 coordinator,
0414 844 425,,
GLNC 2016 International Year of Pulses


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