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Pulse Grain Consumption Lowers Obesity Risk?

Generally speaking, I am wary of ‘magical’ properties of foods.

Humans have certainly evolved to survive on a wide range of foods and diets, which is why, as a species, we have managed to live in virtually every climate and geographic corner of this planet.

Nevertheless, nutrition science has taught us much about how exactly certain foods or nutrients affect metabolism in ways that other foods may not.

One food that may not have yet received the attention it deserves in this regard are pulses, incidently a staple of many traditional diets – for e.g. in India, no meal is complete without a ‘dal’ dish – in fact, ‘dal-roti’ is a widely accepted colloquial term for ‘food’.

It also turns out that pulses are one of Canada’s major ‘cash crops’ (who would have guessed?).

For readers wanting to learn more about the potential health benefits of eating pulses, I wish to point you to a recent review article by Christopher Marinangeli and Peter Jones from the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, Winnipeg, Manitoba, published in the British Journal of Nutrition.

The paper deals in depth with the effect of pulse grains on energy expenditure, substrate oxidation, body composition, fat deposition and satiety.

These effects are mediated by a wide range of known components of pulse grains, including pulse-derived fibre and resistant starch, have been shown to alter energy expenditure, substrate trafficking and fat oxidation as well as visceral adipose deposition. The high content of amino acids like arginine and glutamine may produce thermogenic effects. Finally, evidence suggests that pulse-derived fibres, trypsin inhibitors and lectins may reduce food intake by inducing satiety via facilitating and prolonging cholecystokinin secretion.

However, the authors also point out that many of these effects have so far only been demonstrated in rather small experimental (efficacy) studies with notably few high-quality mechanistic studies, not to mention the lack of clinical ‘feeding’ studies.

Nevertheless, pulse grains may represent an understudied nutrient and energy source that could potentially assist both in the prevention and management of obesity.

Even before such data is available I would not be surprised to see pulses declared as the next ‘super foods’ and supplement stores peddling ‘pulse extracts’ for their putative (and probably widely overblown) health benefits.

On a personal note however, I am all for pulse grains and can personally attest to the satiety enhancing impact of adding pulses to my diet.

Vancouver, BC

photo credit: Dey via photo pin cc

Marinangeli CP, & Jones PJ (2012). Pulse grain consumption and obesity: effects on energy expenditure, substrate oxidation, body composition, fat deposition and satiety. The British journal of nutrition, 108 (S1) PMID: 22916815



  1. Thanks for this Dr. Sharma. The abstract of the article looks promising – that is – if pulses really do work to encourage satiety in those at ALL levels of your staging system.

    A quick search on Google reveals the nutritional information of a canned product called “Pulses Mixed with Water”.

    ½ a can (120g)

    Calories: 131
    Total Fat 2.4 g
    Total Carbohydrates 15.6 g (dietary fibre 4.8g)
    Protein 9.6 g

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  2. Dr. Sharma,

    I have no quibbles for this post. Personally, I believe in a diet rich in all kinds of “healthy” foods and have trouble with the idea of eliminating important categories like grains, dairy, etc.

    So you can understand how your post made me smile a bit in light of the tenets of today’s “it” diet: the paleo or ancestral health diet. According to this school of “healthy eating”, pulses are absolutely verboten. Cavemen didn’t boil water, now did they? Ergo, NO PULSES. Or at least that’s what I’ve seen on certain paleo sites. There seem to be numerous versions of paleo.

    It just goes to show, there seem to be a plethora of “absolute truths” out there!

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  3. Beans and peas are great foods: nourishing, filling, cheap and delicious. They always make me feel healthy, so I tend to think that any dietary philosophy that says they’re not is probably b.s.

    Too bad they cause gas. A lot of people are always going to avoid them for that reason, and it does make them problematic. It’s kind of like the strong smell problem with garlic, which I also love. When I’m going to be working in an office, I have to avoid them both, unfortunately.

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