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Research Makes Healthier Pulses, Leading to Healthier Foods for Canadians

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The nutritional value of pulses - a category of crops that are commonly grown in Canada and which include lentils, beans, peas, and chickpeas - can be enhanced through processing methods, according to an Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) research study of pulse-based ingredients and foods. In turn, these nutrient-rich pulses can be used to improve the health benefits of the foods Canadians already eat.

Research scientist Dr. Qiang Liu, of the Guelph Research and Development Centre (GRDC), is looking at ways to improve the nutritional properties of food ingredients made from pulses; specifically by manipulating the types of starch found in pulses.

"We are looking at how processing can enhance the nutritional properties of foods with pulse ingredients, such as more resistant starch."

- Dr. Qiang Liu, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

Dr. Liu’s team has been coming up with new bread recipes that use pulse ingredients such as pea, chickpea, and red split lentil flour. They tried different techniques to alter the starch structure of the pulse flours, as well as the interactions between the starch and other ingredients in the bread.

After many experiments, Dr. Liu and his team were able to successfully increase the amount of slowly digestible starch and resistant starch in pulse-based breads.

Slowly digestible starch is important for human health as it can only be digested slowly by the small intestine, resulting in a modest and steady glucose release (compared to the high blood glucose spikes that occur when more common starches are consumed). Resistant starch cannot be digested in the small intestine at all and therefore enters the large intestine functioning as dietary fibre – which, as everyone knows, is recommended by Health Canada as part of a healthy diet. Slowly digestible starch and resistant starch can improve gut health, slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, and help stabilize blood sugar levels.

By modifying ingredients made from pulses to slow starch digestion, pulses can be used to improve OR increase the nutritional value of common foods, such as bread. What’s more, breads made using pulse ingredients can also be consumed by individuals with food intolerances and gluten sensitivities who previously had to avoid the quick digesting starches commonly found in wheat products, thereby broadening the potential market for pulse-based foods.

"When we apply these modifications, we found that quick-digestible starch can be reduced and slowly digestible starch and resistant starch can be increased, and the bread is also gluten-free."

- Dr. Qiang Liu, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)

Dr. Liu and his team recognize that breads are not the only food that may benefit from the addition of pulses, which is why they are also experimenting with pulse ingredients in muffins, cookies, and pasta.

Key benefits

Photo gallery

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Lentil bread, made from 58% red split lentil flour.
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Dr. Qiang Liu, research scientist at the Guelph Research and Development Centre (GRDC).
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Chickpea bread, made from 58% chickpea flour.

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