Pulses and its Importance in Nutritional Security
Authors: Anirban Mukherjee1, Shubha2,
1Scientist, ICAR-VPKAS, Almora, Uttarakhand-236601,
2Scientist, ICAR-NBPGR, New Delhi, Delhi-110012;
e mail: anirban.extn@gmail.com


Pulses are the common options for the majority of the Indian house hold. The line Dal chawal, dal roti, are the major staple food options which is consumed since long past. The importance of pulses are realized very recently when the nutritional health benefits of pulses are expressed scientifically. Pulses are major sources of proteins among the vegetarians in India. It complements the staple cereals in the diets with proteins, vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids. From protein viewpoint, it contains 20-24% protein, which is almost twice the protein in wheat and thrice that of rice.

Major pulses grown in India include chickpea or bengal gram ( Cicer arietinum), lentil (Lens culinaris), urdbean or black gram (Vigna mungo), pigeonpea or red gram ( Cajanus cajan), mungbean or green gram (Vigna radiata), moth bean (Vigna aconitifolia), horse gram ( Dolichos uniflorus), lablab bean (Lablab purpureus), pea (Pisumsativum var. arvense), grass pea or khesari ( Lathyrus sativus), cowpea (Vignaunguiculata), and broad bean or faba bean (Viciafaba). More popular among these are chickpea, pigeonpea, mungbean, urdbean and lentil.

Importance of Pulse Crops

  • Pulses are rich in proteins among all cultivated crops.
  • Used as the main source of protein to vegetarian people of India.
  • Second important constituent of Indian diet after cereals.
  • Pulse crop can be grown on all types of soil and climatic conditions.
  • Being legumes, pulses fix atmospheric nitrogen into the soil.
  • Play important role in crop rotation, mixed and intercropping, as they help maintaining the soil fertility.
  • Pulses add organic matter into the soil in the form of leaf mould and require less manuring.
  • Helpful for checking the soil erosion due to more leafy growth and close spacing.
  • Majority pulses crops are short durational so that second crop may be taken on same land in a year.
  • They provide raw material to various industries viz. Dal industry, Roasted grain industry, Papad industry etc.
Status of pulses crop in India

India has ubiquitous position as the leading producer, the foremost consumer and the largest importer of pulses. Pulses can be grown on range of soil and climatic conditions and play important role in crop rotation, mixed and inter-cropping, maintaining soil fertility through nitrogen fixation, release of soil-bound phosphorus, and thus contribute significantly to sustainability of the farming systems.

India has achieved self-sufficiency in food after green revolution. But in pulse crop still the revolution is awaited. Pulse in India recorded less than 3 per cent Annual growth rate in production in the past 63 years while its per capita availability declined from 60 grams a day in the 1950s to 35 grams a day in the 2000s. Now it has been increased up to 43 grams a day in 2013. It has been witnessed a sluggish annual growth rate (AGR) in total pulse area (0.51%) and productivity (1.16%) over the last 63 years. Currently, even as production has stabilised at 19.27 million tonnes, our consumption is hovering at 23 million tonnes, which necessitates yearly pulse imports of around 3.5-4 million tonnes. India is losing precious forex (nearly $2.3 billion) every year in importing pulses from players such as Canada and Australia. Price fluctuation is common in the largely unorganised pulses market of the country, and often exacerbated by the lack of assured procurement. Due to lack of production and distribution efficiencies price of pulse has gone beyond the reach of common man. The inflation rate in pulse Whole sale Price Index (WPI) has increased more than 6 % annually. Estimates suggest that India needs an annual growth of 4.2 per cent to ensure projected demand of 30 million tonnes by 2030. To meet this benchmark, constraints to production must be analysed and effective steps must be taken.

Nutritional Quality of Pulses

  • Pulses provide significant nutritional and health benefits, and are known to reduce several non-communicable diseases such as colon cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
  • In most developing countries, pulses play a fundamental role as a low-fat, high fibre source of protein and an essential component of traditional food baskets. Pulses, by contributing about 10 percent in the daily protein intake and 5 percent in energy intake, are of particular importance for food security in low income countries where the major sources of proteins are non-animal products.
  • In India, from time immemorial, many legumes and pulses have been consumed as part of a primarily cereal-based diet. They are consumed as whole gram or as split pulses. Pulses are rich in proteins and found to be main source of protein to vegetarian people of India.
  • It is second important constituent of Indian diet after cereals. Pulses are relatively a cheaper source of protein than milk, cheese, cashew, almond, meat and fish etc., hence valuable for developing countries. Pulses constitute essential components of vegetarian diet.
  • Pulses are major source of protein in Indian vegetarian diet. The share of food use in total utilisation of pulses in the developing countries is over 75 per cent, compared to 25 per cent in the developed countries. Pulses are rich in protein (lysine) and constitute 10 to 15 per cent of India‘s food grain diet.
  • Pulses have a high protein content the value is about twice that in cereal and several times that in root tuber (FAO 1968), so they can help to improve the protein intake of meals in which cereals and root tubers in combination with pulses are eaten (Kushwah et al. 2002).
  • Pulses are a great source of protein. It contains about 18.0 to 32.0% protein and about 1 to 5% fat. This means they can be particularly important for people who do not get their share of protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products. Pulse when eaten with cereals, can also help to increase the protein quality of the meal.
  • In adults, protein helps in the repair of body tissue, synthesis of enzymes and hormones and also in the supply of energy. In children, the consumption of pulses should be encouraged, particularly where animal protein is scarce and expensive, as this would help to furnish the child with the necessary amino acids required for growth.
  • One cup serving of cooked lentils contains more than 15 g of fibre, meeting 60 per cent of our daily requirement. The fibre in the pulses may improve heart health by lowering cholesterol levels (Burkitt and Trowell 1985). Pulses are important food crops due to their high protein and essential amino acid content.
  • Besides protein and fibre, pulses are a significant source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, folate, and magnesium, and consuming half a cup of beans or peas per day can enhance diet quality by increasing intakes of these nutrients. The vitamins present in appreciably quantities in pulses are thiamin, riboflavin, pyridoxine and folic acid. Vitamin E and K are also found in pulses. The B-vitamins act as co-enzymes in biological processes. Vitamin E is known to play a role as an antioxidant inhibiting the oxidation of vitamin A in the GIT and of polyunsaturates in the tissues. It is also believed to maintain the stability of cell membranes (Davies and Stewart 1987). Vitamin K functions primarily in the liver where it is necessary for the formation of blood clothing factors. Pulses are considerably richer in calcium than most cereals and contain about 100 to 200 mg of calcium per 100 g of grain.
  • In addition, the phytochemicals, saponins, and tannins found in pulses possess antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic effects, indicating that pulses may have significant anti-cancer effects. Pulse consumption also improves serum lipid profiles and positively affects several other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as blood pressure, platelet activity, and inflammation (Mudryi et al. 2014).
  • Pulses are high in fibre and have a low glycemic index, making them particularly beneficial to people with diabetes by assisting in maintaining healthy blood glucose and insulin levels.

India has the potential to achieve much higher agricultural productivity. The only need is to utilise available resources in the most effective way and to improve the methodologies used. Hills are deprived in terms of harsh topography and climate. Special attention in terms of policy is required particularly for the hilly states where effects of climate change are more adverse than other regions. Awareness should be created among the farmers about the significance of pulses production as pulse crops give the higher returns in stipulated time and space as compared to other crops.


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Mudryi A N, Yu N and Aukema HM (2014) Nutritional and health benefits of pulses. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2014 Nov;39(11):1197-204. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2013-0557. Epub 2014 Jun 13.

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