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Why the U.N. is promoting a biblical diet
The United Nations wants everyone to check their pulse not our heart rate, but the amount of dried beans we've been eating. The agency's "Year of the Pulse" puts a spotlight on one of the healthiest foods, one that the Bible promotes. - photo by Jennifer Graham
The United Nations wants you to check your pulse.

It's not interested in your heart rate though, but rather how many chickpeas youve been eating.

A pulse is not just the throbbing in the throat or wrist. Its also a type of food basically, anything that comes in a pod, like peas and most beans and the UN has declared 2016 to be the "Year of the Pulse in an effort to increase consumption worldwide.

They have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries. Yet their nutritional value is not generally recognized and is frequently underappreciated, said Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the UNs Food and Agriculture Organization, in November, announcing the launch of the initiative to promote pulses.

While the agencys enthusiasm for legumes conveniently helps another of its pet causes getting the world to stop consuming meat in mass quantities it also puts a spotlight on one of the healthiest forms of nutrition.

Eating a diet rich in pulses can help people lose weight, since they make you feel fuller than other types of food, one study says. Their protein builds muscle, and their high fiber content can help prevent disease.

They are, according to the North Dakota State University Extension Service, the perfect food.

So, why have many Americans never heard of pulses?

I think its pretty common for people never to have heard the term, even in North Dakota, which, along with Montana, is a top producer of pulses, said Julie Garden-Robinson, a professor and food/nutrition specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

The term is used more internationally than in our country, but I think its going to become more commonly known now, she said, noting that this could be good for the nations health.

Theyre among the least expensive forms of protein. They are also among the best sources of dietary fiber," Garden-Robinson said. "And because of the nature of the fiber, they are linked to reducing the risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer and diabetes. They are low-glycemic so they dont raise your blood sugar like other kinds of foods can.

Food with a pulse

The definition of pulse changes from country to country, but generally, they're any kind of seed, pea or bean that comes in a pod. The most popular varieties are kidney beans, lima beans and fava beans, as well as chickpeas, cowpeas and black-eyed peas.

There are hundreds of varieties grown throughout the world, the UN says, and they have double the protein in wheat and triple the amount in rice. Four ounces have 9 grams of protein, about the amount in a chicken thigh.

They are rich in micronutrients, amino acids and B vitamins, and theyre also more affordable than animal protein, one reason the agency is touting pulses as a solution to world hunger. Moreover, their cultivation includes soil quality.

For American families seeking to eat healthfully and save money, they can be a godsend.

At Klondike Mountain Health Retreat in Washington state, pulses are a key component in getting visitors on a path to better health, said Martin Klein, a health educator at the retreat, and a registered nurse.

To demonstrate the importance of pulses, Klein cites one study that shows the risk of lung cancer for those who seldom consume vegetables is twice that of those who eat vegetables often. And he said people who go on the Daniel Diet report losing cravings for unhealthy food. This is a huge key to weight loss and overcoming addictions, he said.

At Klondike, people have seen their cholesterol levels drop by 30 percent after consuming a pulse-rich diet for 10 days, Klein said. We routinely see people with Type 2 diabetes reverse it completely, he said.

Daniel's Challenge

Although the term pulse foods is just gaining momentum, and may sound like the latest food fad, their use dates to the Old Testament.

In the first chapter of Daniel, the prophet says, Please test your servants for 10 days, and let us be given some pulses to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence, and the appearance of the youths who are eating the kings choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see. (In some versions, pulses is translated as vegetables.)

The verse is the basis for the popular Daniel Diet, which Klein mentioned, and which Brenda High, a mother and nationally known anti-bullying educator, touts as the most healthful form of eating. On one of her websites, High gives 26 reasons to eat pulse (although her definition, like many forms of the Daniel Diet, expands the term to include nuts, fruits and other types of vegetables)

High, who lost a son to suicide, advocates healthful eating as part of her campaign to combat suicide and bullying: If you have a healthy body and a healthy mind, then maybe suicide wont be in your thoughts, she said.

Note of Caution

Besides their unfamiliarity with the term pulse, theres another reason some people may be reluctant to make beans and peas a mainstay of their diet: the fear of flatulence.

And that fear is not totally unfounded, Garden-Robinson said. People whose diets have been low in fiber need to add pulses incrementally, giving their bodies time to adjust.

Increase your consumption slowly, drink plenty of water, and dont go from 0 to 35 grams overnight. If introduced gradually, the body will adjust without discomfort, she said.

To give help people get started, three groups that promote pulses Pulse Canada, the American Pulse Association and the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council have started a Pulse Pledge website, where people can vow to eat pulses once a week for 10 weeks and sign up for a newsletter with recipes.