The director of Australia’s Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) discusses some of the work her organization is doing to promote pulse consumption.

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The health benefits of lentils, peas, garbanzos and other pulses are widely known. These hearty grains provide a lean source of protein and are rich in essential nutrients such as folate and potassium. Increased consumption of pulses has been associated with lowered risk for heart disease and diabetes, among other ailments.

Yet in most parts of the world—Southeast Asia and the Middle East being exceptions—pulse consumption is relatively low, with most westerners relying on meat as their primary source of protein. Georgie Aley, head of Australia’s Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC), is trying to alter this trend by spreading the word, both in her country and abroad, about the many health benefits of pulses as well as trying to uncover new ones.

In collaboration with a wide range of organizations, including Pulse Australia, GI Foundation, Healthy Kids Association, Dieticians Association of Australia, Heart Foundation, and ILSI Primary Food Alliance, the GLNC is at the forefront of initiatives to further our understanding of just how beneficial pulses are for our bodies.

IFT spoke to Aley recently about some of the projects her organization is working on and her views on some key issues facing the pulses industry in Australia and abroad.

“Australians need to increase their legume consumption by 470% to access the nutritional and health benefits of eating legumes. This is a significant increase.”

IFT: Describe the work that you’ve been doing through the GLNC regarding pulses. Is the focus mostly on education or is there a strong scientific research component?

Georgie Aley: GLNC operates in three core operational areas: Nutrition Science, Advocacy and Education. All of these areas include legumes (we don’t say “pulses”). The key initiatives we have undertaken over the last year and will focus on into FY14 are:

• Legumes cognitive study: In collaboration with GLNC and its contributors, the University of Manitoba (Canada) and University of South Australia have undertaken replicated studies with a population of 120 either overweight or obese adults to assess the impact of legumes on cognitive function over a 12-week period. Results to be published in March 2014 (Nutrition Science)

• Legumes cohort study: GLNC commissioned a secondary analysis of two key studies relating to cohort studies involving legumes and the overall health benefit and outcomes of the study. Manuscript to be published December 2013 (Nutrition Science)

• Health claims: GLNC, in collaboration with Pulse Canada, will be pursuing legumes-related health claims under the new health claims standard in FY14. Claim is to be determined. (Nutrition Science)

• Nutrient analysis – GLNC will be conducting an analytical nutrient analysis of nine key legumes produced in Australia in early 2014. Australia currently doesn’t have this data so it will be a new initiative we will be releasing to the industry and will see FSANZ uptake the data into NUTTAB. (Nutrition Science)

• Liven Up Legumes: A cookbook initiative conducted in FY13 focused on dieticians as a resource for the main grocer buyer and food prep person in the household. We have distributed over 6,000 copies since its release in May. (Education)

• Australian Dietary Guidelines: GLNC was disappointed with the recommendation for legumes in the 2013 ADGs and as such advocated for some changes to references to no added salt which NHMRC have now amended in the ADGs. We will also be preparing a discussion document that will incorporate legumes and the desired recommendations along with supporting science for their inclusion in the next review. (Advocacy)

IFT: What kind of work does the GLNC do outside of Australia?

Georgie Aley: I have just returned from key meetings in Canada and the US. We work closely with Pulse Canada, HEALTHGRAINForum (EU), AACC International (formerly American Association of Cereal Chemists), Kansas State University and the University of Manitoba. We also link into organizations like Kellogg, General Mills and CPW globally through our work with AACCI. Part of this work includes global collaboration on unifying grains health messaging, health claims (grains and legumes, nutrient profiling and functional foods research) and grains and legumes cognitive studies, like the ones I mentioned. We were a member of the AACCI Whole Grain Working Group that recently launched a Whole Grain Food Characterization for the US, which GLNC supported. And of course, we now link in with CICILS and will work with them on the upcoming International Year of Pulses in 2016.

IFT: Some members of the pulses industry argue that in order to keep pulses competitive they must be marketed as a healthy alternative to meat. What is your view on this?

Georgie Aley: GLNC promotes a balanced diet. Yes, there are comments from a marketing perspective, but from both a sustainability perspective and the need for a balanced diet for optimum health and nutrition, GLNC believes in promoting grains and legumes as part of a balanced diet through evidence-based information that cultivates good health. Meat is a core food and so are grains and legumes. People need to eat from each of the five core food groups for optimum nutrition and health.

IFT: Lately there has been a lot of interest in pulse-derived products such as lentil chips, pea protein bars, bean cookies, etc. Is the GLNC supporting the development of these kinds of products?

Georgie Aley: We are not directly funding any work in this area. However we are in discussions with Pulse Canada in respect to the functional foods research they are currently conducting. We support the investment and product developments in this space, and our nutrient profiling work on legumes will assist in accelerating some of these opportunities in Australia.

IFT: What have been some of the big trends in Australian pulses at the consumer level?

Georgie Aley: Based on our 2011 Consumption Study data we know that Australians on average are eating less than 3/4 of a serving per week, which is much less than our recommended minimum of 2 – 3 servings per week. Australians need to increase their legume consumption by 470% to access the nutritional and health benefits of eating legumes. This is a significant increase. What we do know is that consumers know legumes are good for their health. They just have limited knowledge and awareness of how to prepare, cook and incorporate them into meals. This is why we produced publications such as the Liven Up Legumes Recipe Book and the Tips & Tricks Fact Sheet to help consumers incorporate legumes  into their everyday meals.

IFT: We published an article recently about some changes to the FAO’s standard measurements of protein quality and how these could affect the marketing of pulses. Could you comment about these developments and what they mean for the industry?

Georgie Aley: We have reviewed the CODEX change and are in discussion with Pulse Canada about the work they are doing to review the impact. The fact that we don’t use this measurement in Australia in respect to high protein claim means it will have minimal impact in the Australian market. The issue for Australia will be the export market and the overall impact on Australian-produced pulses in this global marketplace if the CODEX reform is accepted.

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