Encourage Traditional Diets, Symposium Urged

It’s good to promote health benefits and create new food products with pulses, but don’t forget the traditional ways beans and other pulses have been eaten in culture, an American professor of nutrition told the second annual Pulse Health and Food Symposium.

Donna Winham, a professor in the department of nutrition at Arizona State University, says it’s critically important that pulse promotions encourage people to retain their traditional diets.

“We need to focus on having those foods stay relevant to cultures,” said Winham.

Pulse dishes tend to disappear from people’s cuisines as they westernize, prosper and eat more meat and processed foods, said Winham.

They then lose out on all the health benefits they naturally enjoyed and experienced, and pay the price in terms of higher obesity and chronic disease that accompanies less healthy diets.

It’s a worldwide phenomenon today, and a cultural repeat of what happened when immigrants first arrived in North America, Winham said. They changed the way they ate as they assimilated. They prospered. And they got fat.

To be “portly” in North America at the turn of the last century was a sign of wealth, she said. “It was a sign you could keep your family literally fat and happy.”

Obesity rates are now observed among groups such as the Latino cultures in the U. S. – who have also dissed their bean dishes in favour of higher-processed foods, she said. Many Latino boys in the U. S. are particularly heavy and yet their families don’t see it as a negative thing, she said.

This is happening in cultures where beans and other pulses have been staple foods.

“What happens all the time is that people feel that their diet is passé or is not trendy or not appropriate,” she said.

Winham says it’s critically important that pulse promotions celebrate and promote traditional pulse diets so that people will be encouraged to retain them.

She also urges the research community to include as many types of pulses and bean species as possible in their investigations, keeping in mind those that are especially relevant to traditional cultures.

“Pinto beans, for example, are important in many Latin American countries,” she added.

Winham was part of a research team funded four years ago by the U. S.-based Beans for Health Alliance investigating the effects consuming pinto beans and black beans had on cholesterol.

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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