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Pulses and Protein

Health professionals have long recognized that pulses are a valuable source of protein. Many have been surprised to learn only chickpeas could have the words ‘high in protein’ on a food label … until now.

In recent years, protein has captured the attention of both consumers and food manufacturers. Protein-packed pulses can help satisfy the objectives of both groups, thanks to new research that will enable pulse canners and baggers to use claims like “Good Source of Protein” or “High in Protein” on many canned and dried pulses.

Health Canada recently approved a submission from Pulse Canada to adopt new protein efficiency ratio (PER) data for pulses. PER values are used to determine the protein rating of a particular food. For pulses, PER values are based on a 250mL serving, Health Canada’s reasonable daily intake (RDI).

In 2010, Pulse Canada discovered that the original PER values for some pulses were outdated, undervalued or missing. With assistance from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriFlexibility fund, Pulse Canada commissioned a study to assess the protein quality for Canadian pulses using the PER system which is recognized by Health Canada.

Dr. Jim House of the University of Manitoba conducted the research in 2011. The Canadian protein rating system, based on the PER, relies on growth studies in animals. Weanling rats were fed cooked Canadian pulses and their physical growth measured. Based on Dr. House’s research, new PER values were identified for the following pulses:

Pulses eligible for protein claims
Pulse PER Protein g/250 mL Protein Rating
Navy beans 1.51 15.8 23.9
Split yellow peas 1.42 17.3 24.6
Whole green lentils 1.30 18.9 24.6
Red kidney beans 1.55 16.2 25.1
Black beans 1.61 16.1 25.9
Pinto beans 1.64 16.3 26.7
Chickpeas 2.32 15.4 35.7

*Canadian Nutrient File, 2010

For perspective, plant sources such as whole wheat have a PER of 0.8 while a high quality protein such as egg whites have a PER of 3.0.

The protein rating for a food is determined by multiplying PER scores by the grams of protein in one serving. Canned and dried pulses with a protein rating of 20 to 40 can now include claims on Canadian food packages such as ‘source of protein’, ‘high in protein’ or ‘provides protein’.

Other foods that contain pulses, like soups, chilis or baked goods, could also qualify for these claims provided they meet the protein rating requirements. With these revised PER values for pulses, these targets will be easier to achieve for Canadian food manufacturers.

The new Canadian protein claims will help consumers recognize that pulses and foods containing pulses are high in protein, and will give pulse canners and baggers the flexibility to label their products in new ways. “The nutritional value of protein is based on both quantity and quality. These newly adopted PER values will enable the industry to highlight the protein in pulses, creating a new marketing opportunities” says Tanya Der, Manager of Food Innovation & Marketing with Pulse Canada.

Look for canned and dried pulses with ‘protein source’ on the label soon.