Yellow Pulses Support Health & Well Being
My colleagues often ask me the difference between legumes, pulses, gram, dhal and beans. Before we dwell further on this topic, let me first clarify these terms. The term legume generally refers to members of the family of plants called Fabaceae (or Leguminosae). Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils and peanuts. Pulses are a subset of leguminous crops that yield one to twelve grains or seeds of variable size, shape and color within a pod. Bean or gram mean the same thing and are also synonymous with pulses and edible legumes. At the same time (this can be the confusing part) the word bean can also refer to seeds of non-Leguminosae family plants such as coffee and cocoa beans. When considering the highly regarded mung (also written as moong and known as green gram), we may wonder if it is a legume, pulse, gram or bean? The answer is all of the above.
Whole mung are beans covered by a green skin. Split and hulled mung beans are small and yellow and often referred to as mung dhal. Mung beans are one of the most cherished foods in Ayurveda. They are tridoshic, which means they can be eaten to balance all three doshas (energetic forces) especially when they are cooked with appropriate spices. They are very nourishing, while being relatively easy to digest. Unlike many other larger beans, they do not generally create abdominal gas or bloating. In Ayurvedic cooking, they are used whole or, more commonly, split and hulled.
Mung beans are also a good source of dietary fiber and contain very few oligosaccharides, the long chain sugars which can be the cause of flatulence, and are therefore highly suitable for children or those with delicate digestive systems. Mung is astringent and its essential nature is alkaline making it a cooling food, one that is perfect during the summer. Mung bean sprouts are frequently eaten as a vegetable and in Chinese medicine bean sprouts are considered to be a yin or cooling food and often recommended by Oriental herbalists for all hot, inflammatory conditions, ranging from systematic infections to heat stroke to hypertension.
According to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutritional facts and analysis records, mung beans contain between nineteen to twenty-five percent protein, sixty percent carbohydrate and four percent fiber and are an excellent source of B vitamins. Vitamin B1, present in mung bean, is required for critical neuronal functions. Vitamin B2 or riboflavin is vital for healthy eyes and skin. Vitamin B3 or niacin regulates cholesterol and blood sugar levels in the body. Vitamin B6 is necessary for the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is active in mood regulation. Vitamin B9, also known as folate or folic acid, is required for production of red blood cells and is thus important for regulating the oxygen carrying-capacity of the blood and also reduces the risk of heart disease. When sprouted, mung beans develop good amounts of Vitamin C which needed by the immune system for healing and fending off infections.
Mung beans are also a treasure house of minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and copper. These mineral, are vital for everyday functions of the body and maintaining homeostasis or equilibrium and help prevent heart disease, anemia, diabetes and renal (kidney) problems. Iron and copper are required for production of hemoglobin and zinc is required for regulating insulin production. Calcium is needed to strengthen the bones, magnesium for nerve and muscle function and potassium is necessary for normal heart function. The concentration of potassium, copper, zinc and magnesium are higher in mung as compared to the levels in other known vegetables and fruits. It’s no wonder that mung bean is considered the royal bean or queen of beans.
Many people benefit from eating mung beans. These include the following.
- Anyone with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or who is at risk of coronary artery disease benefits from mung since consumption of mung beans has been strongly associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and healthy cholesterol levels.
- Anyone recuperating from acute or chronic illnesses is often given kitchari. Kitchari is a combination of rice and mung beans used for its ability to provide a good level of nourishment without overtaxing the digestion.
- Anyone undergoing detoxification processes including panchakarma, the Ayurvedic detoxification program.
- Anyone who needs to relieve sluggish bowel movements. The fiber in mung beans is great for improving bowel function and cleansing the intestines.
- Anyone suffering from low energy or who struggles with blood sugar imbalances. Mung beans provide slow releasing carbohydrates that give sustained energy.
- Anyone looking for healthy vegetarian proteins and who wish to reduce their animal protein consumption.
Mung beans can be consumed in several ways. Soaking them until they are well swollen and cooking them with mild spices such as ginger, cumin, coriander and turmeric renders them even more digestible. Cooked mung can be added to soups, stews and salads to provide a hearty dish. Soaking them overnight and then letting them sprout for a few days is also a good way to improve digestibility and nutrient content. Mung beans combine well with a host of grains and flours, vegetables and greens, other bean sprouts, spices and herbs, and even rice, soy or nut milks. Powdered mung flour can be used in combination with wheat or rice flour for preparing breads (chapattis) or halwa (sweet confection, sweetened with sugar or honey). Ayurvedic food preparation is an art and a joy. Proper diet with mung in any form is a royal medicine and one of the keys to a long, vibrant and healthy life.
Rammohan Rao, PhD, CAS, PKS, is a graduate of the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) with certification as a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He teaches in the CCA program in Marin and San Francisco counties. Rao is also a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato where his research focus is on understanding mechanisms of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases.