Get to the Basics: Cereal-Pulse Combination



As kids, we always preferred eating just plain rice or chappatis (whole wheat bread). Our mothers had a tough time coaxing us to eat a bowl of lentils or at least some beans or meat.

But time and again we would secretly just seize the hot chapattis (whole wheat bread), roll them up and run off to play. At other occasions a handful of steaming rice would satisfy us, but not our mothers.

No doubt cereals play a very important role in nutrition. Why it is then, that mothers are never relaxed when their children eat just cereals. The main reasons for this dissatisfaction lies in the protein quality of cereals.

Cereals provide AN ALMOST COMPLETE DIET, concentrated and nutritious, containing 8-12 per cent proteins. “Almost complete” and “complete” is the difference that needs to be understood. The difference is that the quality of proteins in cereal grains are not of very high biological value.

Proteins are predominantly important for children, whose bodies are growing and changing on a daily basis. Proteins are the body’s basic building blocks for muscle growth. They are vital for maintaining cells, tissues, and organs.

A lack of good quality protein in our diets can slow down growth, reduce muscle mass, lower immunity, and weaken the heart and respiratory system.

It is essential to understand a few scientific terms before we can explain the importance of an eating a complete meal to our picky eaters.

  • Proteins are the building blocks of our body.
  • They are found in both animal and vegetable sources.
  • Amino acids are organic compounds that combine to form proteins.
  • The human body uses amino acids to make proteins.
  • Amino acids are classified into two types: Essential amino acids & Non-essential amino acids.
  • Nonessential amino acids can be synthesized by our body.
  • Essential amino acid cannot be synthesize by the body, so they must be obtained from the diet.
  • Absence of essential amino acids in our diets results in synthesis of poor quality proteins.
  • Histidine, Methionine, Threonine, Valine, Isoleucine, Lysine, Tryptophan, Phenylalanine and Leucine are the essential amino acids.
  • The proportion of these essential amino acids in food determines whether it classifies itself as a complete or incomplete protein.

Complete/high quality protein foods

Refers to those proteins that give all the essential amino acids in a balanced proportion needed by the human body.

Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy fall into this category as well as plant products made from quinoa and soy.

Incomplete/low quality protein foods

Foods which are deficient in one or more of these essential amino acids.

The plant-based foods, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables fall in this category.

Complementary proteins:

  • Complementary proteins compensate for each other’s lack of amino acids. Incomplete proteins foods can be mixed together to make a complete protein.
  • By a combination of two or more incomplete proteins, a complete protein can be created. The amino acids that may be missing from one type of food can be compensated by adding a protein that has that missing amino acid.
  • When eaten in combination at the same meal, our body receives all the essential amino acids it requires.
    For example: Lentils are deficient in methionine but rich in lysine. Cereals are deficient in lysine but rich in methionine.

Thus, the combination of cereal with a pulse (both incomplete proteins) makes perfect sense. The synergistic effect between cereals and pulses is remarkable.

Both work together and aid in providing essential amino acid profile for the proper functioning of our body. This combination of a pulse with a cereal not only makes our meals delicious but they also serve as a smart way to increase the nutritional value of our meals.

To get the most efficient, effective use of the amino acids stored in our body, we must make sure to include a variety of foods in our meals. A combination of whole-grain cereals, pulses and legumes, dairy products, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables is essential to keep us healthy and strong.

Also awareness of which foods complement each other, helps us to create a perfectly balanced meal which guarantees our body all the essential amino acids, it requires for the proteins to be synthesized.

Coming back, our question about why mothers insist on eating a complete meal is now getting answered.

As seen in the above example, cereal proteins are limited in the essential amino acid lysine, which kind of explains the quality of cereal proteins.

Thus the combination of a cereal with a lysine rich food is an excellent way to increase the protein quality of cereals.

Pulses are rich in lysine but deficient in Methionine. Cereals, on the other hand (have the reverse nutritional profile) are deficient in lysine and rich in Methionine.

For the optimum growth of her child, and to make sure a balance supply of protein, a mother pesters her kids to eat a complete meal of a cereal-pulse combination.  The key  here is to follow your instincts and stick to the basics.

About the author
I am a freelance dietitian based in Dubai. I strongly believe that health is the highest form of self-respect that we can gift ourselves. Besides being a dietitian I am also a NLP certified life coach. In my opinion Health is a state of mind, for most of us are emotional eaters. Our diet is influence by the emotional patterns that our mind has created over a period of time. And if we are to keep ourselves healthy we need to create new healthy neuro-connections in our brain. I strongly endorse a lifestyle change rather than just the usual diet change. A practical and sound nutritional guidance backed by logic and scientific research is a guaranteed way to good health. Read my posts to create healthy neuro-connection. Leaving you with a thought to ponder upon….. Life’s not about expecting, hoping, and wishing. It’s about doing, being, and becoming. It’s about the choices you’ve just made, and the ones you’re about to make, It’s about the things you choose to say – today. It’s about what you’re gonna do after you finish reading this. -Mike Dooley

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