Beans IN toast could revolutionise the British diet, experts claim

Professor Julie Lovegrove discusses ‘Raising the Pulse’ project

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Forget the classic beans on toast — it’s beans IN toast (and other breads products) that has the potential to revolutionise the British diet. This is the claim of researchers at the University of Reading, who are looking to replace the imported soya beans currently used as an ingredient in bread with British-grown fava (or broad) beans. The switch, they said, has the potential to be both healthier and better for the environment. The three-year project — dubbed “Raising the Pulse” — will bring together scientists, farmers, members of industry, policymakers and the public to instigate “one of the biggest changes to UK food in generations.”

Pulses — fava beans in particular — experience favourable growing conditions in the UK, provide “sustainable nutritional enhancement” and are great replacements for soya beans.

Nevertheless, the majority of fava beans grown in Britain end up used in animal feed.

The researchers noted that fava beans are high in easily digested protein, fibre and iron — nutrients that can be low in typical UK diets.

However, the majority of people are not used to cooking and eating fava beans, which poses a challenge in increasing their uptake.

Project leader and nutrition researcher Professor Julie Lovegrove said: “We had to think laterally — what do most people eat and how can we improve their nutrition without them having to change their diet?”

“The obvious answer is bread. 96 percent of people in the UK eat bread, and 90 percent of that is white bread, which in most cases contains soya.

“We’ve already performed some experiments and found that fava bean flour can directly replace imported soya flour and some of the wheat flour, which is low in nutrients.

“We can not only grow the fava beans here, but also produce and test the fava bean-rich bread, with improved nutritional quality.”

The researchers are looking to work with members of disadvantaged communities on their project — alongside experimenting with delivering novel foods in the University of Reading’s halls of residence and catering outlets.

Matt Tebbit is the university’s Head of Residential Catering. He said: “Students will be asked to rate products made or enriched with fava beans — such as bread, flatbread and hummus.

“They will be asked questions about how full they felt, for how long, and their liking of the foods.

“It is hoped that fava bean will improve satiety, as well as provide enhanced nutritional benefits in products that are enjoyable to eat.”

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Before the new products can be tested, however, the beans must be grown, harvested and milled — all processes that the researchers are looking to improve.

According to the researchers, they will be looking to choose or breed varieties that are both nutritious and high-yielding; working with the soil to improve yields using nitrogen-fixing bacteria; and mitigating the environmental impacts of growing fava beans.

It is the team’s hope that they will be able to encourage farmers to switch some of their wheat-producing land to growing fava beans for human consumption.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nutrition Bulletin.

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