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Perceived benefits and barriers surrounding lentil consumption in families with young children.


A growing body of evidence highlights the nutrition quality of pulses [1, 2], which are the edible seeds of legumes (e.g., dry peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils). Pulses contain approximately double the protein content of grain products, are high in fibre and low in fat, and have a low glycemic index. Inclusion of pulses in the diet can be beneficial for weight maintenance and prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular disease [3-6]. Pulse foods, especially lentils, help to increase satiety and, therefore, result in reduced caloric intake due to their macronutrient profile as well as the slowly digested starch, amylase inhibitors, and phytochemicals [4, 7]. A review by McCrory et al. [4] provides a summary of nutritional and anti-nutritional components in pulses that may help with weight management.

Almost 60% of Canadians are at risk for health problems due to being overweight or obese [8]. The 2006 clinical practice guidelines on prevention and management of obesity state that it has reached epidemic proportions in both adults and children, with overweight children more likely to be overweight or obese as adults [9]. Dietary treatments for obesity vary widely but good evidence supports a nutritionally balanced diet that is low in fat and high in protein to aid in satiety [9].

Canada does not have recommended guidelines for legume consumption for adults, but the U.S. guidelines recommend 1-2 cups of beans and peas weekly for adults based on their age and gender [10]. Canadian families do not eat pulse foods on a regular basis despite Canada being the largest global exporter of many pulses, especially lentils [11]. Protein intake is primarily derived from meat and dairy products, with little contribution from legumes, nuts, seeds, and eggs [12]. Domestic consumption of pulses varies with crop (highest for beans, lowest for lentils) and year, but median weekly consumption is estimated at 0.6 cups per person [13, 14]. Thus, the current low levels of consumption combined with their availability as a locally grown food form a strong rationale for Canadians to increase their pulse intake.

Benefits and barriers to eating a healthy diet, including plant-based diets, have been studied extensively [15-21]. As noted by Balch et al. [15], conducting research on the benefits and barriers to food consumption "can be critical for developing communications that are consistent with consumer wants, needs and realities'. However, little information is available regarding consumers' beliefs and practices with respect to pulse foods. A minimal amount of research has considered benefits and barriers to pulse consumption [13], and no research has been conducted on barriers to lentil consumption specifically. Our aim was thus to explore the perceived benefits and barriers to consuming lentils. We focused on caregivers of young children, who are the gatekeepers to food in the household and have the power to set the social context of mealtimes [22-24]. As children are future consumers of pulses, and potentially have the most to gain by establishing healthy habits earlier on in their life, this population is of particular interest. Caregivers affect the food environment and can impact child acceptance patterns (both positively and negatively) through both the foods they make available and role modelling [22-26]. Specifically, the research questions explored were:

1. What benefits and barriers surrounding lentil consumption exist in families with children 3-11 years of age in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan?

2. What is the association between demographics, attitudes, and consumption of lentils?

3. How does nutrition knowledge affect attitudes and consumption of lentils?

4. What are pulse consumption rates in families with children 3-11 years of age in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan?



Participants were caregivers of children aged 3-11 years of age in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, recruited from elementary schools (n = 6) through a nonrandomized sampling procedure. Within each school, questionnaires were completed by individuals who could correctly identify a lentil (visual and verbal cue provided) and who satisfied 3 inclusion criteria: (i) caregiver to 1 or more children 3-11 years of age; (ii) 18 years of age or older; and (iii) self-identified as having a role in cooking, shopping, or planning meals in their household. The visual lentil cue was provided to ensure participants were referring to lentils specifically and not another type of pulse when answering survey questions. Verbal consent was obtained from participants and the University of Saskatchewan Behavioural Research Ethics Board and the Saskatoon Public School Division approved the study.

The questionnaire

The principal research instrument was a paper-based, descriptive questionnaire. The questionnaire was formulated from a review of the literature [15-18, 20, 21, 27-31] on novel foods such as soy and healthy foods that are not as commonly eaten such as vegetables and fruit, as no specific data on benefits and barriers of lentil consumption were available. The initial draft contained 46 benefit and barrier questions and was analyzed in a pretest interview to ensure it was exhaustive and that responses were mutually exclusive (n = 9). Cognitive interviewing techniques were employed. For example, respondents were asked to "think aloud" when answering questions so researchers could ensure respondents understood the questions being asked. Revisions were made to the questionnaire prior to a final review and additional changes by a dietitian.

The 7-page questionnaire used in the study included 4 sections: 41 benefit and barrier questions, a short food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) on pulse and lentil foods, 9 nutrition knowledge questions, and 10 demographic questions. Participants ranked belief statements using a 5-point Likert scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree). Belief scores and summed Likert scores were calculated, with higher scores indicating more perceived benefits and fewer barriers and lower scores indicating less perceived benefits and more barriers. Internal consistency of all items was high (Cronbach's [alpha] = 0.86). The FFQ included 6 commonly eaten dishes containing pulses: baked beans, soup made with pulses, chili, dips or spreads, pulse salads, and mixed pulse dishes such as curries.


At least 2 research assistants (RA) per day recruited participants face-to-face from each of the 6 schools during parent-teacher interviews. RAs set up a table at the entrance of each school to enlist caregivers and remained on site to answer any questions arising from the survey. Surveys took approximately 10 minutes to complete. The number of refusals and the participants that did not meet inclusion criteria were documented.

Data analysis

Questionnaire data were coded and compiled into a spreadsheet using Predictive Analytics Software, Statistics 18 (v. 18.0.0, Chicago, 2010). Statistical significance was defined as P < 0.05. Frequencies of responses to the questionnaire items were measured and cross-tabulations ([chi square] test of statistical significance) by gender, income, age, and education were performed. Cronbach's [alpha] was used to test the internal consistency as it reflects how well the different items complement each other in their measurement of different aspects of the same variable [32]. ANOVA, using Tukey's post hoc testing, was used to detect differences in belief scores between low, medium, and high pulse consumers and differences in belief scores between different income levels.


Research teams approached 652 people to fill out the survey, of which 132 refused to participate, 81 did not meet the inclusion criteria, 21 did not fill out the surveys (i.e., only 1 or 2 questions were answered), 13 met the inclusion criteria but did not know what a lentil was, and 4 returned their surveys to the schools after the data collection date. A total of 401 completed questionnaires was therefore used in the analysis (76% response rate).

The majority of respondents were 26-45 years of age (83%), female (76%), and in a partnered relationship (married or common-law, 80%) (Table 1). The sample was educated (95% completed high school, 82% completed at least some post-secondary training), and most reported either full-(59%) or part-time (17%) employment beyond caregiving for their family. The most common ethnicities were white/ Caucasian (76%), Aboriginal (11%), and Asian (9%).

Almost half (44%) of the individual participants reported consuming pulses 1-3 times per month. Only 22% stated they never or rarely ate any pulse foods but over half of the participants (58%) reported never or rarely consuming lentils (i.e., n = 225 out of the 390 participants who answered this question). Data were recoded according to low, medium, and high lentil consumers. Low consumers (LC) included the "never or rarely" group (n = 225), medium consumer (MC) included the "1-3 times per month" group (n = 121), and high consumers (HC) included all caregivers who indicated they ate lentils weekly (n = 44).

The most common "pulse meal" responses in the FFQ were baked beans, soup, chili, and mixed dishes, which were consumed "1-3 times per month"; bean dips and salads were eaten "never or rarely" by a majority of respondents. Nutrition knowledge was assessed by the number of correct and incorrect responses to obtain a mean knowledge score (73%, n = 401). A weak correlation was found between nutrition knowledge and benefit/barrier questions (r = 0.17, P < 0.01), whereas no correlation was found between knowledge and lentil or pulse consumption. A moderate correlation was apparent between lentil intake and total belief scores (r = 0.40, P < 0.01). Differences in beliefs between LC and both MC and HC were significant (Figure 1).

Top benefits of lentil consumption related to the constructs surrounding health and nutrition are shown in Table 2. Almost all respondents agreed healthy food is important to their child's health (98%) and that lentils are a healthy food (91%). The top perceived barriers related to the constructs of influence of others, pulse availability, and food skills. More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents indicated that they would make lentils more if their child liked them, and 70% wished they had more influence over their child's eating habits. The top barriers to lentil consumption as indicated by the 225 caregivers classified as LCs (never or rarely ate lentils) related to lack of knowledge about cooking lentils, length of time for cooking lentils, and that family members would not like lentils (Table 3). No significant differences between participants of varying age, gender, employment, education, or marital status were detected for benefits or barriers.


Our examination of benefits and barriers to lentil consumption indicates that caregivers perceive more benefits of lentil consumption than barriers. Food choice is multifaceted and becomes even more complex in a family dynamic. Our results indicate that most caregivers (66%) wished they had more influence on their child's eating habits despite almost all (94%) understanding their food choices influence their child's eating habits. Over 75% of caregivers agreed they would make lentil-containing meals more if their child liked lentils.

In the literature, top influencers of food choice are consistently taste, cost, time or convenience, and health or nutrition [33-35], and this is largely reflected in our results. When examining the construct of taste, 68% of respondents thought that lentils can be part of a tasty diet, whereas only 15% indicated lentils were not tasty enough. These results suggest taste is not a barrier, but the number of "not sure" responses require consideration. Forty-six percent of caregivers were unsure if their child would like the taste of lentils compared with only 16% who felt their child would not like lentils; 35% were unsure themselves if lentils were tasty. The large number of "not sure" responses may reflect the fact that many people have never eaten lentils or do not eat them regularly.

In terms of cost, less than 3% of respondents thought lentils would be expensive to add to meals, and 35% thought lentil-based meals could save them money; however, an overwhelming 60% were not sure. The large number of unsure responses may reflect low numbers of people shopping for lentils and, therefore, a lack of confidence with respect to price. Overall, the uncertainty with respect to cost does not appear to be a major influence on lentil use.

Time and convenience appear to have a moderate influence on lentil consumption. Although only 3% thought they would have to shop too frequently to include more lentils in their diet, 19% of caregivers thought they were too busy to prepare a lentil meal. This seemed to be related to cooking time, with 15% responding that it took too long to cook lentils and another 40% being unsure. Given that lentils can be prepared in less time than many grains, this is a perceived barrier rather than an actual barrier.

With respect to health and nutrition, caregivers appear to understand that lentils are a healthy food and that healthy food is important to their child's health. However, nutritional knowledge was only weakly correlated to intake. Caregivers concede they would like to eat healthier and acknowledge their food choices impact their child's food choices.

Studies on other plant-based diets identify similar barriers to those noted in this study. An Australian study that conducted focus groups with adults concluded the top barriers to including pulses in an eating pattern are lack of knowledge on how to prepare them to be tasty and perceived length of preparation [36]. This is similar to the perceived lack of time and extensive preparation time that are barriers to adults including more vegetables in their diets [20]. Barriers to consumption of soy foods include food preparation, availability, and the image of soy [29].

Findings from an Ipsos-Reid report [13] on factors influencing pulse consumption also support our findings. The report summarizes 1100 online interviews with adults, 230 interviews with South Asian immigrants, and 4 focus groups with Canadian adults in Edmonton and Toronto. Although a positive attitude toward pulses was noted (i.e., people recognize their nutritional benefits and see them as a tasty healthy food), "not thinking about including pulses in meal planning or preparation" (58%) and "not knowing how to cook or prepare pulses" (43%) were the most common limitations to consumption. Taste (21%) and family members not liking pulses (32%) were also notable barriers [13].

The majority of Canadians do not consume pulses on a regular basis [12]. In our study, demographics were not able to explain many differences in consumption habits and barriers to consuming lentils were similar across income levels. Lentils are not a common staple food for most Canadians, and this may explain why families have similar low consumption patterns and report similar barriers regardless of income or where they live. The top barriers to lentil consumption in low consumers--uncertainty on how to cook lentils, beliefs that family will not like lentils, and that lentils take too long to cook--cannot be underestimated. Healthy foods will be replaced with less healthy alternatives if they are more convenient. This is especially true for youth, as focus groups performed with 7-17 year olds found the top barrier to healthy eating was convenience, food availability, and little preparation required; this quick to "grab and eat" priority influences the food of choice when returning home from school [37].

Strengths and limitations

Limitations of a self-administered questionnaire include low response rate, respondent error, incomplete surveys, and a literate population; however, a RA was on site to track non-response error and assist in questionnaire completion to help minimize the effects of these errors, which resulted in a 76% response rate and 21 incomplete surveys. Sampling error was also minimized by providing incentives for completed questionnaires. Although a limitation of the study is that we did post-hoc analysis, we were able to provide a high alpha level of all 41 benefit and barrier questions upon completion of the questionnaire and measure internal validity of benefit and barrier scores (i.e., Cronbach's a 0.86). Further research could be conducted to decrease the length of the survey tool while maintaining validity. Finally, participant bias is present as results reflect only caregivers in attendance at parent-teacher interviews. Results should not be extrapolated to young children themselves, but further research could be conducted with this population specifically.


Questionnaires are used extensively in research to collect data about phenomena, such as beliefs and attitudes that are not easily observed [38]. This is the first study to look at the barriers to lentil consumption specifically. Findings suggest caregivers perceive many health benefits to consuming lentils; therefore, to improve pulse intake dietitians may focus less on the nutritional benefits of lentils and instead focus on the top perceived barriers such as taste and convenience. For example, dietitians could spend less time highlighting the fibre content of lentils and instead highlight tasty pulse recipes, cooking tips, and explain that some lentils (e.g., split lentils) can take as little as 5 minutes to prepare.

Dietitians who use pulses are more likely to recommend them in their practice [39], and therefore a campaign targeting nutrition professionals or cooking workshops for health professionals would increase practitioners' confidence in these foods and make them more comfortable with future recommendations into meal plans. Improved familiarity with pulses through the use of handouts and taste tests may help alter dietary habits [40]. In addition, dietitians require current resources on both the health benefits of pulses, based on the most current scientific literature, as well as resources, recipes, and pamphlets to give to clients to promote these healthy foods. Moreover, future health promotion strategies, including lentil marketing campaigns, should target specific audiences. Children are an important market segment as they are the future consumers of pulses; however, interventions should also be developed in recognition that caregivers are the gatekeepers and role models with respect to food in the family environment [41, 42].


Researchers would like to thank the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, the Saskatoon Public School Division, and the University of Saskatchewan. Financial support provided by the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers.

Conflict of interest: No conflicts of interest stated.


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(a) College of Pharmacy and Nutrition, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK; (b) College of Kinesiology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK; (c) College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK

Table 1. Demographics of questionnaire.

Demographic variable                         Frequency

Gender (n = 395)
Male                                          96 (24)
Female                                       299 (76)

Age (n = 396)
25 years or younger                            7 (2)
26-35 years                                  144 (36)
36-45 years                                  187 (47)
46-55 years                                   55 (14)
56-65 years                                    3 (1)
66 years or older                              0 (0)

Marital status (n = 395)
Single                                        43 (11)
Married or common law                        317 (80)
Separated or divorced                         26 (7)
Widowed                                        3 (1)
Would rather not say                           6 (2)

Employment status (n = 393)
Full-time caregiver                           57 (15)
Employed full-time outside of the home or    232 (59)
Employed part-time outside of the home or     67 (17)
Unemployed                                    16 (4)
A student                                     21 (5)
Retired                                        0 (0)

Education (n = 398)
Some high school                              20 (5)
Completed high school diploma                 51 (13)
Some post-secondary such as technical         86 (22)
  school, college, university
Completed technical school or college         83 (21)
Completed a university degree                158 (40)

Household annual income (n = 372)
Less than $39 999                             70 (19)
$40 000 to $79 999                           111 (30)
More than $80 000                            191 (51)

Ethnicity (n = 383)
Aboriginal (First Nations, Metis, Inuit)      42 (11)
Black, African-Canadian                        6(2)
White, Caucasian                             292 (76)
Asian                                         35 (9)
Hispanic, Latino                               3 (1)
Other                                          5 (1)

Vegetarianism (n = 393)
Not a vegetarian                             376 (96)
Pesco-vegetarian                               9 (2)
Lacto-ovo vegetarian                           7 (2)
Vegan                                          1 (0)

Table 2. Participant agreement (strongly agree and agree)
with benefits or barriers to lentils (n = 401).

Survey questions                                       % Agree
                                                     (% Not sure)

Benefits of lentils (agreeing to questions shows
more positive belief)

I believe healthy food is important to my child's     98.3 (0.2)
I would like to eat healthier                         93.8 (2.2)
I believe my food choices influence what my child     93.5 (1.7)
I believe lentils are a healthy food                  91.3 (6.7)
I believe that lentils are healthy for my child       89.8 (9.5)
If I eat lentils, my child is more likely to eat     80.0 (11.0)
Lentils can be a part of a tasty diet                68.3 (26.4)
I would try a lentil meal in a restaurant            65.1 (21.7)
I need more information about how to cook lentils    63.3 (10.0)
It is important for me to consume Saskatchewan       59.9 (26.2)
  produced foods
I believe that it is important for my child to       56.6 (33.9)
  consume lentil-based meals
I would buy a pre-packed lentil-based snack          53.1 (35.4)
It is important for my child to consume              52.9 (30.9)
  Saskatchewan produced foods
I would buy a pre-packed lentil based meal           51.1 (34.4)
I believe that it is important for my child to       49.6 (31.7)
  learn how to prepare lentils
I am motivated to eat lentils                        47.6 (34.4)
I know how to cook lentils                           45.9 (17.2)
I believe that lentil-based meals can help me to     35.4 (59.9)
  save money
Lentils are part of my traditional diet              21.7 (12.5)
I believe that serving lentils would help me to      12.0 (38.9)
  look more "trendy" to my friends and family

Barriers to lentils (agreeing to questions shows
more negative belief)

If my child liked lentils, I would make them more    76.3 (17.0)
I wish I could influence my child's eating habits    65.8 (10.5)
Lentil-based meals or snacks are not available       56.6 (30.2)
  when I eat out
I never think of using lentils when I cook           54.4 (10.7)
I don't know how to prepare lentils                  40.9 (12.2)
I often prepare a separate meal for my child          25.9 (4.5)
I don't want to change my eating habits              25.4 (18.2)
I don't think my child would eat a meal              21.7 (37.4)
  containing lentils
I would eat lentils if they had a more attractive    21.4 (30.4)
I'm too busy to prepare lentil based meals           19.2 (27.4)
I believe my child would not like the taste of       16.2 (46.1)
Lentils are not tasty enough                         15.2 (34.9)
I believe it takes too long to prepare lentils       14.7 (40.4)
The type of food I feed my child has no impact on     11.7 (4.7)
  their health
I would get indigestion, bloating or gas eating       9.0 (42.6)
I am not convinced about the benefits of eating       7.7 (2.5)
I believe lentils would upset my child's stomach      3.5 (36.7)
  Nutrition is not that important to me               3.5 (1.7)
I believe I would have to go shopping too often       3.0 (27.7)
  if I ate lentils
I believe it would be too expensive to eat            2.7 (28.9)
Lentils are expensive to add to meals                 2.7 (37.4)

Table 3. Ranked barriers to lentil consumption of lentil
low consumers (n = 225).

Barrier                                Total score    Ranking
                                       of response
                                       x value (a))

I do not know how to cook lentils          384           1
I believe my family would not like         262           2
Lentils take a long time to cook           184           3
Lentils do not taste good                  166           4
I do not know where to find lentils        129           5
Other                                      102           6
I do not want to try new foods              39           7
I believe lentils are expensive             17           8

(a) Value = 3 if listed as most important barrier;
value = 2 if listed as second most important barrier;
value = 1 if listed as third most important barrier
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Title Annotation:Research/Recherche
Author:Phillips, Theodosia; Zello, Gordon A.; Chilibeck, Phil D.; Vandenberg, Albert
Publication:Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research
Article Type:Report
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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