Legumes called pulses have extraordinary health benefits

The humble bean is mighty in 2016, named the Year of the Pulses by the United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Not only are pulses good for you and can help with modest weight loss, they’re also good for the environment.

Just what are pulses?

“Pulses are a type of legume, seeds that grow within pods. Pulses include chickpeas, lentils and dry peas,” said registered dietitian nutritionists Regina Ragone and Dr. Susan Mitchell via email. The pair host a “Breaking Down Nutrition” podcast and “Food Fit Fabulous” video series. “Not only are they a low-cost source of protein and fiber, research also indicates regular consumption of pulses may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.”

A standby for vegans and vegetarians, pulses like beans, provide fiber, protein, iron, zinc, folate and magnesium and are better than the average carb.

“Pulses are a low-glycemic index carbohydrate, which means they provide a more steady supply of blood sugar for the two to three hours after you eat them, which helps you to avoid a crash that often leaves you hungry for higher-calorie foods,” said Dr. Russell de Souza, a registered dietitian and nutrition epidemiologist with the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada. In fact, “the higher fiber content and structure of the carbohydrate found in pulses may reduce the absorption of fat or processed carbohydrate eaten at the same meal.”

Proven benefits

A new study led by de Souza found that eating a daily serving of pulses makes people feel fuller than if they ate a control diet, and that eating pulses can significantly reduce “bad cholesterol.” Eating about 3/4 cup of pulses each day over six weeks led to a weight loss of just over half a pound.

“In another review we did, we found they may help with appetite control. Eating 100 calories’ worth of pulses at a meal will make you feel about one-third more full than 100 calories from another food,” de Souza said. “Pulses may accomplish this because of the nutrients they contain. They are high in fiber and protein, which release hormones from your gut, which tell your brain that you are full and should stop eating. It also takes you longer to chew and swallow pulses, which means you give your body time to understand you are full.”

Environmentally friendly pulses “require a small amount of water to produce and have a much smaller environmental footprint than many other plants and animal-based proteins,” Ragone and Mitchell said. “They create fewer carbon emissions per yield and don’t require nitrogen fertilizer to grow due to their ability to biologically fix nitrogen from the air, which cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions.”

Incorporating pulses

Pulses are easy to add into your diet.

“Since they are part of so many ethnic cuisines, you have probably already eaten them in the form of hummus made from chickpeas, lentil soup or an Indian curry,” Ragone and Mitchell said. “A good way to start would be adding lentils to a meat chili or tacos. You can also use them alone in a salad or side dish.”

De Souza suggests, “Lentils are easy to add to meals like chili or spaghetti and meat sauce or soups. You can reduce the amount of meat by half in the chili and replace it with beans, or reduce some or all of the meat in spaghetti sauce and replace with lentils or chickpeas — my favorite. Adding chickpeas or beans to soups will make them heartier.

“Hummus is another way to increase your chickpea intake. Use it as a dip for vegetables or as a spread where you would otherwise use mayonnaise. Use roasted chickpeas instead of croutons to top salads.”

Here’s a tip from Mitchell and Ragone: Dry beans, whole peas and chickpeas should be soaked before cooking, as they do not readily absorb water. Dry lentils and split peas do not require soaking and only need to be rinsed before cooking. Soak every 1 cup of dry pulses with 3 cups water and discard the soaking water.


– 1 cup dry lentils, rinsed

– 3 cups water

– 1/2 pound lean ground beef

– 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

– 1 teaspoon chili powder

– 1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

– 1/2 cup picante sauce or salsaSalt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

– 2 to 3 green onions, chopped

– 1/2 cup chopped ripe olives

– 2 to 3 fresh green chili peppers, seeded and chopped, or 14-ounce can

– 1/2 packed cup shredded Cheddar cheese

– 1/2 packed cup shredded Monterey Jack or Mozzarella cheese

– Nacho chips, sour cream, guacamole, chopped tomatoes, for serving

In a medium saucepan, bring lentils and 2 cups water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Drain. Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large frying pan, brown the ground beef. Drain off excess fat. Add tomato sauce, chili powder, Tabasco, picante sauce and remaining one cup water. Stir over medium heat until the sauce is slightly thickened. Stir in the drained lentils. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place in a 9-inch pie pan or in a 8-inch square baking dish. Top with green onions, olives, green chilies, and shredded cheeses. Heat in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

Garnish and serve with chips for dipping.

For more, see CookingWithPulses.com.

Written by Melissa Erickson. Photo: Pixabay.


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