More than ever, the pluses of pulses as a nutritional powerhouse for achieving good health continues to grow around the globe. From as early as 800 BC, pulses have had an impact on feeding the world and their popularity helped pushed pulses onto center stage when the United Nations declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses.
Pulses are dry, edible seeds from plants in the legume family. They consist of 12 crops that include chickpeas/garbanzo beans, dry peas, beans, and lentils.
“Pulse” may sound like a funny name to give these seeds but the word is derived from the Latin word “puls” which means “thick soup.” Pulses are part of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seed.
As an eco-friendly food choice, pulses are viewed as being a sustainable source of nutrition contributing to food security throughout the world. They are notable for being drought-resistant, can be stored for long periods of time, small farmers can cultivate pulses making them a cash crop, and they are an affordable source of protein and minerals compared to animal foods (they only cost about 10 cents per serving). Pulses also leave a small carbon footprint since they actually enrich the soil requiring very little nitrogen fertilizer.
Research has shown regular consumption of pulses may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer. Plus, pulses are a very versatile, easy-to-prepare ingredient that can be used in entrees, salads, breads, and desserts.
Pulses – a nutrition powerhouse
Pulses particularly shine in their nutritional prowess for what they have to offer us in health benefits. They provide a rich source of fiber, phytochemicals, and contain important vitamins and minerals. Pulses provide a good source of protein, complex carbohydrates, contain no cholesterol and little fat or sodium. They also provide magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and other minerals playing a variety of roles in maintaining good health.
Mounting evidence suggests that pulses can play a role in preventing chronic diseases. Here is a breakdown of what health benefits pulses may provide:
· Pulses slow down digestion – Pulses contain resistant starch, fiber and protein which help slow digestion. This keeps us feeling fuller longer providing more satiety.
· Pulses aid in weight loss – Pulses are high in fiber and protein while low in fat and moderate in calories. High fiber foods help people feel “full” or more satiated at mealtime.
· Pulses may lower risk of diabetes– Having diabetes means a person needs to control their blood glucose within normal limits. Studies have shown pulses have a low glycemic index which helps to achieve more stable blood glucose levels after a meal resulting in a reduction in blood glucose and insulin spikes. Better blood glucose control can lead to a reduced hemoglobin A1C number.
· Pulses are good for your heart– Thanks to the high fiber content of pulses which can help lower cholesterol levels, our hearts will love us eating them. Pulses are also high in the mineral potassium. Potassium-rich foods can help lower blood pressure by counteracting the effects of sodium.
· Gluten – free – People with celiac disease must avoid eating gluten which is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye which can cause an immune reaction triggered in the small intestine causing damage and poor absorption of nutrients. Pulses contain no gluten making them a suitable alternative to be used as an ingredient in a recipe.
· Vegetarian diet – Pulses are a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals (especially iron and zinc) which make them excellent for vegetarians.
In addition, certain pulses are known for their unique health-promoting qualities:
· Good source of protein - Lentils deliver double the protein per serving of quinoa
· Excellent source of fiber – All pulses have 4x more fiber than brown rice
· Excellent source of folate – Chickpeas contain 3x more folate per serving than kale
· Iron-rich – One serving of black beans contains 1.5 times as much iron as one 3 oz. serving of flank steak
· Good source of potassium – One serving of dry peas contains as much potassium as a banana
· High in antioxidants – Per serving, kidney beans have higher antioxidant content than blueberries and pomegranate juice
Ideas for including pulses in your diet
· Add chickpeas or lentils to a mixed green salad
· Blend chickpeas with garlic and tahini to make hummus. Serve with vegetables, or whole-grain crackers
· Make curry with lentils or chickpeas and serve over rice or white fish
· Add lentils to chili, taco meat, meatloaf, burgers, soup or spaghetti sauce
· Make minestrone and other soups with lentils or chickpeas
· Serve split peas as a side dish with grilled meat
· Add cooked white beans, chickpeas or whole pea flour to a smoothie making for an instant boost in protein, fiber and minerals. It also lends to a creamy consistency.
· Roast chickpeas with curry powder for an Indian-spiced snack, use cumin and chili powder for a Mexican flair, or use garlic, basil and oregano for an Italian twist.
Store pulses dry (uncooked) in a sealed container in a cool, dry place and they can keep indefinitely. When preparing pulses, place in a strainer, rinse with water and remove any small stones.
For more information on pulses including recipes, visit pulsepledge.com.