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Pulses: Are They the Most Undervalued Superfoods?

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Pulses - Dr. Axe

Pulses have a long history, withe records of their consumption in the Middle East over 11,000 years ago by some of the earliest human civilizations.

Fast-forward to 2016: The United Nations declared it was the International Year of Pulses, with a mission to get people around the world to eat more of the edible seeds.

Why? These superfoods are nutritious, inexpensive and beneficial to the environment. That’s a win-win-win.

If you’re looking for an inexpensive plant-based source of fiber, protein and micronutrients, check out the many varieties of pulses that are easy to find in grocery stores.

What Are Pulses?

Pulses are edible seeds that grow in pods, including peas, beans and lentils. They are part of the legume family.

The term is used for crops that are harvested solely as dry grains.

What’s the difference between pulses vs. legumes? The term legumes refers to any part the plant, while pulses are specifically the edible seeds.

Pulses are valued for their nutrition content, shelf life and low cost. They serve as an excellent source of plant-based protein, soluble and insoluble fiber, and important vitamins and minerals.

Studies suggest that pulse consumption is associated with long-lived food cultures, such as the Japanese, Swedish and Mediterranean cuisine, that are known to improve nutrition intake and longevity.

Types/Varieties

Pulses are part of the legume family, and they include dried beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas. There are hundreds of pulses varieties that are growth around the world.

Some of the most commonly consumed types of pulses include:

  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Butter beans (lima beans)
  • Cannellini beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Borlotti beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Fava beans
  • Bambara beans
  • Lentils (red, green, yellow and brown)
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Garden peas
  • Lupin bean
  • Vetches

Nutrition Facts

Pulses are a great addition to your diet because they are rich in macronutrients and micronutrients. Generally, they are good sources of:

  • protein
  • fiber
  • fats
  • complex carbohydrates
  • iron
  • zinc
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • vitamin B6
  • folate
  • niacin
  • riboflavin
  • thiamine

Pulses are also rich in antioxidants, with dark-pigmented varieties having more phenolic content compared to light-colored seeds. Research shows that these compounds are useful for the prevention of scavenging free oxygen radicals that may cause chronic disease.

Benefits/Uses

1. Provide Fiber

Pulses are considered high-fiber foods.

Why is this so important? In a nutshell, consuming enough fibrous foods helps promote regularity, stabilize blood sugar and promote satiety.

Because of their fiber content, pulses benefits also includes their ability to boost heart health. Research indicates that food sources of insoluble fiber have been consistently associated with lower incidence rates of cardiovascular disease.

2. Improve Satiety

Because edible seeds like beans and lentils are high-fiber foods, they are filling and promote extended satiety. Adding them to salads or sautéed vegetables is a great way to increase your fiber and protein intake without the need for high-calorie foods.

3. Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

A review of studies published in Canadian Journal of Diabetes found that there’s high-quality evidence supporting a role for pulse consumption for heart health, weight management and the prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Based on their findings, researchers indicate that edible seed consumption can contribute to improving satiety, reducing food intake and regulating body weight, which can reduce the risk of obesity and, in turn, improve diabetes management.

4. Good Source of Iron

Pulses like chickpeas and lentils are iron-rich foods that support cognitive function, help us maintain a positive mood and support a healthy immune system.

Research shows that iron deficiency rises among female adolescents because menstrual iron losses occur with increased iron needs for rapid growth. For this reason, eating beans, lentils and peas may be especially helpful for female teens, particularly if they aren’t meat eaters.

5. Provide Protein

Research suggests that meat “cannot be continued to be used as a sole source of protein to meet the growing need for proteins due to increasing population.” Therefore, pulses are gaining recognition for their plant-based protein content.

Pulses contain approximately 21 percent to 25 percent protein, making them an excellent option for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet.

6. Promote Sustainable Agriculture

Did you know that growing pulses is good for the environment? Pulses help decrease greenhouse gases, and they increase soil health by normalizing nitrogen levels.

Growing pulses also requires less water than other crops. It takes about 43 gallons of water to produce a pound of pulses, while the same amount of soybeans or peanuts takes well over 200 gallons of water.

7. Promote Food Security

Pulses are nutrient-dense and inexpensive at less than $2 per pound. This is why the United Nations promoted consumption around the world in an effort to support food security.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that pulses are an inexpensive source of protein, which is a critical component of any healthy diet, especially in poorer areas where meat, dairy and dish aren’t economically accessible.

Pulses are also shelf-stable and remain edible for several years. This allows households without refrigeration to rely on edible seeds and avoid food waste.

Recipes

It’s incredibly easy to cook with pulses. They typically come canned or dried.

If you’re preparing dried pulses, you simply have to soak them before cooking. The cooking times depend on the type of pulse, so read the directions on the product for that information.

Beans, lentils and peas can be added to salads, soups, casseroles, chilis, tacos and more. Here are some recipe ideas to get you started:

  • Try this Buddha Bowl with lentils, sweet potatoes, broccolini, poached eggs and flank steak. You can add any combination of ingredients, and the lentils serve as a protein- and fiber-rich base.
  • This easy, blended Pea Soup Recipe features chickpeas and peas as the base. It also includes coconut milk, beef bacon and anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, curry and coriander.
  • This Vegetarian Pozole Verde Recipe is a Mexican stew made with fava beans, sliced vegetables, spinach, cilantro and pumpkin seeds.

Risks and Side Effects

Eating pulses, like baked beans, may make you gassy, which isn’t a favorable side effect. But soaking and rinsing dry beans before you cook them, or rinsing canned beans in water, can help reduce the carbohydrates in beans that are harder to digest.

If you’re new to eating pulses, start slow, with about half a cup. An increase in fiber intake may take some getting used to, but your digestive system will be happy in the end.

Conclusion

  • Pulses are edible seeds in the legume family. There are many varieties of pulses, including fava beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and black-eyed peas.
  • Eating pulses is an excellent way to increase fiber and protein consumption. Plus, they are rich in micronutrients like iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and zinc.
  • Increase your consumption of pulses to boost satiety, reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, manage weight, increase iron intake and regulate digestion.
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