Pulses are the dried edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Legumes are plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod.
Pulses include dried beans (navy, black, pinto, kidney, romano), dried peas, lentils and chickpeas. These should not be confused with fresh beans and peas that we often eat as a vegetable.
Many people are surprised to learn that Canada produces more than a dozen types of beans and is the world’s leading exporter of lentils and peas.
Pulses are nutritious, environmentally friendly and reasonably priced. Despite this, only 13 per cent of Canadians eat them, and most eat less than the recommended serving, which is 180mL (or ¾-cup).
Some of the barriers to eating pulses may include the physical side effects (I'm sure you know the rhyme), the preparation/cook time or simply not knowing how to work them in to our favourite recipes.
Pulses are a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber has been shown to decrease cholesterol, while the insoluble variety plays an important role in bowel health.
Adequate fiber intake may reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Pulses also contain protein and vitamins, as well as iron, folate, B vitamins, potassium and zinc.
This is what we — in the biz — call nutrient-dense!
Pulses are also environmentally friendly. They can draw nearly all the nitrogen they require from the air, so they require less nitrogen fertilizer, the manufacturing of which relies heavily on fossil fuels. This means lower greenhouse gas emissions. Rotating pulses with other crops can improve quality and yield for more sustainable farming.
Perhaps best of all, pulses are affordable. I generally pay $0.99-$1.50 for a can of black beans or chickpeas with no salt added. A can contains three 180mL servings, which breaks down to $0.33-$0.50 per portion.
A female over the age of 14 requires only two servings of meat and alternatives per day. Eating a variety of pulses, at just 50 cents a serving, she could meat — I mean meet — her needs at a cost of only $7 per week.
Now, I’m not a vegetarian — I enjoy a steak as much as the next guy — but I’m just saying pulses are a cost-effective way to meet protein needs. There also isn’t much waste since pulses can be stored in your cupboards for months in unopened packages or airtight containers.
Keep this in mind for the next time you need a nutritious item to donate to the food bank without blowing your own budget.
As for the other side effect of eating pulses, it’s no secret beans have long been tagged the "musical fruit." If you are concerned about gas and bloating, start with a smaller serving of pulses, such as 60mL (¼ cup), and gradually increase your intake to allow your gut to adapt to the change in diet.
You can also minimize these effects by changing the water during the cold soak, not using the soaking water to cook the pulses and cooking them thoroughly.
Speaking of soaking, that's another challenge to eating more pulses in your diet. One method is to soak them for 12 hours in the refrigerator, which may require some planning ahead, but really, it’s not much different than thawing meat in the refrigerator overnight.
Another option is a quick soak: boil for two minutes, cover and let stand for an hour. To avoid soaking altogether, just pick up canned pulses. They can sometimes contain a lot of salt, so be sure to drain and rinse before use or look for products with no salt added.
You might be asking yourself: yes, but what can I do with them? Soups, stews and salads are a great place to start. Wraps, fajitas or quesadillas are also great for pulses. Try using them as a replacement for, or in addition to, meat in the recipes you already make. You can also use pulses in baking by adding chickpea flour to your recipes.
Dried beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are part of a healthy diet, part of a sustainable food system and can even be part of a tight budget. So check your pulses and visit eatrightontario.ca for recipes to help you add them to your diet without skipping a beat.
Ashley Hurley is a registered dietitian in Greater Sudbury.