The Power of the Pulse

If you are unfamiliar with the word “pulses” you are not alone! Pulses are the official name for the category of food that includes dried peas, chickpeas, beans, and lentils. The United Nations officially declared 2016 as the “International Year of the Pulses.” 

Legumes are the umbrella family that includes all dried and fresh beans, soybeans, dried and fresh peas, lentils, chickpeas, and peanuts. Pulses are the dried seeds of a legume plant. All pulses are legumes, but not all legumes are pulses. Beans are both legumes and pulses. The word “pulse” stems from the latin word “puls” meaning seeds that can be made into a thick soup. There are 100’s of different varieties of pulses grown around the globe. 

The nutrition found in beans, dried peas and lentils are similar to foods in both the vegetable food group and the protein food group. As such, the USDA classifies pulses as both a vegetable and protein. Like vegetables, pulses are an excellent source of fiber, folate, and potassium. They are also an excellent source of plant protein, providing iron and zinc. 

  • ½ cup of cooked black eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, pinto beans, and split peas has between 7 – 9 grams protein.
  • ½ cup of cooked pulses has between 6-8 grams of fiber.

Pulses are naturally gluten-free. For those individuals with celiac disease or if following a gluten-free diet, pulses are a versatile ingredient that is easily incorporated in meals and snacks. Pulses can be ground in breads and baking mixes, flours, cereals, pastas, chips, crackers, dips, sauces, and spreads. Pulse-based products are showing up in frozen meals and entrees, powdered proteins, pulse-based meal alternatives, soups, stews and so much more. 

Not only are they nutrition powerhouses, but pulses are also sustainable, eco-friendly crops. According to the USDA, dry pulses are shelf stable for 1-2 years. Out in the fields, pulses are drought-tolerant crops. Some individuals are hesitant to cook with beans. Canned beans are an easy, convenient and a great way to incorporate pulses into a meal. Simply open a can, pour it into a colander, and rinse away. This will help to eliminate some of the gas reducing sugars and drop the sodium content. Try this Tuscan White Bean Soup made with cannellini beans and a delicious blend of hearty veggies and savory sausage. Pull out a can of black beans for these Vegetarian Tacos that are loaded with flavor. Top them off with some creamy chopped avocado for some great taste and healthy fats. 

Lentils are the perfect way to ease cooking with dried beans as they do not require any soaking. Simply rinse dried lentils in a fine mesh colander and discard any that are shriveled or any debris that may be found. After that, just simmer in water until tender. The specific cooking time can be found on the package and will vary based on the type of lentil. 

  • Try your hand with lentils with this vegan Red Lentil Carrot Curry Bowl. It is nutrient packed and full of flavor.
  • Or try this Lentil Chicken Salad which offers a light and healthy alternative for a side salad or in a lettuce wrap.
  • For a more traditional recipe, make a pot of this Lentil Soup. A quick warm up on chilly night, this soup can be frozen in individual portions, so it is ready when you are. 

Pulses are truly nature’s gift. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating about 3 cups of legumes, including beans and pulses per week. Eating about ½ cup of beans every day will meet the weekly Dietary Guidelines for legumes. Where do you fit into the equation?

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