2016–International Year of Pulses
The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2016 the international year of pulses! So this is a great opportunity to explain what pulses are why they are important in our diet.
What are pulses?
Pulses are the seeds that grow within plants that have pods, or legumes. Legumes are then picked and the pulses removed usually to be dried (although you can buy then fresh or frozen, particularly some beans and peas).
Why are they important?
We’re generally not eating enough vegetable protein or dietary fibre, and pulses are rich in both. They’re also good sources of a wide range of vitamins and minerals and therefore it’s important we consider them in our diet. Pulses can be stored in the cupboard for months, although they do take some preparation before they can be eaten! Dried pulses are also very cheap, but you can buy them ready prepared in tins, cartons and pouches (such as Merchant Gourmet). Just check for added ingredients like sugar and salt.
Vegetarians and vegans should consider including pulses as part of a healthy diet, but because they are incomplete proteins, they should be consumed with wholegrains such as rice, which will provide a more complete protein. Some pulses are particularly good because they score relatively high in protein quality and digestibility, particularly yellow split peas, green lentils and soy.
For people looking to lose weight, pulses are starchy foods that can help us fill fuller for longer and therefore can help us to eat less.
Pulses are also environmentally friendly because they are able to utilise nitrogen from the air rather than the soil, which reduces the need to add fertilisers. They also produce fewer greenhouse gases than other plants such as cucumber, lettuce, aubergine and celery1.
And finally, they count as one of your five-a-day. However, there is no portion limit to this, so whether you eat one or three portions, it still counts as only one of the five-a-day portions.
Storing, preparing and cooking pulses: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/pulses.aspx
Canadian website on everything pulses: http://www.pulsecanada.com/food-health
1. Tom et al. (2015) Energy use, blue water footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions for current food consumption patterns and dietary recommendations in the US. Environmental Systems and Decisions. DOI:10.1007/s10669-015-9577-y
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat.