The Power of the Pulse: a mighty powerhouse to add to your diet
By: Gwen Simms, Registered Dietitian, Mount Forest FHT
Nutritious, inexpensive, and versatile with a nutritional profile associated with improved health. Have you heard about pulses? And are you incorporating these powerful food ingredients in your diet?
What Is a Pulse?
The terms ‘pulse’ and ‘legume’ are often used interchangeably, but what exactly are they? Is there a difference? Legumes refer to plants whose fruit is enclosed in a pod, such as peanuts, soybeans, and fresh beans. Pulses are part of the legume family, but refer only to the dried seed. Dried beans, peas, chickpeas, and lentils are collectively known as pulses and are the most common varieties.
Good for the Environment, your Wallet, and our Country!
Both legumes and pulses are nitrogen-fixing crops. This means that they fix nitrogen into the soil, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. This plays a role in improving the environmental sustainability of cropping systems.
Pulses are also an inexpensive addition to your grocery cart. Whether you choose to purchase canned, frozen or dried beans and peas, you won’t be spending more than a few dollars for a nutrient packed food.
Did you know Canada’s large and diverse agricultural land is ideal for growing a wide range of pulses? Canada’s pulse production averages between 4.5 to 5 million tons per year! Due to this, Canada has emerged as the world’s largest exporter of peas and lentils, and one of the world’s top five exporters of beans. Something to be proud of!
In many cultures, pulses tend to be underestimated and are even known as ‘protein for the poor’. So what’s all the hype about? Pulses are an excellent low fat source of protein, fibre, and many vitamins and minerals including B vitamins and iron. Pulses increase satiety (fullness) and help to stabilize blood sugar by reducing spikes after eating. This is beneficial for managing both diabetes and weight. Pulses can also help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol. This is associated with their excellent soluble fibre content. Pulses are also a great source of insoluble fibre, which helps keep our digestive system healthy and regular. Pulses are sometimes associated with bloating, flatulence, and a long cooking time. However, GI symptoms can be avoided by slowly increasing the amount of pulses in your diet and drinking adequate water. If cooking dried beans is a nuisance for you, there are other options! Take a look at the ‘How to Use’ section below. These nutrient dense little beans are definitely worth adding to your diet a few times per week to help prevent and mange many chronic diseases.
How To Use?
Most people are intrigued when they learn the nutritional benefits of pulses and want to try incorporating them into a healthy diet, however many people don’t know how to use them. Pulses can be a quick and easy addition to any meal as they require little preparation – especially if you buy them canned, just rinse and enjoy. You can also now find black beans and chickpeas in the frozen vegetable section, which can come in handy too. If you choose to use dried pulses all you need to do is soak them overnight and then boil them in fresh water until tender. Here are a few easy ideas to get you experimenting with pulses:
- Add a can of beans to your favourite homemade soup, stew, or stir-fry.
- Blend chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil together to make your own hummus for dipping vegetables or spreading on sandwiches.
- Make a lentil curry with vegetables and serve on basmati rice.
- Try substituting half (or all) the ground beef in tacos, chili, or hamburger patties with beans or lentils.
For more recipe inspiration, check out Pulse Canada’s website – www.pulsecanada.com. Sign up for the ½ cup habit challenge and enjoy the power of the pulse!
For more information about any of the free services offered by your local Family Health Team ask your doctor or nurse practitioner during your next visit, visit the website www.afhto.ca or google ‘family health team locations’.