Guest contributor: Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council
Over the last few years, a wave of plant-based trends, coupled with the International Year of Pulses in 2016, has led to the humble pulse - more commonly known as legumes - increasingly being seen for the nutritional powerhouses that they truly are. And as these trends develop, their true potential and versatility is just now being discovered. With pulses in the brain, we've been looking at the health benefits pulses provide and new ways in which to incorporate them into our diet!
But first, what actually is a pulse?
Pulses belong to the wider legume family, which is a group of plants whose fruit or seed is enclosed in a pod. Pulses refer specifically to the dried, mature seeds of these plants and include dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. The term ‘legume’ includes these dry varieties, as well as fresh peas and beans and is a more commonly used term than pulses.
Many people are most familiar with legumes in the form of the much-loved baked bean, but there are hundreds of different varieties of legume out there with some of the most familiar including chickpeas, lentils, peas and beans - like butter beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans and soybeans.
Legumes and pulses come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours and can be eaten in many forms including whole, split, ground into flour, dried, canned, cooked or frozen.
+ Why are they so good for me?
Legumes are packed with a whole range of essential nutrients, they are...
An economical source of plant-based protein.
Higher in protein than most other plant foods.
Generally low in fat, and virtually free of saturated fats.
Rich in energy-giving carbohydrates, with a low glycaemic index to help maintain blood glucose control.
A good source of B-group vitamins including folate, plus iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium.
Abundant in fibre, including both insoluble and soluble fibre, plus resistant starch - all essential for maintaining good gut health!
There are many studies which show that legumes offer significant health benefits including protection against chronic diseases, assisting with weight management and helping to maintain good gut health.
+ How much should I be eating?
Pulses like chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans are full of nutrients, inexpensive and important for health and well-being. We recommend aiming for 100g or ½ cup of pulses at least three times a week to maintain good health.
+ So how do I add more legumes into my diet?
Enjoying legumes as part of a healthy habit is easier than you might think...
Use hummus instead of mayonnaise in a sandwich
Substitute a mix of kidney beans and red lentils for half the mince in your next spaghetti bolognaise or chilli
Mix in a handful of black beans or lentils when cooking scrambled eggs
Try whizzing a handful of cannellini beans into a fruit smoothie
Use mashed cooked brown lentils in a nutty bliss ball mix
+ Why not try something new with these legumes…
Chickpeas offer a creamy texture and mild taste and make a great base for soaking up flavours.
Try something new with chickpeas: why not mix up your hummus with additions like sundried tomatoes, feta or cooked sweet potato or why not try the latest foodie trend, sweet hummus!
Black beans have a delicious meaty texture and make a great addition to burgers or as a mince substitute in chilli.
Try something new with black beans: use them to add a fudgy texture to black bean brownies.
Lupins are slowly making their mark in the world of legumes due to their incredible versatility - they can be eaten fresh and lupin flour and flakes can be used to up the protein and fibre content when baking.
Try something new with lupins: use a mix of lupin flakes and oats for a nutritious homemade muesli.
+ Top tips for prepping and storing your legumes
Cooking dried legumes (or pulses) in large batches is easy and cost-effective - simply freeze individual portions of cooked legumes for up to three months for ready-to-use convenience.
When using canned legumes, rinse contents thoroughly to reduce sodium content by more than 40%.
Soaking dried legumes for an hour or two, or overnight if you have time, ensures that they're easier to digest and maximises nutrient bio-availability. Split peas and lentils don't need to be soaked.
Store cooked, cooled legumes in an airtight container in the fridge for no more than 3 days - this applies whether they're from a can or cooked at home.
With so many varieties to choose from, there are many reasons to love your legumes - their health benefits, versatility and abundance of nutrients being just a few. But however you choose to eat them, know that whenever you do you’re making a significant contribution to your health.