Nutrition

2016's superfood: What you need to know about pulses

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Nutrition

2016's superfood: What you need to know about pulses

If you haven't heard a lot about pulses, you soon will. The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses — edible dried seeds of the plants in the legume family, namely, dried peas, edible beans, lentils and chickpeas.

The spotlight's on pulses because they're sustainably grown crops, and nutritional powerhouses that rival most superfoods you've heard about. "They're high in protein, low in fat, incredibly versatile to cook with and a really affordable way to reduce your weekly grocery bill," says Amanda Li, a registered dietitian and founder of Toronto-based Wellness Simplified.

Here are three reasons to follow government recommendations and eat at least two cups of pulses weekly — plus handy preparation tips.

1. Pulses are low-fat meat alternatives.
Pulses contain almost twice the amount of protein found in cereal grains and virtually no fat. So swapping in pulses for meat once or twice a week is a great way to help reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. "Just make sure you combine them with a cereal grain such as wheat or rice," says Li. The two contain amino acids that work synergistically to provide balanced protein needed for growth. For example, try a Quick Lentil Curry recipe served with brown rice or a Black bean, Chickpea, Avocado Salad recipe served with a side of whole wheat toast.

2. Pulses are weight loss tools.
Studies have shown that regular pulse consumption may assist with weight management. Why? Pulses are a complex carbohydrate (a slowly digested starch) so they increase feelings of fullness and control appetite. Li suggests snacking on half a cup of roasted chickpeas. Or try baking with pulses. "I make a delicious lentil pumpkin spice loaf," she says, adding that softer pulses like red lentils bring moisture to baked goods. Firmer pulses like black beans and chickpeas are perfect for tossing into salads.

3. Pulses help fight disease.

Health organizations around the world recommend eating pulses to prevent chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Pulses' low glycemic index (GI) ensures they don't spike blood sugar levels compared to say a plate of white pasta, while the seeds' soluble fibre helps reduce cholesterol levels, says Li.

Caveats
Pulses can cause bloating and gas because of their high fibre content — one serving contains almost half the daily recommendation. If you find they give you trouble, start slowly with a quarter cup a day, says Li.

Also, if you forget to soak dried pulses before cooking one way to hasten softening is to add a strip or two of Kombu (also known as giant sea kelp) to your boiling water, says Li. Ready-made pulses are also cropping up on grocery store shelves, just watch for added sodium (especially in canned variations) and rinse to remove.

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Nutrition

2016's superfood: What you need to know about pulses

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