How to Add pulses To your Diet

How to Add pulses To your Diet

Photography, iStockphoto


How to Add pulses To your Diet

The growing interest in plant- based foods has put one par-ticular category of legume in the spotlight: pulses. While you may know that pulses are loaded with protein and can be an excellent meat alternative, their nutritional benefits and versatility in the kitchen go far beyond, making them a healthy and delicious addition to any diet.

“Pulses are one of the most affordable, nourishing [foods] that have literally sustained food cultures the world over,” says Desiree Nielsen, a registered plant-based dietitian based in Van­couver, and best-selling author of Good for Your Gut and Eat More Plants. “[Pulses] are also incredibly nutrient-dense, so they give you a lot of actual nutrition per bite, without contributing a lot of excess energy.”

If you’re wondering what counts as a pulse, according to Pulse Canada—the national association representing Canadian pulse growers, traders and processors—pulses belong to the legume family and include dried beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils.

“All pulses are legumes but not all legumes are considered pulses,” says Julianne Curran, vice-president, market innovation at Pulse Canada. “Canada is the largest exporter of pulses in the world, and the largest producer of peas and lentils, in particular.” Curran notes that a lack of moisture and a low fat content are what set pulses apart from other legumes, like peanuts or fresh peas. And while pulses are low in fat, they are rich in nutrients like protein, minerals and fibre.


“I think there’s a misconception that protein equals meat, so most people would probably be surprised to know that most pulses have around 10 grams of protein per three-quarter cup serving,” Nielsen says. “Pulses also offer a lot of minerals like iron, zinc and magnesium, which support building red blood cells, [and] help with blood pressure and the immune system.”


Nielsen also notes that while not all plant foods are high in fibre, pulses have an ample amount.

“Fibre is definitely my favourite attribute of pulses—just a half-cup serving has anywhere between four and eight grams of fibre,” she says. “While all plant foods have fibre, some actually don’t have a lot. You can eat a lot of salads or fruit and not be getting the fibre you think you’re getting.” Fibre is important because it contributes to the health of the digestive system and—you guessed it—helps support elimination.


“Very few Canadians eat the recommended amount of fibre, which is critical in order to build a healthy microbiome,” Nielsen says, noting that the recommended fibre intake per day ranges from 25 to 38 grams, depending on your body size and activity level. “Fibre supports the health of the digestive tract itself because it helps sweep through the gut and encourages the normal, healthy turnover of
the gut cells, which is really important for a strong constitution.”


The power of pulses doesn’t stop there, either. The combination of high fibre and high protein helps contribute to a feeling of satiety, or fullness, and also plays a role in keeping blood sugar levels on an even keel.

“The high amount of complex carbohydrates in pulses [helps with] blood sugar control, so that’s good for diabetic people, as well as for the general population. So, rather than experiencing a spike in blood sugar levels after eating, they promote more stability,” Curran says. “[Pulses] really have that one-two punch, with protein and fibre.”


But if adding more fibre to your diet has caused digestive woes in the past—like bloating or gas, which can occur when your body is breaking down complex carbohydrates—then Nielsen says it’s important to pay attention to exactly how you’re adding in those fibre-rich foods.

“When we consume more high-fibre foods, it’s normal for our body to respond in that way. Beans are highly fermentable, and the average Canadian’s gut isn’t used to that,” she says. “We have to think of building up our tolerance or training our gut to digest pulses, so it’s better to introduce them slowly and be consistent.”

To build up your gut’s tolerance, start by eating a quarter of a cup of pulses every single day—rather than a whole cup once a week, for example. From there, you can gradually increase the amount. Curran also notes that drinking plenty of water can go a long way when you’re raising your fibre intake.

Once your body adjusts, you can start to get creative with pulses in the kitchen—and that’s where the fun begins.


“We have a lot of different types of pulses and they really add diversity to the diet for those looking to incorporate more plant-based options,” Curran says. “The other benefit is the fact that pulses are really affordable and they’re shelf-stable.”

Whether you buy pulses dried and cook them yourself or you purchase them in a can, Nielsen notes there are no glaring nutritional differences between the two. She does recommend looking for canned pulses with no salt added, but otherwise it comes down to how much time you have to prepare them. She adds: “The beans that you eat are the best beans for you!”

Pulse it up!

Add pulses to stews, soups, curries or as a substitute for ground meat in your favourite recipes—the options are endless. Here, cookbook author Desiree Nielsen shares five creative ways to work with pulses.

Bulk up breakfast:

“I love making a chickpea scramble. Instead of eggs, you smash chickpeas in a skillet, then add spices and veggies. You end up with a hot, high-fibre, high-protein breakfast that takes five minutes to make.”

Roast ’em for salads:

“Roast beans until they’re crispy and start to split open, and then you can sprinkle them on top of salads or a bowl, or eat them as a snack.”

Drink them up:

“Take a quarter of a cup of chickpeas or white beans and add them to a smoothie. Adjust the recipe to add a little bit more fruit or cinnamon to balance out the flavour.”

Create dips galore:

“You can create delicious dips with any beans—black beans, white beans,
lentils. This is great for children, particularly, who are new to [pulses]. Every kid loves a dip, and you can make really fun dips with a variety of flavours.”

Add them to sauces:

“White beans like cannellini, navy or butter beans are indeed very buttery, so you can make a sauce creamier and more filling by blending a can of white beans into it.”


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How to Add pulses To your Diet