Food & nutrition Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team

March is Nutrition Month: Celebrate with pulses!

bowls of beans and pulses
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Written by Annie Hoang

What better way to celebrate Nutrition Month 2016 than with pulses?  2016 has been declared the International Year of the Pulses by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.  Pulses make up part of the legume family, and include dried peas, dried beans, chick peas, and lentils.  This attention to pulses highlights the important role they play in both nutrition and sustainability.  Here are my top 5 reasons why you should consider including pulses in your diet.

1.     Pulses are incredibly nutritious.

Pulses have been referred to as a “superfood” for many reasons.  They are an excellent source of protein, making it a suitable replacement for meat in vegetarian and vegan meals.  Unlike most proteins, they are also rich in fibre.  One-half cup of pulses provides 7-17g of dietary fibre, a nutrient that most Canadians are lacking (fibre requirements are 25-38g per day).  In addition, pulses are a good source of B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

2.     Pulses are quick to prepare and affordable.

In our fast-paced society, what can be more appealing than a fast, yet healthy meal?  Dried pulses can be soaked overnight and ready to eat the next day.  Canned pulses just need to be drained of the liquid and rinsed under the tap to reduce the sodium content.  And if that doesn’t have you convinced, maybe its price will.  Given the rising food prices, using pulses in place of meat could help reduce your grocery bills.  Enjoy them as a part of your soup, salad, humus, falafel, dahl, chili, burrito, and more!

3.     Pulses are key foods in healthy diets.

Thanks to its high fibre and protein content, low fat, and low glycemic index, pulses have been scientifically proven to be beneficial for our health.  Pulses are featured in some of the best evidence-based dietary patterns including the DASH, Mediterranean, low glycemic index, and vegetarian diets.  In these diets, pulses are usually included at least 2-3 times per week.  These diets can help prevent and manage cholesterol, blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

4.     Pulses keep our soil fertile and healthy.

Pulses are the edible dried seeds from the pods of legume plants.  These plants are natural nitrogen fixers, meaning they take nitrogen from the air and replace them in our soil.  Many are concerned about the quality of our soil as it can affect the nutritional quality of our food. Less fertile soil also requires more use of nitrogen fertilizers to grow our crops.

5.     Pulses contribute to a sustainable world.

Sustainability and climate change are hot topics and will continue to challenge each and every one of us if we choose to ignore it.  Pulses play an integral role in supporting environmental and social sustainability.  It requires less non-renewable resources such as water to grow, and has a smaller carbon footprint compared to other proteins such as meat which helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Choosing pulses over meat more often also supports food security for more people.  Over 8% of Canadians are food insecure, meaning they do not have access to the healthy, accessible foods they need.

About the author

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Annie Hoang

Annie Hoang is a Registered Dietitian with the Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team.

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