The United Nations has named 2016 as the International Year of Pulses and in this week’s blog post I look at Why You Need To Make Pulses Part of What You Eat Every Day.
Have you ever wondered what they are, how to cook them, how to store them and where to find them in your local area? If you have you’re in the right place.
I cover all of this, plus, why they’re an essential part of what you eat every day, especially if you want to lose weight.
Read on to find out Why You Need To Make Pulses Part of What You Eat Every Day.
What are pulses?
To you and me they’re beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils. They’re the edible dry seeds of plants and are gown in pods in a huge variety of shapes, sizes and colours. They are not green beans and green peas.
There are hundreds of varieties of pulses grown in over 173 countries. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognises 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (not elsewhere specified – minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).
As part of the legume family, they form part of the PowerPlate. This is the new four food groups from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. The other three essential groups are vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
As PCRM says:
“Taking control of your quality of life starts with consuming a plant-based diet. Filling your plate with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains is not only your best bet for disease prevention, it’s an easy way to reverse damage already done.”
Why are they good for us?
They’re a great low fat source of protein, complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium and folate. And because they don’t come from animals, they have no cholesterol.
Studies have shown that people who eat at least half cup of pulses per day have higher intakes of fibre, protein, calcium, potassium, folate, zinc, iron, and magnesium as well as lower intakes of total and saturated fat.
Research has also shown that eating pulses can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, which are both risk factors for heart disease. 1
Pulses can help to manage blood sugar levels and diabetes because they do not cause blood sugar levels to rise as much as sugary or starchy foods that are low in fibre.
For more information on why fibre is fantastic for us go here.
Aim to eat three servings of legumes each day. A serving is a half-cup/80g of cooked beans or ½ cup/80g low-fat bean spread for example.
Why are pulses good for weight loss?
They’re packed full of fibre so are great at filling us up and tricking our stomach into thinking we’ve eaten a lot because fibre holds water and is heavy.
Fibre has virtually no calories so your stomach tells your brain that you’re full long before you’ve eaten too many calories.
By saving you calories, these foods can help you lose or manage your weight. Not that you count calories when you follow a whole food, plant-based diet.
As Dr Neal Barnard says:
“If your plate is filled with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans you’ll get loads of healthy fibre and the calories will take care of themselves.”
Click here to find out more about the PowerPlate and how it can help you lose weight.
Canned or Dried?
Pulses come in two forms – canned and dried. I use a mixture of both depending upon what I’m cooking – and how much time I have.
Canned pulses come pre-cooked, so if you’re in a hurry they’re ideal. Just remember to buy them in water and not salt and water. If you happen to buy the canned variety with salt, rinse them before cooking to help reduce the amount of salt.
Dried pulses are not pre-cooked so you need to spend some time in preparing them. I often batch cook them then freeze them so I always have a ready supply.
Dried pulses tend to come in more varieties and have a richer flavour. When you’re buying them, just remember to make sure that they’re all the same colour, size and shape, are smooth and that there are no markings on them.
Dried pulses tend to be cheaper than the canned ones with a small amount going a long way, for instance a handful will often double or triple.
How to cook dried pulses
I rinse my dry beans, chick peas and whole peas quite a few times before I soak them to make sure I get rid of any dust or grit. Once the water runs clear, I then soak them in a big bowl of fresh cold water overnight – usually between eight and 10 hours, sometimes longer. Any pulse that is shriveled or broken I remove from the bowl.
Once they’ve been soaked overnight, I then pour out the soaking water and rinse them again with cold running water. (Soaking them overnight can also help to get rid of the indigestible sugars that give us wind.)
Lentils and split peas don’t need to be soaked before you use them, but I always rinse them in a colander until the water runs clear. You’ll be surprised at how cloudy the water is!
Once you’ve done all the prep it’s now time to cook!
Cooking times vary with the type and age of the pulse you’re using, as well as the hardness of the water in your area. After a while of cooking dried pulses, you’ll know how long it takes to cook them, but in the first instance I’d recommend following the instructions on the packet.
These instructions will generally advise you to put your pulses in a big pot, adds lots of boiling water, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat, cover, and then simmer until the pulses are just tender, don’t taste raw and aren’t mushy. Taste a few of them to check if they need a bit longer.
Remember to add acidic ingredients such as tomatoes and vinegar once the pulses are already tender. The acids and salt can slow down the cooking process.
Garlic, onions and herbs can be added to the pot right at the start of cooking.
Be wary of adding baking soda to help soften the pulses during cooking as this may may them too soft.
Where do I find pulses?
You’ll find both the dried and canned versions in your supermarket, corner shop, health food store or bulk food stores. Check out the aisle that has all the other canned, tinned and packaged foods, you’ll probably fine them there.
I often find the bigger packs of pulses in the ‘foods of the world’ aisle. A 2kg bag of red lentils is much more economical than four 500g packs!
How do I store pulses?
You can store dry pulses in dry containers in cool dark places. You can usually store them for about one year.
If you’ve cooked dried pulses, you can store them in the fridge for one to three days, or put them in a freezer bag or container and store them in the freezer for three months.
Remember to let them cool down before putting them in the freezer.
I usually cook a big batch of pulses and then divide them into portions (one or two cups for instance) before putting them into freezer bags. This means I just take a portion out to thaw before using them in one of my recipes.
- Curran, J. The nutritional value and health benefits of pulses in relation to obesity,
diabetes, heart disease and cancer. BJN. 108 (Suppl 1): S1-S2.
For recipes using pulses, click here.
If losing weight is going to be one of your new year’s resolutions for 2016 then consider following a whole food, plant-based diet and you’ll not only lost weight but you’ll reap lots of other benefits too!
I’d love to hear from you… did you make it? What’s your favourite plant-based soup? Let me know in the comments section below.
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