Pulses, which are also known as grain legumes, form a group of 12 crops that includes peas, beans, chickpeas, and lentils. Pulses have been an essential part of the human diet for centuries. Did you know that the agricultural production of legumes, chickpeas and lentils dates as far back as 7000 – 8000 BC1? They are very popular in developing countries but are becoming recognized as an integral part of a healthy and earth-friendly diet throughout the world1. What makes them so nutritious and how can we include them in our diet?
WHAT MAKES THEM SO HIGHLY NUTRITIOUS?
Pulses are a low-fat source of protein,2
- They’re cheaper than other types of proteins such as meat
- Replacing some animal protein with pulses also helps to limit the intake of saturated fats associated with meat intake
They are low GI (Glycaemic index) and high in fibre
- Containing both soluble and insoluble fibres.2
- Soluble fibre absorbs water trapping certain food components which helps to lower cholesterol. It also helps to control blood sugar levels and keeps you fuller for longer.
- Insoluble fibre acts like a water filled sponge, helps to aid digestion2 and provides food for bacteria living in your colon.
Therefore a great option for those who are gluten intolerant.
Pulses contain beneficial vitamins and minerals
These include: iron, potassium, magnesium, folate, thiamine and niacin2, all of which have different functions within our body.
Pulses have also been shown to be helpful in the prevention of certain cancers, because of their high fibre, phytochemical and antioxidant contents2.
Pulses can be stored for months, without losing their high nutritional value.1
It is a very versatile ingredient and often forms part of many traditional cuisines. Here in South Africa these dishes include samp and beans, bobotie, dhal, breyani and many more.
TIPS FOR COMBINING PULSES WITH OTHER FOODS
To ensure that you get all of the nutritional benefits associated with pulses, make sure you remember the following tips:
Combine to enhance micronutrient absorption
- Beans and grains in the same meal1 (e.g. samp & beans, kidney beans and rice or quinoa)
- Pulses and vitamin C2 (e.g. lentil curry with vitamin C-rich foods such as tomatoes or red peppers)
- This will ensure that your body is better able to absorb the iron and other minerals found in pulses and legumes.2
Don’t drink tea or coffee with a meal
- The caffeine and tannins found in tea and coffee reduces your body’s ability to absorb iron efficiently.2 Therefore rather wait before you drink that cup of coffee after dinner.
Some of the starches found in pulses can be a major contributor of intestinal gas caused by adding more pulses to the diet.3 To get around this, soak pulses for eight to 10 hours, then rinse them thoroughly and cook them in fresh water.3 Soaking will remove some of these gas-causing starches. If you are stressed for time, use the canned options but make sure you rinse them thoroughly in fresh water as this will remove the starches but also help to lower the sodium content.
ANOTHER REASON WHY WE SHOULD ADD MORE PULSES TO OUR MEALS
Pulses promote environmental sustainability:1
- They put nitrogen (N2) back into the soil which improves soil fertility and extends the productivity of farmlands
- The farming of pulse conserves more water compared to other protein farming practices. To product 1 kg of split peas or lentils, uses 50 litres of water compared to 4325 litres for chicken, 5520 litres for mutton and 13000 litres for beef.
- Pulses have a smaller carbon footprint therefore they indirectly reduce greenhouse gas emissions
HOW CAN WE INCLUDE THEM IN OUR MEALS THIS WINTER?
Add pulses to soups e.g. vegetable and bean soup. See recipe attached.
Enjoy FUTURELIFE® Smart Bread™ with your soup; it is available in brown or white, they are both Low GI, high in fibre and contain non-GMO soy. They are also a source of 17 vitamins and minerals.
- Add them to curries, casseroles and stews
This will add extra texture and flavour and is a very cost effective way to use less meat and make your dish go further. See this recipe for mince and kidney bean curry. Combine this with some brown rice or another wholegrain starch. http://www.kitchencurrymaster.com/pages/ground-beef-kidney-bean-curry
- Make warm vegetable salads and add pulses such as chickpeas. See this recipe for Warm chickpea, chilli & feta salad:
- For those braai’s and gathers, make a healthy white bean dip and serve it with whole wheat crackers, pita or vegetable crudités. See recipe: http://backtoherroots.com/2014/11/02/super-simple-white-bean-dip/
- Try making healthy, high fibre snacks such as roasted chickpeas. See recipe: http://steamykitchen.com/10725-crispy-roasted-chickpeas-garbanzo-beans.html
Remember that although pulses have many health benefits, they contain carbohydrates which if eaten in large quantities will cause your blood sugar to increase over the recommended values. Be careful when including starchy vegetables with pulses (e.g. butternut or potatoes with lentils), as both are rich in starch. Make sure you stick to your recommended total carbohydrate portion e.g. ¼ plate or 2 starch exchanges such as ½ cup cooked pulses or beans and 1 cup cooked butternut or 100g small potato.
There you have it… useful and delicious ways to include more pulses in your meals this winter!