What Are Pulses? 8 Plant Proteins Worth Trying!

Have you heard the new buzzword for healthy eaters? “Pulses” is the name given to dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas. They’re legumes, but refer only to the dried seeds. The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and is encouraging the world to eat more of them. Why? They’re good for your health, and good for the planet, too. Lentils, for example, are highly efficient to grow, requiring the least water of all farmed food: 50 liters to produce 1 kilogram of lentils, compared to 13,000 liters to produce 1 kilogram of beef (ouch!). Plus, these humble heroes pack a serious nutritional punch and have been shown to prevent a host of health conditions.

Pulses are an ancient food, and have been nourishing communities for centuries. They’re a great source of plant protein, which is naturally low in fat and cholesterol-free. They’re also rich in nutrients like iron, zinc, and B vitamins, and high in soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol. Plus, their low glycemic index can help to control blood sugar levels. Choosing just three servings of pulses a week, instead of red meat, can reduce inflammation and lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer. And a recent study confirms one serving (about ¾ of a cup) a day can contribute to weight loss.  

Pulses are also ridiculously cheap, versatile, and delicious. They don’t have to be hard workbefore you start conjuring up images of slaving away over a hot pot of beans, you may be surprised to learn they’re hiding in many dishes you’re already eating. Hummus, anyone? Here are eight tasty ways to get more pulses on your plate.

  1. Chickpeas Whip them into a fluffy hummus and serve with veggie sticks and whole-wheat pita. Chickpea flour is also becoming a favorite for gluten-free bakers.
  1. Black beans Combine them with chopped onion and peppers, top with guacamole and shredded cheese, and roll up a tasty burrito. Or transform decadent chocolate brownies with a healthy ingredient swap.  
  1. Kidney beans Slow-cooker chili made with kidney beans can be the perfect ending to a hard work day, topped with shredded cheese and a spoonful of corn.
  1. White beans Turn vegetable soup into a more substantial minestrone by throwing in white beans and whole-wheat pasta, and top with a shaving of fresh parmesan. White beans also pair well with tuna, to make a protein-packed salad or sandwich.
  1. Green French lentils Put together a simple lentil salad by sautéing green lentils with chopped onion, celery, and carrot and tossing with shredded cabbage and lemon vinaigrette. Serve it alongside salmon for a double-superfood dinner.
  1. Yellow lentils Try traditional Indian daal, which gently simmers lentils with the perfect hit of fragrant spices. Enjoy it with a dollop of yogurt and whole-wheat flatbread.
  1. Red lentils Extend your bolognese by adding some pulses! Sneak some pre-boiled red lentils into your meat sauceyour family won’t even notice they’re in there.
  1. Black-eyed peas Skip the ham hocks and barbecue, and give black-eyed peas a fresh spin with a salad. Kale can step in for collard greens, topped with tender black-eyed peas and chopped sweet peppers.

Pulse prep doesn’t have to be tedious. They’re best soaked in cold water overnight, but if you forget, don’t stress, you have options. For a quick fix, throw them in a pot, cover them with water, and bring to a boil. Let them simmer for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat, put a lid on the pot, and allow to sit for an hour, before continuing with your recipe. A pressure cooker cuts that time to about 25 minutes. Or you can cheat and buy canned versions; just be sure to rinse off the brine water.

Are you a pulse fan? What are your favorite ways to include them in your day? Join the conversation below.

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