Pulses: Why Beans and Lentils Are Good + Easy Recipes
The year 2016 was proclaimed “International Year of Pulses” by the United Nations. Since then, these common foods seem to have gotten even more popular in terms of recipes and products.
So what exactly are pulses, why are they important, and how can you easily consume them?
Let’s break it down.
According to Pulses.org:
Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family. Pulses grow in pods and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recognizes 11 types of pulses: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, Bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (minor pulses that don’t fall into one of the other categories).
If you’ve never heard of some of those pulses—some of them were new to us—you can see photos of 10 kinds of those pulses and more about them here.
Jenny McGruther, a wife, mother and cooking instructor specializing in real and traditional foods, writes about pulses on her blog Nourished Kitchen: “While all pulses are legumes, all legumes are not necessarily pulses. … Pulses include only dry, edible legumes like dry peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas. So, green beans and fresh peas don’t count.”
Why are pulses good?
McGruther sums up why she likes pulses and eats them regularly: “Well, they just taste good. They lighten my budget and they fill my family’s bellies with wholesome, affordable nutrition.”
Beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas are all good sources of protein and fiber, while being low in fat and relatively low in calories.
Protein helps us feel full and fuels energy while helping our organs, tissues, muscles and hormones function properly.
Fiber also helps us feel full and helps eliminate waste from the body.
Here is some nutritional info taken straight from cans and packages of pulses:
- A half cup of lentils can contain 8 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber and just 80 calories.
- A half cup of black beans can have 7 grams protein, 6 grams of fiber and 110 calories.
- A half cup of chickpeas can have 6 grams protein, 5 grams dietary fiber, and 110 calories.
If you’re looking for a protein source, buying pulses is usually significantly cheaper than buying meat, especially organic. Just look in any supermarket. Plus, if you buy dried pulses from the bulk section, they’re usually cheaper than canned.
Pulses also improve the soil and help make ecosystems (all the living things in a given area) more resistant and resilient to disturbance and stress. Score for farming!
How can you eat pulses?
Pick up a can or package of beans or lentils that are ready to eat.
Pro tip: Look for a label that says the can or package was made with BPA-free lining. BPA has been linked to cancer and birth defects.
Put dry beans or lentils in water overnight. This will help decrease cooking time later and cut down on some of the gassy effect that can happen when you eat pulses.
Intentionally Domestic’s Kerryann Foster, wife and mom of two, talks about sprouting beans (and lentils) vs. soaking. Sprouting, which happens a few days after soaking, takes longer but adds even more nutrition to pulses, reduces the starch content and helps further break down the “sugars” in pulses that we can’t digest that cause us to be gassy.
What are some easy pulse foods and recipes?
Pulses are versatile and can be eaten hot or cold a variety of easy ways.
Toss beans (warm or cold) in a bowl with other simple ingredients like chopped raw or cooked veggies, season or top with a simple dressing or olive oil and balsamic.
See our 7 easy meals in a bowl for inspiration.
Here’s an easy no-cook recipe with lentils:
And here’s a simple dish with beans and roasted vegetables:
Thanks to the rise of gluten-free foods and pulses, several store bought pulse pastas exist. You can try Banza (made with chickpeas), Trader Joe’s organic lentil pasta (made with just lentils), Explore Cuisine bean and lentil pastas and Modern Table Meals lentil pasta.
Combine pasta with a no-sugar-added pasta sauce like Muir Glen, season to taste, and you have a simple entrée! Make a big batch for the week ahead.
If you want to get a little fancier, you can even health-ify lasagna with Explore Cuisine’s lentil lasagna noodles. Yummm. I dare any family member to turn this down.
Beans and soup are an easy, natural combo.
Toss some beans or lentils into any soup or make a stew or chili.
For a soup that’s low on time on ingredients, try Martha Stewart’s 15-minute White Bean Soup.
Hummus is great for an easy veggie dip or sauce.
Pick up a hummus made with chickpeas/garbanzo beans and without inflammatory oils like sunflower, canola or soy—stick to olive oil. Hope Foods hummus is a good brand with a variety of flavors.
Make your own hummus with this 5-minute hummus recipe from Real Simple.
(Thumbnail Photo: AndreyGorulko/iStock)
Jessica Hamlin is an LA-born and bred journalist and editor who started taking pictures of food back when everyone used film cameras. A graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s health coach training program, she’s passionate about wellness and enjoys making and discovering delicious and healthy food. Her work has appeared in Clean Plates, NPR affiliate KPCC, AOL, and Eater LA.