Nutrition: Put these affordable nutritional powerhouses on your plate
Your doctor always checks your pulse,
but when was the last time you checked
your pulses? Before you scratch your
head wondering what I mean, pulses
– often referred to as legumes – are the
edible seeds of leguminous vegetables.
The family includes green beans, fresh
peas, chick peas, lentils, kidney beans
and soybeans. While the fresh versions
are favoured by all ages, many people
have been known to turn up their
collective noses at the dried versions.
Pulses have long been considered
peasant food and continue to remain
wise selections for the budget conscious.
In recent years, as multicultural cuisines
increase in popularity and chefs embrace
them, pulses are finding a new market.
Considering the scientific research
showing a slew of health benefits, it
may be time to try adding pulses to your
Not only are they packed with protein,
but they’re also a powerhouse of soluble
and insoluble fibre, B vitamins, calcium,
copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus,
potassium and zinc.
If you’re opting for meatless
meals, take a cue from
cultures where meat is
only served on special
occasions. Unlike meat
or dairy products, pulses
may be lacking in certain
amino acids – the so-called
building blocks of protein.
However, other foods,
such as grains, contain
the missing amino acids.
Combined with pulses they
provide a complete protein.
In the past, it was thought
that you needed to eat
these combos at the same
time to obtain the protein’s
benefits, but this is no
longer the case. If there’s
a mix of amino acids
throughout the day, then
proteins at the same meal is
not necessary. But they are
a natural together. Take, for
instance, hummus with pita
or minestrone soup chock
full of beans and pasta.
Full of fibre
The fibre in pulses
offers an array of health
benefits. Though whole
grain cereals may come to mind as a remedy for
constipation, pulses can
certainly give bran a run
for its money. Its soluble
fibre also supplies perks for
weight management and
maintaining both healthy
blood cholesterol and blood
sugar readings, something
that is a growing concern in
children these days.
Easy to cook with
Lentils and split peas,
unlike beans, do not need to
be soaked before cooking.
But there are plenty of
available that can help to
make pulse preparation
speedy. You can also buy
pulse flours which are a
super option for those on gluten-free diets.
Because they’re so
versatile, pulses are also
easy to incorporate into
menus. Kids love chili bean
dip with baked tortilla
chips or hummus with
veggie sticks. Add small
amounts to soups, stews
or pasta sauces that your
family is used to eating. For
really picky eaters, start by
puréeing small amounts.
For example, purée some
kidney beans or lentils and
mix with a small amount
of a tomato sauce. Then
add the purée to the entire
sauce. The sauce will
simply be a little lighter.
Increase the amounts of
purée over time.
The downside of the fibre in legumes is that it can be gas-inducing.
Flatulence is a common complaint and it has definitely impacted the popularity of
pulses. No doubt you have heard a ditty or two on the musical attributes of beans. But
consider this: the gas produced when you eat beans is actually good for you. Beans act
as prebiotics, stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
You can decrease gas production. If the pulses require pre-soaking before cooking,
drain the soaking water and use fresh for cooking. If you’re using canned products, rinsing them well will not only combat gas but also decrease the sodium content.
Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based dietitian in private practice and is author of The Enlightened Eater’s
Whole Foods Guide (Viking Canada). Vist rosieschwartz.com for her take on healthy eats.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2013.