8 pulses you should be eating, why they’re good for you and how to cook them

Pulses such as kidney beans, broad beans, lentils and chickpeas are good for us because they reduce cholesterol, prevent heart disease and contribute to healthy bones and teeth

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 May, 2016, 6:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 May, 2016, 6:00am

If you’ve been ignoring pulses in your diet, now is a good time to appreciate them, considering the UN General Assembly has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

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Not only are they a good low-fat source of protein, minerals (such as iron and zinc) and B-vitamins such as folate, research suggests that their high fibre content can help lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

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Karen Chong, registered dietitian at Matilda International Hospital says pulses have a low glycaemic index, which means they are broken down slowly in the digestive tract. This can help individuals control their blood glucose levels after meals and manage their appetite and weight.

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Pulses are made up of about 20-25 per cent of protein by weight, which is double the protein content of wheat and triple that of rice. According to Michelle Lau, a certified nutritionist and nutrition educator at Nutrilicious, a 175ml cooked serving of pulses provides approximately 10 grams of protein, 5-11 grams of fibre, 2 grams of iron and complex carbohydrates.

Pulses are good for people with gluten intolerance and vegans, who can’t get protein from meat, fish or dairy products. A study conducted by Dr Russell de Souza from St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto found that pulses increased the feeling of fullness by 31 per cent, which may result in lower food intake and weight loss.

Based on the recommendation of nutritionists, here are a few pulses to add to your diet.

Chickpeas

Also known as garbanzo beans, chickpeas are high in protein and dietary fibre, are a good source of potassium, vitamin C and folate, and are cholesterol free. The minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc present in chickpeas contribute to maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Due to their high-fibre content, they also help prevent constipation and promote a healthy digestive tract. You could add chickpeas to salads, or even curries. Anna Foley, nutritionist at Nutrition Nation recommends adding chickpeas into your diet by snacking on hummus and vegetable sticks such as carrots, celery and cucumber.

Kidney beans

With fibre-rich complex carbohydrates and a low glycaemic index, kidney beans provide a steady source of energy. They taste great in salads (combining cooked kidney beans with black beans and white beans makes a colourful three-bean salad) and minestrone soup. They’re also a good substitute for ground meat in tacos. Also, blending cooked kidney beans with garlic, cumin and chilli peppers makes for a delicious crudité dip or sandwich spread.

Black beans

A single serving of black beans contains nearly 15 grams of fibre and 15 grams of protein, which is a pretty impressive combination. The beans also contain iron, phosphorous, calcium, magnesium, manganese, copper and zinc. Naturally low in sodium and containing potassium, they have been found to lower blood pressure. Their fibre helps lower cholesterol and decreases the risk of heart disease. Black beans taste great in Mexican food. They can also be added to soups (blend cooked black beans with onions, tomatoes, and your favourite spices), stir fries and salads.

Red, yellow and brown lentils

With almost 9 grams of protein and 8 grams of fibre per cooked serving, lentils are slightly higher in protein and fibre than black beans and chickpeas. Lau says sprouted lentils in particular contain all the essential amino acids that are needed by our bodies for muscle building, regeneration, and strength. The folate content present in lentils helps prevent neural tube defects in women, aids in the formation of red blood cells and in maintaining homocysteine levels, which keeps hypertension in check. Add to curries, salads, dhals, as a pita bread stuffing and purées. You could make a dip by mashing cooked lentils and adding chopped garlic, onions, tomatoes and a pinch of salt and chilli powder. Chong recommends adding lentils to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to add extra texture and flavour as well as lower their fat level.

Mung beans

Often used in Chinese cuisine, mung beans are an excellent source of protein, fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Unlike some other beans, they contain oligosaccharides (a type of carb) to prevent gas and bloating and can even help with detoxification in some cases. A single serving provides a whopping 100 per cent of the daily recommended value of folate, an essential vitamin for DNA synthesis, cell and tissue growth, hormonal balance, cognitive function, and reproduction. Sprouted mung beans tossed with tomatoes and cucumbers make a healthy snack. They can made into patties, added to soups, as a dhal or used as a stuffing in dumplings.

Broad beans

Also known as fava or bell beans, broad beans are a rich source of dietary fibre (66 per cent per 100 grams) which acts as a bulk laxative and also reduces cholesterol levels by decreasing reabsorption of cholesterol binding bile acids in the colon. One serving of broad beans has 3 milligrams of iron, which is 32 per cent of the recommended daily intake for men and 14 per cent for women. Mix them with brown rice or in risottos, snack on them by frying in olive oil and sprinkling with cayenne or a pinch of salt. They can also be served as a side dish with boiled couscous and grilled meat or vegetables.

Adzuki beans

Commonly used in Asian dishes (especially in sweets such as red bean ice cream), Adzuki beans or red beans are a good source of magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, manganese and B vitamins. As a high-potassium, low-sodium food, Lau says they can help reduce blood pressure and act as a diuretic. Adzuki beans are rich in soluble fibre, which bind to cholesterol and toxins thereby aiding in their elimination from the body and improving digestion.

They can be added to stir fries, casseroles, stews, or be made into patties or a miso soup.

Black-eyed peas

These are high in protein and fibre and have a lower glycaemic index compared to other common legumes and lentils, making them good for diabetics. Their vitamin A and vitamin C antioxidants can help protect our bodies from damage caused by free radicals and possibly reduce risk of cancer. They can be tossed into salads, added to stews and soups, made into curries and stir-fries and mashed and added to patties.

All the pulses mentioned above are available either fresh or canned. Some might need to be soaked overnight and then boiled. Beans contain indigestible carbohydrates, soaking and rinsing dry beans before cooking is necessary to help digest the carbohydrates. An easier alternative would be to buy the canned version, but Chong recommends reading the food labels, and picking the healthier ones with no added salt and sugar.

The major side effect of increasing pulses in your diet could be an increase in gas production in the lower colon. Denise Fair, an accredited dietitian at Central Health Medical Practice, says this is usually temporary and advises to gradually increase your intake of pulses up to one cup a day to prevent or reduce these symptoms. Some individuals with irritable bowel syndrome may experience increased discomfort with the added gas and bloating. However, she cautions that people who are required to watch their protein intake, especially those with renal disease, lupus and gout, should consult a dietitian before increasing their pulse intake.