April 15, 2016

Spilling the beans…about beans!
Why you should take the #pulsepledge

Have you noticed that pulses have become the new healthy food trend? If you are looking to shift your diet toward more nutritious foods, including more pulses in your diet is a fantastic step forward! Before the United Nations declared 2016 as the “International Year of the Pulses”, I used to group this type of food all in the category of “legumes”. After all, being a vegetarian for over 16 years, I have learned to make lentils, beans, and chickpeas my main sources of protein. So, what’s the difference between legumes and pulses? 

    What are pulses?
Pulses are a subgroup of the legume family, but the term “pulse” refers only to the dried seeds. There are 11 types of pulses including dried beans, lentils, chickpeas, fava, and peas. Soybeans are legumes but not pulses, because they are mainly grown for oil. Green beans and green peas are also excluded because they are fresh, not in their dry form.  

Why are pulses nutritious?
Pulses are full of nutrients. They have been in the human diet for centuries, and continue to be an important part of traditional diets in Latin America, Africa and Asia. They are a marvelous food, yet in North America their nutritional value is frequently underrated and replaced by other foods, often of animal origin. These are some reason why you should include more pulses in your diet:
1. Pulses are a great source of plant-based protein. The UN initiative could not come at a better time, given that last year the World Health Organization warned us about the carcinogenic effects of processed meat, and this year the American Cancer Society is recommending Americans to consume less red meat.
2. Pulses are high in fiber which is beneficial for proper bowel function. More than 90% of Americans do not meet the daily fiber recommendations. Fiber also helps reduce blood cholesterol and helps control blood sugar.
3. Pulses have high levels of minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, which are essential for cardiovascular health, and immune support.
4. Pulses are a source of folate and other B vitamins that support the proper functioning of the central nervous system and are important for pregnant women to prevent babies’ birth defects.

Why are pulses getting so much attention?
Health is just one focus of the United Nations initiative. The campaign also aims to raise awareness about the impact pulses can have to food security around the world. Pulses are grown almost everywhere, they are accessible, and inexpensive. Pulses will keep you full longer. They have the promise of feeding people in developing countries, and also help with weight management.
Pulses can also contribute to sustainable agriculture. These plants have the ability to fix nitrogen in the soilhelping to increase soil fertility. They also take less energy to grow than other crops, producing fewer greenhouse gases, which is a positive effect in our fight against climate change. And they are so tasty!
If you really want to improve your health this year, and the health of our planet, don’t spill the beans, eat them!
I invite you to join me and take the pulse pledge to include pulses in your diet at least once a week for ten weeks. After signing up, you’ll receive a starter’s guide, and a weekly newsletter with simple recipes and cooking tips.

American Cancer Society. New Dietary Guidelines Call for Less Sugar, Less Meat. January 7, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/news/new-dietary-guidelines-call-for-less-sugar-less-meat
World Health Organization. Q&A on the carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat. October 2015. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/
Curran, J. (2012). The nutritional value and health benefits of pulses in relation to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. British Journal of Nutrition Br J Nutr, 108(S1).
Mudryj, A. N., Yu, N., & Aukema, H. M. (2014). Nutritional and health benefits of pulses. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 39(11), 1197-1204.
Pulses: the perfect food. Healthy to eat, healthy to grow. Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Dakota State University Extension Service. Retrieved from https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/pubs/yf/foods/fn1508.pdf
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