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Pulses rich in lean protein and fiber

Various legumes on porcelain spoons1 / 2
Brenda Schwerdt, dietitian at St. Luke's hospital in Duluth.2 / 2

Part of my job that I love the most is that I learn something new every day, and I have recently been learning a great deal about pulses. Pulses are on track to be at the top of the most popular food trends list; however, pulses are a food that has been around for quite some time, evidence of them dates back 11,000 years to the fertile crescent.

Pulses are part of the legume family but are only the dried-seed component. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization 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. Common varieties in the U.S. include chickpeas, lentils, dried peas and beans, such as black, kidney, navy, pinto and fava.

Pulses are a great source of lean protein and fiber. They also contain many minerals, such as potassium (one serving of dried beans contains as much potassium as a banana), folate (one serving of chickpeas contains three times as much folate as a serving of kale), and iron (one serving of black beans contains more iron than a 3-ounce serving of flank steak). A cooked, ¾-cup serving of pulses would contain on average 150-175 calories, 0-3 grams fat, 10-15 grams fiber, and 11-13 grams protein.

Pulses have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes; cardiovascular issues, such as hypertension; and obesity. These health benefits are attributed to pulses' low calorie content, high mineral content and high fiber content. It is recommended that the average American adult consume 25-30 grams of fiber per day; however, it is estimated that most Americans do not consume even half that amount. Fiber is digested slowly, which helps regulate blood glucose levels and helps keep you feeling fuller longer.

A large study completed in 2016 showed that there was significant weight loss in study participants who consumed ¾ cup of pulses every day compared to participants who did not consume pulses. The weight loss also showed in study participants whose diet was designed to maintain, not lose, weight.

The U.S. National Health and Examination Survey data from 1999-2002 shows that people who consume pulses were more likely to have a lower body weight and lower waist circumference. This data extrapolated to show that people who eat pulses are 22 percent less likely to be obese than people who do not consume them.

As a dietitian, my work focuses on nutritional content, but it's worth noting that another important benefit of pulses is their sustainability. Many areas of the globe rely on pulses as their main protein source. Information from pulses.org states that pulses have a much lower carbon footprint compared to other crops. Pulses pull nitrogen from the air, which reduces greenhouse emission and fertilizes the soil. Pulses also use one-half to one-tenth the amount of water compared to other sources of protein. According to waterfootprint.org, 112 liters of water is required to produce 1 gram of beef protein, but only 19 liters of water is required to produce 1 gram of pulse protein.

Though there are many pulse recipes readily available, I encourage you to add pulses to food that you are already eating. I personally use quite a bit of low-sodium canned beans. Canned beans are a quick, easy and inexpensive source of protein for a weeknight dinner. I regularly use black beans in my tacos, white cannellini beans in my pastas, and chickpeas as a salad topping. Halve the amount of ground meat when making burgers and replace with mashed beans, such as pinto beans. When making tuna or chicken salad, halve the amount of chicken or tuna used and replace with cooked lentils. Keep hummus on hand to use instead of mayo on your sandwiches. You can even replace fat with a bean puree in baked goods, such as brownies and cookies.

Split Pea Breakfast Bowl

From: pulses.org ½-cup habit. Each serving provides approximately 385 calories with 17 grams of protein and 17 grams of fiber.

1 cup dry green split peas

1 cup canned coconut milk

Toppings: boiled egg, fresh tomato, sliced avocado

Combine split peas and coconut milk over medium heat and cook until combined and creamy, about 20 minutes. Divide peas between four plates, and top each dish with 1 sliced hard-boiled egg, ¼ sliced fresh tomato and ¼ sliced fresh avocado.

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