It’s official! The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations have declared 2016 to be the “International Year of Pulses!”
This is great news….but what the heck is a pulse? Well, hopefully you are already eating these, but just may not realize it.
The word pulse actually comes from the Latin word ‘puls’ meaning thick soup or potage. Pulses are the edible dried seeds of plants in the legume family. Examples of pulses include: dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas.
What is so great about them?
Well, environmentally speaking, they are a plus because they are nitrogen fixing crops, meaning, they don’t need nitrogen fertilizer. They get their own from the air. Up to 1/3rd of the current agricultural energy budget accounts for nitrogen fertilizer. To make this fertilizer requires high temperatures and pressures which uses a lot of energy. Nitrogen fertilizer can contribute to nitrous oxide emissions, one of the worst greenhouse gases. It also contributes to nitrate leaching into the water table.
Another advantage is that many pulses require little water to grow, which is beneficial for areas where water scarcity is a recurring issue.
Pulse production is also financially manageable for many farmers. In Canada, pulses are big business! We grow the majority of them in the Prairie Provinces, but also grow beans in areas of Ontario and Quebec. Canada’s pulse production peaked in 2010 at more than 5.7 million tonnes. Normal production is between 4.5-5million tonnes per year.
More than ever, healthy eating, sustainability and animal welfare is at the forefront of most Canadians’ minds. According to a recent study, more than 36% of us are consciously reducing our meat consumption. The true cost of livestock production has resulted in price increases of 25-30% over the last 2 years. So, we can feel good about supporting our local farmers when we purchase Canadian beans, lentils and chickpeas as an alternative to meat.
These pulses have so many more pluses including:
Pulses have limitless possibilities when it comes to a variety of ways you can use them. Not only can you easily add them to a soup, stew, curry or chili dish; but they can be mashed or processed into hummus, brownies, falafels, dips, spreads, even a pumpkin loaf. One of my favourites is a mixture that resembles ground taco meat in taste and appearance.
Protein keeps our immune system functioning properly, maintains healthy skin, hair and nails, helps our bodies to produce enzymes that spark our metabolism and forms hormones that regulate our body chemistry. Pulses are a great substitute for meat because you get all of the protein and beneficial nutrients, while avoiding the concentrated saturated fats and cholesterol found in most animal sources. To fully benefit from this protein, you need to combine them with a grain such as pairing black beans with rice.
Beans contain both soluble and insoluble fibers as well as sitosterols which help normalize cholesterol levels. Fiber also reduces the incidence of colon polyps and bowel disease and prevents obesity by slowing down digestion and the release of insulin and glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. High fiber also reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diverticulosis, appendicitis, varicose veins and colon cancer.
What about that gas factor, you ask?
Burping, flatulence or abdominal discomfort are caused mainly by the oligosaccharides in the legumes fermenting in the lower intestine.
- Soaking raw beans in water overnight and then discarding that water first before cooking them in fresh water helps to leach out some of these fermenting sugars.
- Sometimes putting a pinch or two of baking soda in the water helps reduce gas or adding Kombu, a Japanese sea vegetable or ginger helps.
- If using canned legumes, rinse really well and you will see the bubbles gradually disappear before heating. I like Eden brand as their cans are lined with a BPA-free liner.
If we introduce too much fiber, too quickly, it can cause a lot of gas and discomfort. Increasing your fiber intake gradually will solve this problem. We naturally produce digestive enzymes for foods we commonly eat so if legumes are new to your diet, start by eating a small quantity such as approximately ¼ cup, every other day or so. Your body may begin to produce the enzymes necessary for their digestion.
As you can see, pulses are not only great for the environment, but also for our bodies! Will you be enjoying more pulses this year?
- Mateljan, George, The World’s Healthiest Foods, 2007
- Lipski, Elizabeth, Digestive Wellness 4th Edition, 2012
- Colbin, Anne Marie, Food and Healing,1986
- Haal, Elson M., Staying Healthy with Nutrition, 2006
- Owen Roberts- Jan. 6, 2016, The Guelph Mercury
- Sylvain Charlebois- Jan. 5, 16, The Guelph Mercury