The United Nations has officially declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. The last time the UN named an international year of food was with quinoa back in 2013, and we all know what happened there. This year they are on a mission to get the world to eat more pulses.

What are pulses

The most common reaction I get when I talk about pulses: “What the heck are they?”. Pulses are part of the legume family and include peas, lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans like kidney beans or navy beans. This subcategory of legumes is grown and harvested solely to eat the dry seed, in contrast to other legumes (like peanuts or soybeans) which are used to make oils.

For the past few months, pulses have been touted internationally by chefs, dietitians, and more. The recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans even suggests using legumes to replace some of the meat and poultry in our diets.

So what’s all the fuss about pulses?

Pulses are nutritious, sustainable, versatile and, at less than $2 per pound, inexpensive. Nutrition powerhouses, pulses are full of protein, fiber, iron, zinc, and B-vitamins. Pulses may help lower blood cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease risk. Their high protein and fiber content allows them to digest slowly, which can mean better-controlled blood sugar levels, appetite, and weight. All that fiber plays an important role in gut health and can help reduce your risk of colon cancer.  

As the environmental impact of eating meat continues to become more and more evident, sustainable plant-based meals made with pulses are coming into the spotlight. Likewise, rising food costs are making dried beans and seeds attractive, inexpensive additions to the grocery cart.

How to cook with pulses

Pulses are available dried or canned. Dried peas, beans, and chickpeas are simple to cook but require soaking overnight in a bowl of cold water before cooking. Dried lentils are smaller and softer and cook in 10-20 minutes on the stovetop. Canned beans are convenient, pre-cooked options that are ready to use. Be sure to purchase no-added-salt versions, or rinse well under cold water before adding to recipes. Cooked pulses are a great addition to salads, soups, pasta, and tacos. Not ready to fully part with meat? Replacing a portion of the red meat or poultry in a dish with pulses can bump up the fiber and decrease the saturated fat content.  

Need some more inspiration? Try these pulse recipes: 

  1. Crunchy Lentil Tacos with Avocado-Feta Guacamole by E.A. Stewart from The Spicy RD
  2. Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Mashed Cauliflower by Kara Lydon from The Foodie Dietitian
  3. Greens and Beans Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms by Emily from Emily Kyle Nutrition
  4. Heirloom Bean and Spinach Soup by Elizabeth Shaw from Shaw’s Simple Swaps
  5. Curried Chickpea Salad by Alexis Joseph from Hummusapien
  6. Rosemary Beet Hummus and Creme Fraiche Crostini by Rachel Begun from The Gluten Free RD
  7. Lentil Alphabet Soup by Liz Weiss & Janice Bissex from Meal Makeover Moms
  8. Tomato, Avocado and Chickpea Salad by Lyssie Lakatos & Tammy Lakatos Shames from The Nutrition Twins
  9. Vegan White Bean Cassoulet by Abbey Sharp from Abbey’s Kitchen