World Pulses Day is February 10, so get to know the most popular pulses and why we should be eating more throughout the year
Pulses are rich, colourful superfoods such as lentils, chickpeas and dried beans. These edible seeds of leguminous plants have been nourishing different cultures worldwide for centuries. They promote good health, contribute to food security, and are delicious.
The humble baked beans we love today are a fine example; these raw haricot beans baked in tomato sauce are a family favourite.
Healthy and nutritious
Maintaining good health means a healthy choice of foods. Pulses are healthy foods that benefit our overall health; in other words, pulses will help prevent us from being sick. Pulses are low in fat and high in protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
Pulses are good for our gut health. The UK's Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SCAN) recommends that adults eat 30g of dietary fibre daily.
"One portion of pulses will provide up to nine per cent of protein"
According to the British Heart Foundation, one portion of pulses, say three heaped tablespoons, will provide up to nine per cent of protein—one-sixth of what you need daily. Interesting to note, too, is that a mix of protein and fibre allows slower digestion and lets you feel full for an extended period.
Pules are also nutritious, meaning they provide the body with vitamins and minerals the body needs. Vegans and vegetarians opt for lentils because of their high-quality protein content.
As pulses do not contain gluten, it's a healthy choice for people with coeliac diseases needing to follow a gluten-free diet. Diabetics who control their blood glucose intake can also benefit from eating more lentils, chickpeas, and dried beans.
An affordable, practical choice
You can buy pulses almost all year round, and all types recognised as a kitchen staple. Pulses are more affordable than meat, an important point to remember when considering how food prices have risen lately. Pulses are an inexpensive source of protein, especially important in countries where meat and dairy products are not easily accessible or too costly.
Adding pulses to stews and bolognese sauces will help reduce your shopping bill. These little changes will make your sauce-based meals healthier, tastier and more filling.
Great for the environment
Pulses boast sustainable agriculture, which is a significant contribution to the world's growing population and the challenge of feeding everyone. Farmers need less irrigation water for growing pulses than other crops, and the roots are deeper and more abundant, which are important factors when cultivating in dry regions where other crops fail.
"Pulses boast sustainable agriculture"
Pulses release nitrogen into the ground, a process known as nitrogen fixation. This has a positive effect, improves the quality of the soil and reduces the need for fertilisers. Lentils are an excellent example of nitrogen fixation, where root nodules convert nitrogen gas to a form beneficial to plants.
Economical and versatile
Essential and delicious pulses are economical and easy to prepare. Cooking pulses is not complicated if you respect the three golden rules.
- Never salt the beans before you start cooking; doing this will make them tough
- Don't cook beans in the soaking water
- A pinch of baking soda will speed up the cooking of your beans
Brown lentils are the most common variety, but you can get black, green, red or yellow lentils, all versatile, making them easy to add to other dishes. What's great, too, is that lentils are available throughout the year, but if you can buy from the latest crop, inspect them for any apparent damage and store them in an airtight container.
"Lentils are easy to add to other dishes"
You don't need to soak lentils overnight but do wash and inspect them closely for grit. Brown lentils are excellent in salads.
Toss cooked lentils with chopped onion, olive oil, garlic and parsley. This salad becomes even more irresistible if you add those French Puy lentils: those tiny dark lentils are recognised for their delicate texture and flavour.
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo, have a wonderful nutty flavour. You’ll need to soak them, preferably overnight, before cooking.
The creamy Middle Eastern dish hummus comes from the Arabic word hummus, meaning chickpea. With chickpeas as the main ingredient this is a healthy dish, but bear in mind that it also contains olive oil and tahini. Despite having good kinds of fat, hummus can be high in calories.
Cooked chickpeas mixed with red onions, avocado, lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar makes a great summer salad.
With hundreds of different types of dried beans available worldwide, all with different names, it can be tricky for cooks to follow recipes. Some of the most popular dried beans are haricots, used to make baked beans; red kidney beans for chilli con carne; and soya, the most nutritious and most easily digested.
Adding these high-protein, high-fibre foods with low-fat content will not only enhance your diet but will allow farmers who grow these crops to reduce the environmental impact of food production.
World Pulses Day is on February 10, 2024
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