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Beans, Beans, They’re Good For Your…

posted Feb 19, 2016, 8:42 AM by   [ updated Feb 19, 2016, 8:45 AM ]

Did you know that the United Nations has declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses? You may be wondering what on earth pulses are and why the UN is so excited about them. Read on to find out why these tasty foods are good for both you and the planet.

You may not know it, but you’re probably pretty familiar with pulses already. Pulses are edible seeds that grow in a pod. Beans, peas, and lentils are all types of pulses. Nutritionally, pulses are an excellent source of protein and provide important nutrients like iron, zinc, fiber, potassium, and folate. This is an unusual combination of nutrients to find in a single food—typically, people eat both meat and vegetables to get this array of nutrients. Because of this, legumes (the family that includes pulses) are considered part of both the protein and the vegetable food group according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This makes them a great option for people who don’t eat meat, but their health benefits make them a good choice for any diet.

One of the best things about pulses is their status as a heart-healthy protein source. Like fish, pulses are naturally low in saturated fat. They’re also high in a particular kind of fiber called soluble fiber that can decrease your LDL cholesterol (aka “bad” cholesterol) leading to a lower risk of heart disease. On top of all that, they contain potassium, which may help lower blood pressure. Just be sure to rinse canned beans and choose low sodium versions whenever possible. (We’ll write more about why and how to limit sodium next week).

In addition to their heart health benefits, pulses are also linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. Plus, their protein and fiber content may make them helpful for weight control.

The UN didn’t only decide to focus on pulses in 2016 because they’re nutrition powerhouses. The UN is promoting pulses as a sustainable food source that can help ensure everyone worldwide has enough healthy food to eat.  For example, this UN infographic shows that pulses use much less water to produce compared to other protein sources like chicken and beef, helping stretch resources farther. They are also a very affordable protein source that can be farmed in many different conditions that may not be suitable to other crops. Even if you’re not a vegetarian, consider serving beans, peas, or lentils for a weekly Meatless Monday meal to reap the health and sustainability benefits.

If sitting down to a big bowl of beans or a lentil stew doesn’t appeal to you, it may help to think outside the box. This article provides suggestions to help make beans more appealing to kids, but their tips work for adults too. Try hummus, which is made of chickpeas, as a dip for veggies or whole grain crackers. Add beans next time you make chili or tacos. Roast chickpeas with spices and have them as a snack, side dish, or salad topping. And if pulses don’t agree with you, try the strategies in this handout to make them easier on your digestive system.

Check out the recipes section of our site for more tasty ways to use beans, peas, and lentils. We hope you’ll give them a try in 2016!