We’re pretty excited about 2016 being the year of pulses — so much so we integrated a few of our favourites into some of our new foods. Read below to learn more about the sustainable source of nutrition that’s going to be huge in 2016.
By Christopher P.F. Marinangeli PhD, RD
Director, Nutrition, Science and Regulatory Affairs at Pulse Canada
On November 10, 2015, the United Nations officially launched 2016 as the International Year of Pulses. What does this mean? Pulses will be celebrated across the globe as a sustainable source of nutrition. Did you know Canada is the world’s largest producer of lentils and peas; and global leader in total exports of pulses? Canada sure has a lot to celebrate this year!
Pulses have been around for ages, with archeological evidence dating back as far as 11,000 BC showing that they were one of the first domesticated crops.1. To really define pulses, we have to first start with explaining “legume.” Legumes are edible seeds that grow and develop inside a pod. In North America, peanuts and soybeans are commonly known legumes. Pulses are a subset of legumes, where the seeds within the pod are harvested solely as a dry crop, which means they contain very little moisture.2 Example of pulses include dried peas, chickpeas, lentils and beans (Table 1). Pulses also contain very little oil. Therefore, peanuts and soybeans are not considered pulses because they are often harvested as a source of cooking oil. So to be clear, all pulses are legumes, but not all legumes are pulses.
Table 1. Examples of pulses
(split or whole)
Cowpeas and Black eyed peas
Faba or Fava beans
Lupin (or Lupini) beans
Pulses Are Packed With Nutrients
Most often, it is the protein and fibre content of pulses that captures considerable attention. On average, ½ cup of cooked beans, lentils or chickpeas contains 6-18 g of protein and 3-19 g of fibre.3 Pulses also contain substantial levels of folate, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. In many areas of the world, including Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, pulses are a dietary staple that provide significant levels of essential nutrients. As demonstrated by dietary guidelines for Canada,4 the U.S.,5 Australia,6 Spain,7 Nordic Countries,8 India9 and the United Kingdom,10 there is consistent inclusion of pulses as foods that contribute to a healthy diet. Studies from Canada and the U.S. demonstrate that, compared to individuals that exclude pulses from their diet, consumption of ½ cups cooked pulses per day significantly increases the intake of protein, fibre, iron, magnesium and zinc.11; 12
Pulses Contribute to Sustainable Agriculture
The benefits of pulses extend beyond that of nutrition, particularly with respect to sustainable agriculture. Compared to other crops, pulses are unique in their ability to extract nitrogen from the air, which is used for their growth and development of proteins. This process of “nitrogen fixation” also enriches the soil with nitrogen and reduces the need for nitrogen-enriched fertilizers. In fact, when pulses are planted in alternate years on farmland that is typically used for wheat, the yields of wheat increases and use of nitrogen fertilizers decreases.13 The ability to enrich soil with nitrogen is a key trait that make pulses one of the lowest carbon footprint foods available.14 Finally, compared to other crops, pulses typically require less water during the growth cycle.15 Overall, farming practices that include pulses help support sustainable agriculture.
Renowned as a source of protein, fibre and micronutrients, pulses not only make a considerable contribution to intakes of essential nutrients, but also to sustainable agriculture in Canada and around the world. Although nutritious, pulses also have their challenges. Unfortunately, in Canada, consumption of pulse remains relatively low.12 But in the spirit of the International Year, we encourage Canadians to start incorporating more pulses into their diets. Whole pulses are available in dry or canned forms and whole pulses can be added to an array of traditional and innovative recipes . You can also find pulses that have been ground up into flours, which can bring another level versatility to your cooking. Also, look for new foods in your supermarket where pulses have been added as primary ingredients. In 2016, celebrate sustainable nutrition with pulses.