Pulses and Soy as Sources of Plant-based Protein

Pulses and Soy as Sources of Plant-based Protein

At Kashi, we’re really excited about plant-based proteins. Its ability to fuel an active lifestyle is just one of the reasons to love this multi-source complete protein. We’ve worked plant-based proteins into some of our new foods, and we can’t wait for you to give them a try! Read more below about plant power in the form of pulses and soy.

Pulses and Soy as Sources of Plant-based Protein

By Christopher P.F. Marinangeli PhD, RD
Director, Nutrition, Science and Regulatory Affairs at Pulse Canada

What are Pulses and Soybeans?

When we think about dietary sources of protein; beef, chicken, fish and dairy are often the first foods that come to mind. However, there are many plant-based sources of protein that contribute to a healthy diet. Legumes are seeds that grow and develop inside of a pod and are among the best sources of plant-based proteins. Both soybeans and pulses are legumes. While most people are familiar with soybeans, the term “pulses” can be somewhat of a mystery. Pulses are a category of legumes that, when harvested, contain very little moisture; and include dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas (Table 1).1 Another important distinction between pulses and other legumes is pulses contain little to no oil.  Hence, soybeans are not considered pulses because they are often harvested as a source of cooking oil. Simply put, all pulses are legumes, but not all legumes are pulses.

Table 1. Examples of pulse food

Peas Chickpeas Lentils Beans
Green peas
Yellow peas
(harvested dry)
Desi chickpeas
Kabuli chickpeas
(split or whole)
Black beans
Cowpeas and Black eyed peas
Cranberry beans
Faba or Fava beans
Kidney beans
Lima bean
Lupin (or Lupini) beans
Navy beans
Pinto beans

Complete and Incomplete Proteins

Both soybeans and pulses contain substantial levels of protein. On average, ½ cup cooked soybeans contains 12 g of protein.2 Similarly, ½ cup cooked pulses contain 6-18 g of protein.3 Occasionally, protein in food is characterized as “complete” or “incomplete.” Complete sources of protein are foods that contain all of the essential amino acids in proportions that are required by the body. Conversely, “incomplete proteins” are proteins that have lower levels of one or more essential amino acids.4 Soybeans are considered a complete protein,4 while pulses, at times, can have lower levels of one or more essential amino acids. However, characterizing foods as “incomplete proteins” can falsely disregard healthful foods (such as pulses) that can make substantial contributions to meeting daily requirements for protein and other nutrients.

Vegetarian Plant-based Proteins: How Pulses and Soy Work Together

While soybeans on their own can be characterized as a complete protein, pulses that are consumed with other foods, such as whole grains, can be complementary; and, when combined, imbalances in amino acids can decrease. In fact, dietary guidance from around the world, including Canada,5 US,6 Australia,7 Spain,8 Nordic Countries,9 India10 and the United Kingdom,11 include pulses and soy-based foods as contributors to a healthy diet. After all, vegetarians are able to meet their daily protein requirements from a variety of plant-based protein sources. In fact, concentrated pulse proteins, specifically from peas, have been shown to facilitate an increase in muscle thickness with exercise; and demonstrates that pulse-based proteins can effectively be utilized by the body.12

 Both soy and pulses are nutritious (Table 2). In addition to protein, pulses and soy are sources of fibre, iron, folate, zinc, and magnesium. While cooked soybeans can contain higher levels of healthy unsaturated fats, whole cooked pulses can contain higher levels of dietary fibre and carbohydrates. That being said, soy-based ingredients such as flours, where the dietary fat has been removed, are available. An array of dry and canned pulses are readily available in Canadian supermarkets, and given that pulses encompass peas, beans, chickpeas and lentils, there is flexibility in catering to the needs of varying recipes and palates.

per 100 g
(1/2 cups)
Pulses (cooked)
Peas 8 0 21 8 1.3 36 362 1.0 65
Lentil 9 0 20 8 3.3 36 369 1.3 181
Chickpea 9 3 27 8 2.9 48 291 1.5 172
Beans 9 1 21 7 2.1 52 385 1.2 143
12 6 11 4 2.5 60 536 0.91 111

Table 2. Summary of Nutritional Information for Pulses and Soybeans
Data from the Canadian Nutrient File13 and USDA Database14

Incorporating Pulse and Soy Foods into your Diet

Legumes in general, which include pulses and soy, are great sources of plant-based protein. While some experimentation in the kitchen might be required to start including more pulses and soy into diets; beverages, flours and protein concentrates are available. Furthermore, pulses are increasingly being incorporated into more foods on grocery shelves. Although pulses and soy may differ somewhat in their protein composition, don’t look at one as better than the other. Pulses and soy are both great foods that can be used as part of a healthy diet.


1 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1994) Definition and Classification of Commodities. http://www.fao.org/es/faodef/fdef04e.htm (accessed December 3 2015)
2 Health Canada (2012) Soybeans, green (edamame), boiled, drained - Food Code: 2209. http://webprod3.hc-sc.gc.ca/cnf-fce/report-rapport.do?lang=eng (accessed December 4, 2015 2015)
3 Pulse Canada (2015) Pulse Nutrition Information. http://pulsecanada.clickonce.ca/site_customs/nutrition/ (accessed December 2, 2015 2015)
4 Insel P, Turner RE, Ross D (2007) Chapter 6: Proteins and Amino Acids. In Nutrition, 3 ed., pp. 221-259. Mississauga, Ontario: Jones and Barlettt Publishers.
5 Health Canada (2011) Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide - A Resource for Educators and Communicators. no. 4667. Canada.
6 U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010) Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 7th Edition. Washington, DC.
7 National Health and Medical Research Council: Department of Health and Aging (2013) Australian Dietary Guidelines Providing the scientific evidence for healthier Australian diets. Canberra, Australia.
8 Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (2015) Food-based Dietary Guidelines-Spain. http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-based-dietary-guidelines/regions/countries/spain/en/ (accessed December 2 2015)
9 Nordic Council of Ministries (2012) Nordic Nutrition Recommendations 2012: Inegrating nutrition and physical activity. Copenhagen, Denmark: Nordic Council of Ministries.
10 National Institute of Nutrition (2011) Dietary Guidelines for Indians 2nd Edition. Hyderabad, India: National Institute of Nutrition
11 Public Health England in association with the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland, (2013) Your Guide to the Eatwell Plate: Helping you eat a healthier diet. United Kingdom.
12 Babault N, Paizis C, Deley G et al. (2015) Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 12, 3.
13 Health Canada (2014) Canadian Nutrient File http://webprod3.hc-sc.gc.ca/cnf-fce/index-eng.jsp (accessed December 4, 2015 2015)
14 U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (2015) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods (accessed December 4 2015)

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