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Nutrition Notes (PCN Winter 2016) JAN 11 2016 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Pulse Crop News.

Debra McLennan, RD, APG Food & Nutrition Coordinator

It’s 2016 and time to celebrate International Year of Pulses! Countries around the world are shining the spotlight on these nutrition powerhouses.

So why do we say pulses are nutrition powerhouses? Pulses have an abundance of nutrition benefits that allow them to fit into almost every diet. They are an excellent source of fibre, folate and potassium and a good source of iron, zinc and other B-vitamins like thiamin and niacin. They are an important source of vegetable protein and 3/4 cup (175 mL) is considered a meat alternate serving according to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. Pulses also have nutritional benefits in diets for heart disease and diabetes. But how do they do all this?

Let’s talk about pulse fibre. Not only does 1/2 cup (125 mL) of cooked pulses provide about 30 per cent of your daily fibre requirement, but it also provides soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the body and control blood sugar levels while insoluble fibre helps with digestion and regularity, “Nature’s Broom” as we like to call it!

Along with fibre, pulses contain other complex carbohydrates like oligosaccharides, as well as slowly digestible and resistant starch. Oligosaccharides and resistant starch are not absorbed in the small intestine which contributes to improving our colon and overall digestive health and managing blood sugar levels. Slowly digested starch is completely digested (broken down) in the small intestine, but at a slow rate which can contribute to better blood sugar control and help us feel full. All of this makes pulses a low glycemic index food and a great addition to any meal!

Pulses are an important source of plant protein. You often hear that when you eat pulses, you should combine them with other foods like whole grains, seeds and nuts, but perhaps you wonder why. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids are classified as either essential or non-essential. Our bodies can make the 11 non-essential amino acids, but we can’t make the nine essential amino acids and must get those from the foods we eat. Animal protein provides all the essential amino acids, whereas plant protein may be missing one or more of the essential amino acids. Combining pulses with other foods like whole grains, seeds and nuts on a daily basis will provide a better quality plant protein that will have all the essential amino acids.

Pulses can also have a beneficial effect on heart health not only due to their fibre content but they are also low in fat and have no saturated fat, trans fat or cholesterol. Pulses make a great addition to diets designed for people with heart disease. Recent research shows that eating 1/2 to 3/4 cup (125-175 mL) of pulses daily lowers LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) as well as total cholesterol levels which can contribute to overall heart health.

So celebrate International Year of Pulses by eating more pulses this year! There are many easy ways to include pulses in your diet. There are the more traditional uses in soups and chilis, but why not try adding a puree of cooked beans or lentils to your baking? You can reduce the fat content and increase the protein and fibre content all at once. Looking for a snack idea? Try the Pea Butter Snack Bite recipe on Page 38 for something different! Another tasty and easy snack is hummus and crackers, but try making the hummus with split yellow peas or lentils for a different twist. There are some great recipe ideas on the APG website

Have you got a question about pulse nutrition? I would love to hear from you! You can contact me at or 780-986-9398 ext. 6.