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Health Benefits of Pulses

Improving your diet is easy when you add dried peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas into your meals. Rich in many nutrients — including protein, fibre, iron, folate, and potassium — pulses are low in fat and cholesterol-free, making them a healthy option as both a meat and starch alternative.

The new Canada’s Food Guide encourages Canadians to eat a variety of healthy foods every day. Using a dinner plate visual, the new food guide recommends that Canadians eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, about 1/2 of your plate, whole grain foods, about 1/4 of your plate and protein foods, about 1/4 of your plate. The guide also recommends to “choose protein foods that come from plants more often” which is where pulses fit in!  

Because of their many benefits in a healthy diet, pulses are a good choice for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free diets. These superfoods, which grow all across the Canadian prairies, are also recommended as part of a healthy diet for heart health, diabetes, and weight control.

Nutritious and delicious, pulses are good for you and your health.

Diets for People with Diabetes

Dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas are an important part of a healthy diet for people with diabetes. Pulses are very high in fibre, including soluble fibre and resistant starch. After eating pulses, blood sugars will rise slowly, while most other carbohydrate-rich foods increase blood sugars more than pulses do.

Pulses have more than healthy carbohydrates. They are high in protein — which can help maintain blood sugars between meals — potassium, and many other vitamins and minerals. Pulses are also low in fat and saturated fat and, as a plant-based food, have no cholesterol. For lower sodium options, use dried pulses and no-added sodium canned pulses.

When people with diabetes consume 1/2 cup (125 mL) of pulses per day with a high-fibre or a low glycemic index diet, long-term blood glucose control improves. When pulses are included in a diet for people with diabetes, the blood tests for HbA1c (the test for blood sugar levels over time) are about 0.48% lower than if pulses are not included. This is similar to the benefit of medication to lower blood sugars for type 2 diabetes.

Pulses can also help heart health and may have role in helping with weight loss.

Gluten-Free Diets

Dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas fit nicely within a gluten-free diet. As naturally gluten-free foods, pulses offer carbohydrates, fibre, B-vitamins, iron, and potassium — nutrients that may be low in a gluten-free diet.

While whole pulses make the perfect addition to a variety of dishes, pulse flours provide an excellent option to mix with other gluten free flours, such as brown rice and potato flour. An added bonus of choosing pulse flours over other alternatives is their higher protein, vitamin, and fibre content. Pulse flours can be found at health food stores and through specialty suppliers.

Heart-Healthy Diets

Studies have shown that pulses — including dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas — may play an important role in a heart healthy diet.

Packed with nutrients that help heart health, including fibre, folate, and potassium, pulses reduce blood LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and slightly lower total blood cholesterols. The fibre in pulses may also help lower blood cholesterol by preventing cholesterol absorption in the gut.

Pulses are also low in fat, saturated and trans fats and, as a plant-based food, have no cholesterol. For lower sodium options, use dried pulses or no-added sodium canned pulses.

Vegetarian & Vegan Diets

Vegetarians and vegans eat more than vegetables. A well-balanced vegetarian or vegan diet includes dried peas, beans, lentils, and chickpeas. The protein and most of the vitamins and minerals in these pulses can replace those found in meat, making pulses an important part of a meatless diet.

Pulses are the perfect meat alternative for vegetarian or vegans and those who are interested in reducing their intake of animal protein. Combining pulses with grains creates a high-quality complete protein, which is often lacking in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Some examples of this are beans and rice or hummus and pita.

Pulses are also an excellent source of iron. To best absorb the iron, eat pulses with vitamin C-rich foods. Some examples might be bell pepper dipped in hummus or a sweet potato and lentil salad.

Weight Control Diets

Looking for foods that will leave you feeling full without empty calories from fat and sugar? Add pulses — including dried peas, beans, chickpeas, and lentils — to your diet. These superfoods are both naturally high in fibre and a rich source of protein — two nutrients that create satisfying meals and snacks, helping with weight control.

Pulses are also low in fat and saturated fats and, as for all plant-based foods, are cholesterol-free. They are also rich sources of many nutrients including fibre, folate, iron, and potassium.

Including pulses in your diet is easier than you think.

  • Add cooked or canned (rinse well) chickpeas or lentils to a salad for an extra protein boost and more filling meal.
  • Dip vegetables or pita in hummus for a satisfying snack.
  • Make baked goods a bit healthier by adding pureed lentils or using pulse flours for added fibre and protein.
  • Puree pulses into broth-based soups to make them more hearty and thick.
  • Roast chickpeas with spices for a crunchy snack.