The power of pulses is remarkable!
They are a low fat and low saturated fat source of protein, and contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates like fibre and resistant starch. As an added bonus, they have several vitamins and minerals that are important for body processes like iron, potassium, folate and other B vitamins.
Fibre includes all parts of plant foods that your body can't digest or absorb. Pulses are very high in fibre, containing both soluble and insoluble fibres. While soluble fibre helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, insoluble fibre helps with digestion and regularity. The recommend daily intake of fibre is 38 g/day of total fibre for men and 25 g/day of total fibre for women.
Eating just 125 mL (1/2 c.) of pulses per day provides 7 - 17 g of fibre. With their high fibre levels, pulses are a healthy food choice.
Besides fibre, pulses contain other complex carbohydrates like resistant and slowly digestible starch as well as oligosaccharides (a complex carbohydrate containing three to six units of simple sugars). Resistant starch and oligosaccharides behave like fibre in the body because they are not digested or absorbed. In contrast, slowly digestible starch does get digested completely in the small intestine but this happens at a slow rate which keeps the body’s blood sugar levels closer to normal.
Pulses are somewhat unique as a plant food because in addition to high amount of fibre and complex carbohydrates, they typically contain about twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals like wheat, oats, barley and rice. Pulses have higher amounts of the essential amino acid lysine whereas cereals have higher amounts of the essential amino acids methionine and cysteine so blending pulses with cereals or nuts results in a better quality protein that contains all essential amino acids in appropriate amounts. This is particularly important for people eating vegetarian or vegan diets.
Pulses provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals in a relatively low amount of calories. Some of the key minerals in pulses include iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. Pulses are also particularly abundant in B vitamins including folate, thiamin and niacin.
Low Glycemic Index
For a food that is high in carbohydrates, pulses have a low glycemic index which means they do not cause a fast rise in blood sugar after eating. Studies have shown that eating pulses is a good way to manage blood sugar levels which is particularly important for people with diabetes.
Pulses are available as whole seeds, and can also be turned into ingredients like flours, fibre, proteins and starches. Their versatility gives endless options to add more pulses to the diet and to meet the recommended weekly amounts of several important nutrients.
Many health organizations recommend eating pulses to maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Eating Well withCanada’s Food Guide states “Have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often” and suggests that regularly choosing beans and other meat alternatives such as lentils can help minimize the amount of saturated fat in the diet.
The Musical Fruit?
Some carbohydrates in pulses produce gas and bloating for some people, similar to the effects produced by certain other foods (e.g. cabbage, broccoli, and other vegetables and fruits). Eating pulses often allows your gut to adapt to the higher fibre and carbohydrates, decreasing these effects over time.
For those who find that pulses lead to gas and bloating, eat small amounts of pulses, drink lots of water and gradually increase your intake.