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Beans, Lentils and Peas Oh My!

January 19, 2016 by Dean Simmons, Registered Dietitian

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Beans, Lentils and Peas

It’s time to put the spotlight on the humble class of food crops known as pulses. Expect to hear a lot more about beans, lentils and peas over the coming months as the United Nations has declared 2016 as the “International Year of Pulses”. You might be wondering why...

What’s a pulse?

  • Pulses are part of the legume family of crops. Legumes are plants with seeds that are enclosed in a pod. The types of legumes harvested for dry seeds are called pulses. This doesn’t include fresh peas and fresh beans, or legumes like soy beans and peanuts that have a high content of oil.
  • Dried beans, lentils and peas are the most commonly known and eaten types of pulses.

What’s so special about pulses?

  • Good for you: Pulses are packed with nutrients. They’re high in protein, very high in fibre, and a good source of vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and folate. These qualities make them an excellent food choice. Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we eat pulses more often. Just 175 ml (3/4 cup) of cooked beans, lentils or peas counts as a serving of Meat and Alternatives.
  • Good for your wallet:  With the rising cost of food, pulses help to keep the grocery budget in check as they are a low cost alternative to other high protein foods like meat, fish and poultry.
  • Good for the earth: Pulses, like other legumes improve the quality of soil wherever they are grown by pulling nitrogen from the air and moving it into the soil. Growing beans, lentils and peas requires less water and fertilizer than other crops. Their production also generates substantially fewer greenhouse gas emissions than other high protein foods like meat, poultry, fish and cheese.   

How do I store pulses?

  • It is best to use dried beans, lentils and peas within a year. Store them in a cool, dark and dry place.
  • Canned beans and lentils have a shelf life of up to 5 years when stored in a cool and dry place. This makes them a great addition to your emergency food kit.
  • Cooked pulses freeze well, and when packed in 250 to 500 ml (1 to 2 cup) containers can be conveniently added to recipes like soups, stews and burritos.  

How do I cook with dried beans, peas and lentils?

  • Cooking with pulses isn’t complicated. In fact, pulses have been nourishing people around the world for thousands of years. Check out this short Guide to Cooking Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils and Peas.
  • If you’d rather not cook your pulse from scratch, canned beans and lentils are a convenient (and still low cost) alternative.  Read the label and choose products that are lower in sodium.

What about intestinal gas or bloating?

For some people, eating pulses can cause uncomfortable gas and bloating.  This happens because beans, lentils and peas contain fermentable carbohydrates that are digested by the bacteria in our intestines. Gas is a by-product. Tips to help:

  • Rinse canned beans and lentils with water. This helps wash away some of the carbohydrates that can lead to gas and bloating in some people.  
  • When using dried beans, drain the water used for soaking and add fresh water for cooking.
  • Make sure dried pulses are cooked until soft. Undercooked beans, peas and lentils are harder to digest.
  • Eat pulses often and in small amounts to allow the bacteria in your gut to adapt.
  • Drink plenty of water to help your body pass along the extra fibre.
  • Consider taking an enzyme supplement like Beano with pulse meals to help digest the fermentable carbohydrates.

What meals can I make with pulses?

You might be surprised by the variety of dishes that can be made with pulses; from the standard lentil soup, kidney bean chili and chick pea spread to the less common pulse infused muffins, omelettes and smoothies.  Find something that appeals to your taste buds with these great recipes from Canadian pulse growers.

There are a lot of reasons to love pulses. Whatever reason resonates most with you, 2016 is the year to add more beans, lentils and peas to your meals.


Photo credit: 2016 International Year of Pulses

Related blogs:
Knock The Wind Out Of Your Beans

Recommended resources:
Pulse Canada
Global Pulse Confederation
Food and Agriculture Organization
Dietitians of Canada
Pulse Lesson Plans for Teachers

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