Ever heard of the food-term “pulse”? No, we aren’t talking about your blood pressure here—we are talking about dried beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas. If you are unfamiliar with pulses, you aren’t alone. In fact, these humble pods have flown under the radar for most of us. Last year, for example, was declared the “International Year of the Pulses” to which the vast majority of us were unaware. With the growing flexitarian, gluten free, and nutritional trends, however, this term and their consumption will likely become commonplace in years to come.
A pulse is essentially a seed. A seed is, more-or-less, food that exists to get a plant started. Because of this incredible package, pulses are packed with dietary fiber, protein, iron, vitamins, potassium and magnesium (the latter two being minerals most of us are woefully deficient in). They are low in fat, free of trans fats and cholesterol and contain only trace amounts of sodium. With all this goodness, it’s easy to see why pulses are considered nutritional powerhouses. The 2015-2020 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume at least 1 to 2 cups of pulses per week. While that’s certainly a great start, I’d like to encourage everyone to try and consume pulses every day!
Besides the nutritional value, we need to take notice of pulses from an environmental standpoint. Politics aside, climate change is happening. The U.N. reports that raising animals for food is “one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. The bottomline is that all of us need to curb our consumption of animal proteins, especially beef and dairy, for the good of our planet. One of the easiest ways to do this is to replace animal protein with the protein that pulses provide—hence the growing popularity of the flexitarian diet. While 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian, an additional 22.8 million are flexitarian, meaning they primarily eat a vegetarian diet, but enjoy meat occasionally. This part-time vegetarian diet has broader appeal because it helps us balance food cravings with health and global sustainability.
So while there are health and environmental benefits to eating pulses, one of the biggest benefits is that they’re delicious! Each pulse has its own unique flavor profile, aroma and texture. This amount of variety has inspired chefs and cooks around the world to create dishes with a multitude of flavor profiles and cuisine styles. Regardless of your global cuisine preference, you’ll find a pulse-inspired dish to suit your tastes. I hope you’ll begin to explore, experiment and make pulses a foundational food in your diet.