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Pulses are a nutrition powerhouse and incredibly delicious to boot (bonus!). Despite their impressive resume, pulses can be a bit of a mystery for most people. What even are pulses? How do I cook them? Will they make me gassy?

Check out the info below to unpack these questions and learn why and how to start prioritizing pulses in your diet.

What are pulses?

Pulses include all types of dried beans, lentils and dried peas. It does not include green peas and green beans.

  • Split red lentils
  • Green/brown lentils
  • Black beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Green or yellow split peas
  • Black eyed peas
  • Tempeh (fermented and pressed soy beans)

Why are pulses good for me?

Pulses are an amazing source of many nutrients.

  1. Protein:
  • Pulses are a great source of plant-based protein.
  • Eating more plant-based proteins can help lower your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease.
  1. Fibre:
    • Unlike many other sources of protein, pulses are also high in fibre.
    • Fibre helps to feed our gut bacteria to keep the gut happy and healthy.
  1. Resistant starch:
  • Just like fibre, resistant starch resists digestion by us and instead helps feed our gut bacteria.
  • Check out our post on resistant starch for more information.
  1. Vitamins and minerals:
    • Including folate, iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium.

Sounds great…but what do I do with them?

If you’re not used to eating pulses, how to use them can seem like a bit of a puzzle. Luckily, pulses can be used in so many ways. A good goal is to eat ¾ cup pulses at least 3 times a week.

  • Try a new version of an old favourite.
    • When exploring a new ingredient its helpful to look for recipes that are similar to dishes you already love.
      • If you already love burgers, try making lentil or black bean burgers.
      • Pasta lovers, think lentil Bolognese.
      • If you love chicken salad or tuna salad, try mashed chickpea salad on your sandwich instead (recipe below!).
    • If you typically eat meat-based dishes and don’t want to fully switch the recipe to pulses, try a mix of half meat and half pulses. This works especially well with ground meat dishes like meat sauces, chili, burgers, tacos or meatloaf.
  • Sneak them in.
    • If you or your family aren’t big into the idea of pulses or don’t like the texture, blending them is a great way to hide them in dishes you already love.
    • Blended white beans can be used to add an extra nutrition boost to any saucy dish (think chili, pasta sauce, soup/stew, curry). The flavour is neutral and goes with anything.
    • Puree a big batch of beans and keep them in small portions in the freezer so they’re ready to add when cooking.
    • If you don’t have any puree ready to go, split red lentils cook quickly in about 25 minutes ad break down on their own into barely noticeable pieces.
  • Explore pulse products.
    • Try baking with pulse flours. Start by substituting 25% of the regular flour in a recipe with pulse four. You can also find recipes that are designed to use pulse flours.
    • Pasta made with pulses is a great, higher protein and higher fibre alternative to regular pasta. Most grocery stores now carry pasta made with chickpea, bean or lentil flour. Check the “natural foods” aisle if you can’t find it with the regular pasta.

Tolerance Tips

Because pulses are very high in fibre and certain other types of carbohydrates, they may not be well tolerated by people with IBS or people with IBD who are in a flare. Pulses also get the reputation for being a “magical fruit” for a reason. If you find pulses give you tummy trouble, try these tips.

  • Start with a small amount (1/4 cup) and work your way up slowly. Tolerance can change over time as your gut gets stronger.
  • Soaking dried pulses before cooking can help lower gas production and improve tolerance. If you’re using canned pulses, rinse them extra well before using.
  • If you’re still having trouble or have been advised to avoid pulses by your health care team or the LyfeMD app, then focus on other healthy foods right now. Eventually, when you are feeling better make pulses a priority food to try.

Now that you know about the power of pulses, how will you cook with them? Leave a comment below and share your favourite recipe using pulses.

Chickpea Salad Sandwich (serves 1-2)

1 cup (250 mL) cooked chickpeas

2 stalks celery, finely diced (optional)

3 green onions, sliced

4 Tbsp (60 mL) mayonnaise

1 tablespoon (15 mL) lemon juice

¼ tsp (2 mL) salt

½ tsp (2 mL) black pepper

In a medium bowl, smash the chickpeas with a fork until the texture resembled canned tuna.

Combine the chickpeas with the remaining ingredients.

Serve with 2 slices of bread as a sandwich or open faced. Can also be served in lettuce cups or a tortilla.