Routt County CSU Extension: Pulses are good for you — but what are they? | SteamboatToday.com

Routt County CSU Extension: Pulses are good for you — but what are they?

Karen Massey/For Steamboat Today

Routt County CSU Extension

Did you know this is the International Year of Pulses? Do you know what pulses are? If you answered "no" to both questions, you are not alone. The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses to increase awareness of the nutritional benefits and sustainability of growing and eating dry peas, lentils, dry beans and chickpeas — otherwise known as pulses.

Even if you have never heard the term "pulse" to describe the foods in your diet, you have probably been eating them. Pulses are the versatile, nutritional powerhouses that form the basis of some of your favorite dishes.

Garbanzo beans are a type of pulse — but you probably eat them blended with tahini and lemon and made into humus. Dried beans are a type of pulse that you might eat with your favorite Mexican food or in a bowl of chili. Lentils are a type of pulse that are often found in hearty stews or vegetarian meals.

How do pulses differ from the legumes that nutrition professionals have been promoting for years? Actually, pulses are a sub-category of legumes; they are the dried edible seeds of legumes and don't include other legumes, such as fresh peas, fresh beans and soybeans.

We receive many nutritional benefits from adding more pulses to our diets. They are highly nutritious and provide both soluble and insoluble forms of fiber. Pulses are naturally low in fat and gluten free, yet they provide protein, iron, folate, magnesium, zinc and potassium. Research has shown that eating more dried beans, peas and lentils also positively impacts weight loss, constipation, diabetes, prevention of heart disease and certain types of cancers.

Pulses are economical and contribute to food security for many people. Dried beans, peas and lentils can be stored in a tightly sealed container at room temperature for two to five years. Because they are inexpensive and shelf-stable, they can easily be bought in bulk and kept in a cool, dark place in your pantry. While dried beans and peas require pre-soaking before they are cooked, lentils can be quickly cooked and added to a recipe.

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Pulses foster sustainable agricultural practices and biodiversity. One of the reasons the UN is promoting pulses is that, as they grow, they fix nitrogen in the soil. Not only does this improve soil fertility and productivity, it can also help reduce soil erosion.

Consider the following tricks to prevent the inconvenient problems with gas that often accompanies eating more pulses.

• Ease into eating more pulses. Slowly adding more pulses will allow your body to adjust to the added fiber.

• Rinse and drain canned beans before adding them to your recipe.

• Soak dried beans, then rinse and cook them in fresh water.

• Drink plenty of water with your pulses.

• Try products such as Beano to help reduce gas production.

Your challenge is to increase your consumption of dried beans, garbanzo beans, peas and lentils. Pulses are available dried, canned and frozen. They can be used as a substitute for meat; added to soups and salads; blended to make flavorful spreads and dips; and tossed into pasta and casseroles.

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. For more information, call 970-879-0825 or email karen.massey@colostate.edu.