3 Ways Eating Pulses Keeps You and the Earth Healthy

( - The United Nations (UN) designated 2016: “The International Year of the Pulse”. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization recommended this amazing food have its own year to promote awareness of its sustainability, health benefits, and ability to help solve the problem of world hunger. Before you start scrambling around trying to figure out how to get your hands on this “new” superfood, you should know that it’s a bean.

The pulse isn’t just any bean, it’s a family of dried seeds within the larger family of legumes. Specifically, a pulse is an edible dried seed of the plant. Garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lentils, and dry peas are some of the best known varieties of pulses. The name comes from the latin word puls meaning “thick soup” or “porridge” and these legumes aren’t commonly known by their proper name. Sadly, their benefits to your health and the world aren’t commonly known, either.

Here’s why they’re so great:

1. They’re Healthy

Adding pulses to your diet everyday can help you lose weight, lower your risk of heart attacks and strokes, and can even prevent some types of cancer! These legumes are high in protein and both types of fiber, while also low in fat. Soluble fiber lowers your cholesterol and blood sugar, and insoluble fiber keeps everything moving through your digestive tract.

Swapping out some of the animal protein in your diet for this plant’s clean protein can lower your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, which will help keep plaque from building up in your arteries.

Plaque buildup on artery walls narrows the area blood travels through. If the buildup is severe enough a small clot or impurity can get trapped in the narrowed passageways and cause a complete blockage, leading to a heart attack. Pieces of the plaque can also break off, causing a blockage in brain vessels, which can lead to stroke. Soluble fiber from pulses can reduce existing plaque and help stop new plaque from forming.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about one-third of cancers are caused by unhealthy diets. Eating pulses will improve your diet, lowering your risk of cancer. Most people think that cancer is hereditary, environmental, or a stroke of bad luck — some of it is, but some cancers are preventable by simply making more conscientious decisions about the food you eat.

Pulses also help you lose weight. A 2014 study at the St. Michael’s Hospital Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre found that supplementing your diet with less than one cup of pulses can help you feel full longer. Why? Not only does their fiber clean your veins and keep you regular — it also helps you feel full. The high protein in pulses also help you feel full longer and keep your muscles fed while you’re trying to reduce your calorie intake. Thus, eating pulses can reduce your cravings and feelings of hunger, preventing you from snacking unnecessarily. 

Reap the full benefits of the protein in pulses by eating them with nutritionally-complementary foods. Plant proteins have an incomplete collection of amino acids (the building blocks your body uses to form a proteins). Pulses are low in the amino acids: cysteine and methionine. Black and brown rice are high in these, so eat them with your pulses. Your road to better health can begin by throwing some garbanzo beans in your salad or making a tasty lentil soup for dinner.

2. They’re Good for the Environment

It’s certainly disheartening when you’re driving around in your driving-limited electric car and sacrificing with 5-minute showers to find out that biggest enemy of the environment is food production. Animal-based food production is responsible for at least 30 percent of carbon emissions, and uses nearly 10 times the fresh water of growing plant-based foods.

Soil degradation is also a steadily growing environmental problem in the world. Over-farming depletes the soil of nutrients, resulting in less nutritious vegetables.

Planting pulses can help to fix all of these environmental concerns. Pulse crops require little or no nitrogen fertilizer because they take nitrogen from the air and fix it in the soil. Why is this significant? Because nitrogen fertilizer production uses a lot of energy. Using nitrogen fertilizer creates nitrous oxide — a greenhouse gas nearly 300 times more damaging than carbon dioxide, in terms of global warming! Planting pulses saves energy from nitrogen fertilizer production and also cleans nitrogen from the air.

Most pulse crops require little or no additional irrigation. They are very drought-tolerant and survive on rainwater. They also take water from a shallower depth than other crops, so when it’s time for rotation, pulse plants leave the water deep in the soil for the next crop while also improving the soil’s quality by adding nitrogen.

Because of these reasons, pulses have a low carbon footprint.

3. They’re Key for Food Security for the Future

Protein is essential since your body uses it to make your muscles, hair, and nails grow. Most important processes and functions in your body are carried out by enzymes, which are all proteins.

But most people worldwide rely on animal products for their protein, which is both unhealthy and unsustainable. By 2050, it’s estimated there will be 9.7 billion people on the planet. There’s not enough room for the cows, pigs, and chickens it will take to provide protein for everyone, economically.

Swap fatty animal meat for a healthy pulse-centric meal. They’re good for your body, and the planet will thank you.

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