2016 Is the UN’s 'International Year of Pulses': So, What Are Pulses?

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The United Nations has officially declared 2016 as the Year of Pulses – food of the future. But what are pulses, and why they should be an integral part of your diet?

Deriving their heart-pounding name from the Ancient Greek word for “porridge,” pulses are plants with edible, food grain seeds. The word “pulses” refers to both the entire plant and its seed. Also known as “grain legumes,” you’re probably already quite familiar with many common pulses, which include many beans, lentils, and peas. By definition, pulses are crops that are harvested only for their dry seed, which excludes green beans and green peas (because you also eat the hull, not just the seed). It also excludes crops that are harvested for oil production, such as peanuts and soybeans.

What does that leave? Pulses include all of the following:

  • Black beans
  • Navy beans
  • Kidney beans
  • Lima beans
  • Azuki beans
  • Mung beans
  • Broad beans
  • Dried/split peas
  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Black-eyed peas
  • … plus many more lesser-known varieties – hundreds in all

There are numerous reasons to add pulses to your diet. High in fiber, low in calories, and containing practically no fat, cholesterol, or sodium – pulses boast a healthy nutritional profile. They are also rich in complex carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. Containing respectable amounts of protein, manganese, and folate, these plant-based foods provide crucial – and inexpensive – nutrition to people around the world. They are also high in zinc and iron, crucial elements for children and women who are at risk for anemia. Pulses may also help to reduce obesity, and may help prevent and manage chronic health conditions such as cancer, coronary heart disease, and diabetes.

But nutrition isn’t the only reason that the United Nations named 2016 the Year of Pulses. Food production is also key. Farming pulses has a positive effect on the environment. When grown, these special plants have nitrogen-fixing properties – which means that they increase soil fertility and play an important role in crop rotation. Pulses reduce the need for chemical fertilizer, creating a more sustainable farming system.

Finally, pulses help to improve food security because as dried seeds, they can be stored for a long period of time without weakening their nutritional profile. This increases food availability between harvests. Pulses are high-value crops when compared to grains, and can be sold for additional income. Many types of pulses can grow in dry areas with poor soil where other plants don’t flourish, and they can also be fed to animals as fodder.

For all of these reasons, the UN is trying to highlight pulses as a superstar on the world stage. Pulses are health-promoting, easy to grow, valuable to sell, and good for the environment.

According to Science World Report, the optimum amount of pulses to eat daily for maximum nutrition and weight-loss benefits is 160 grams, or approximately one cup. So aim to eat this amount if you are trying to lose weight. Add more peas, beans and chickpeas to your diet – and celebrate the International Year of Pulses!

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