Check your pulse

This food is not only good for your health, it’s good for the environment, too.

Welcome to the international year of pulses. Each year the United Nations highlights a particular food’s benefits and this year, that honour goes to these miraculous seeds. Pulses are dried legumes (think chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans), and they’re powerful environmental allies. Pulses come from nitrogen-fixing plants that help boost soil fertility, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. They also require a lot less water to produce than other protein sources, such as meat.

Pulses are also a huge part of Canada’s agricultural sector. Canada is a major player in the global market, producing and exporting the most dried peas and lentils in the world to such countries as India, China and Turkey.

Not only are pulses good for the planet and the Canadian economy, but they are also delicious and excellent for your health.

Toronto-based registered dietitian Rosie Schwartz says pulses are packed with fibre, something most of us don’t get enough of. “A cup of lentils contains 16 grams of fibre. That’s half of what’s recommended on a daily basis,” she says. “The type of fibre found [in all pulses] lowers blood cholesterol, helps with blood sugar regulation and, because it’s soluble fibre, it also helps to keep you satisfied after a meal.” This fibre is also a prebiotic, she says, which stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria and fuels those good bugs, helping to maintain a healthy gut.

That same cup of lentils also has twice as much potassium as a small banana, she adds. “Potassium is a big part of the blood pressure puzzle, since it makes us less sensitive to sodium.” Pulses are also an excellent source of folate, which has been linked to a decreased risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer.

There are lots of ways to increase your pulse intake. Schwartz recommends making a salad with tuna, cherry tomatoes and white beans, and suggests boosting the healthiness of pasta sauce by blending in some canned chickpeas or kidney beans (be sure to drain and rinse them first to reduce the sodium). Make hummus or bean dip a regular snack (or give roasted chickpeas a go), and try baking or cooking with bean flour (you can create delectable savoury pancakes with it). Soups made with lentils or the oh-so-Canadian split-pea variety are also classic ways to eat pulses.

So go ahead and eat your beans. The planet and your body will thank you.