What are pulses? Linked to multiple health benefits, legumes include dried beans, lentils and peas. Here are 12 ways to include them in your diet today along with a collection of delicious legume recipes.
From beans in your chili pot to chickpeas in your salad, it’s a great idea to include a variety of healthy, sustainable, delicious, affordable legumes in your diet more often. You can gain multiple nutritional and health benefits, reduce your environmental footprint and food costs, and save time in the kitchen with a few helpful tips. I answer your top questions about legumes, as well as providing my best tips and recipes for including more legumes in your healthy lifestyle.
What are pulses?
You may have heard this term recently, but it’s actually nothing new. Legumes are defined as the dried edible seeds of the legume family, including dried beans, lentils and peas. Some examples of popular legumes included chickpeas, lima beans, black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and pinto beans, although there are many more varieties available. Legumes they have been a staple crop for humans since the beginning of time. Our early ancestors first learned to collect these edible seeds in the wild while hunting for food and later began to cultivate them during the first forms of agriculture. Legumes have been found in caves in Thailand and in Egyptian tombs dating back about 11,000 years. In fact, almost every culture has pulse as a cornerstone of their traditional diet. Legumes are grown in 173 countries around the world and everywhere in the United States except Alaska. Different regions around the world have developed unique ways to enjoy legumes—from Peruvian lima bean dishes to Swedish pea soup to classic Middle Eastern hummus. Learn more about pulses here.
Pulse Nutrition and Health Benefits
Legumes are high in essential nutrients, including protein, fiber, antioxidants, iron, potassium and folate – all of which provide short- and long-term health benefits. These health benefits include getting the energy you need to power through your day, digesting food properly, and maintaining a healthy weight. Studies have shown that heart-healthy legumes may reduce the risks of heart disease, as well as obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. No wonder health experts recommend including legumes in your diet at least a few times a week.
Pulses and the planet
In addition to their rich nutritional profile, legumes play an important role in the sustainability of our planet. They have a low carbon, water and land usage footprint, are a natural fertilizer for the soil and are cost effective at only about 10 cents per serving. These easy-to-grow, versatile foods can be stored for long periods of time, whether they’re canned, frozen, or dried, making them handy when you’ve had a busy day and don’t have time to prepare food. Since they have a long shelf life, you can also minimize your trips to the grocery store.
Top 12 Ways to Include Legumes in Your Diet
So how can you get more legumes into your diet? Check out my top 12 ways to increase your legume intake in a variety of fun, tasty and healthy ways.
1. Wake Up to Beans
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not start your morning with a hearty breakfast full of protein? You can serve beans with a side of whole-wheat toast, an English muffin, or fries to add healthy carbs for the energy you need to get you through the day. Add some veggies and healthy fats and you’re good to go!
2. Snack to your heart’s content
Who said snacks can’t be packed with nutrients? One of my favorite snacks is chips and bean dip, so I really like to whip up homemade refried beans with a side of baked tortilla to feel full and satisfied. It’s also a great addition to your Taco Tuesday.
3. Whiz Them Up
Did you know you can blend legumes into a delicious spread? You can take almost any type of cooked bean, lentil or pea and puree it in a blender to create an earthy spread to serve on toast or sandwiches. Enjoy bean spread as a snack with veggies or whole grain crackers, breakfast on toast, even a quick veggie sandwich. Bean spreads are packed with protein and fiber and are super easy to make. Store your bean spread in a container in the fridge for easy-to-use solutions for a jam-packed day.
4. Bowl’em Over
Veggie bowls are my absolute favorite meals for lunch and dinner. There is an endless variety of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and sauces that you can include to have a healthy, well-balanced meal. All you need to do is layer a base of cooked whole grains and legumes like chickpeas, lentils or black beans. seasonal vegetables (try broccoli, cabbage or tomatoes) and a flavorful sauce (tahini is my favorite) and dig in. Also ideal for meal preparation.
5. Hummus Everything
The next time you’re looking for a salty snack that will satisfy your cravings and provide the nutrients your body needs, try making your own hummus. It goes so well with veggies, pies, sandwiches, whole grain crackers and cereal bowls. There are also many ways to flavor hummus to add flavor, including sun-dried tomato, cilantro, avocado, pumpkin, and more!
6. Dejeuner with Beans
Legumes are great for lunch too! Try adding beans, lentils and peas to salads, meal bowls and appetizer wraps. Canned beans offer an easy way to sprinkle a pulse of love into your lunches. Make a pot of delicious bean or lentil soup and heat it up for lunch during the week.
7. Get to Baking with Beans
Did you know you can create a delicious, healthy, plant-based dessert with a can of chickpeas or black beans? The liquid from a can of legumes, such as chickpeas, is referred to as aquafaba, which can be beaten to create an egg substitute. In addition, you can blend the beans and add them to the batter of blondies, brownies or bars for a creamy batter. And you can’t even tell!
8. Make chickpea love
Chickpeas are all the rage these days. So take full advantage of love. You can eat them grilled or mixed into salads, casseroles, pasta dishes, paella, tagine and more! If you’re going to school, work or traveling, try making a delicious chickpea salad in a jar to go. All you have to do is open a can of chickpeas and layer them together with leafy greens, vegetables and a flavorful, refreshing vinaigrette.
9. Turn to Comfort and Retro Foods
We all love comfort food, right? And so many classic, retro, comfort meals include the humble pulse. From chili to tamales and veggie pies, you can enjoy even the heartiest of meals with beans, lentils, and peas. Try sautéing your favorite veggies, tossing them with legumes, topping them with a sage-infused pastry dough, and popping them in the oven for an unforgettable meal (shown above).
10. Warm up with hearty soup and stews
Nothing beats a warm, comforting, nourishing soup. You can make it rich with spices, add your favorite seasonal vegetables and – of course – beans. Then serve it with a side of whole wheat bread and or a salad, and you have a simple, inexpensive, plant-based meal that the whole family will enjoy.
11. Grab your Instant Pot or Slow Cooker
Want to save time? Simply pour dried beans into your Instant Pot with liquid, press the button, and you’ll be rewarded with perfectly baked beans in minutes. You can get more creative by adding flavors and spices like turmeric, cumin and chili to a chickpea curry. Alternatively, soak your dried beans, throw them in a slow cooker with various vegetables and spices to create an amazing chili or stew.
12. Go Global
Legumes are enjoyed in traditional diets around the world, so cultivate your appreciation for beans, lentils and chickpeas. In this way, you will infuse your dish with color, taste, textures and flavors. Try mofongo, falafel, bean soup, chana masala, tabbouleh, Greek salad with butter beans and apricot chickpeas for a taste of legume dishes from around the world.
See more of my favorite pulse recipes here: