Get Powered With Pulses

Sharon Palmer

Throughout history, humans relied on pulses—mature, dried seeds from pods, including beans, peas, and lentils—for sustenance. First, our early ancestors gathered these edible seeds in the wild in their hunt for food, and later they began cultivating them during the earliest forms of agriculture. Pulses have been found in caves in Thailand and Egyptian tombs dating back some 11,000 years. In fact, nearly every culture has a pulse in its traditional diet. They’re grown in 173 countries around the world and everywhere in the United States except Alaska. Different regions around the globe have developed unique ways to enjoy pulses—from Mexico’s pinto bean frijoles to French lentil salads to Greece’s herb- and olive oil-infused giant beans.

One of the reasons pulses have become such a backbone of cultural diets is their rich nutrient cache. Many consider pulses to be one of nature’s most perfect foods. One-half cup contains at least 20% DV for fiber, folate, and manganese; at least 10% DV for protein, potassium, iron, magnesium, and copper; and 6% to 8% DV for selenium and zinc; as well as phytochemicals such as alkaloids, flavonoids, saponins, tannins, and phenolic compounds.

In fact, pulses are a part of the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, specifically recommended among a subgroup of vegetables (1 to 2 cups per week for adults) as well as the protein group, where 1/4 cup of cooked pulses can replace 1 oz of protein. More importantly, they’re part of all three dietary patterns recommended in the dietary guidelines: Mediterranean, Vegetarian, and US Healthy style eating patterns. It’s no wonder they’re highlighted there, since research shows that regular consumption of these wholesome plant foods offers an array of benefits, including lower cholesterol and body weight levels; lower risk of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer; and higher intakes of fiber.

In addition, pulses are good for the planet. They have a low carbon and water footprint, are a natural fertilizer because they fix nitrogen in the soil, and are economical, costing only about 10 cents per serving. With so many reasons to recommend these nutrient-rich plant foods to clients, what are you waiting for?

Help Clients Include Pulses in Meal Planning
Offer the following tips to help clients include pulses in every meal.

  • Tout pulses as the perfect gluten-free, nutrient-rich, high-fiber alternative    for meal planning for clients who must avoid gluten for medical reasons. Suggest clients use them as a side dish or even in baking to replace gluten-containing grains.
  • Turn to pulses for vegetarian meal options    for those who want to try Meatless Monday, go vegetarian, or simply introduce more plant-based meals during the week. Pulses can take the place of animal protein on the plate in dishes like dal (Indian curry with lentils), chili, bean burritos, red beans and rice, and lentil soup.
  • Recommend pulses for budget-friendly meals.  Planning a meal or two around pulses every week can offer nutrient-rich, low-saturated-fat, high-fiber meal options for families on a budget.
  • Familiarize clients with cooking techniques for dried pulses,    such as presoaking, the quick soak method, using a slow cooker, and pressure cooking.
  • Focus on canned beans as an easy alternative.   Clients can stock canned beans in the pantry to use in salads, stews, soups, casseroles, and pasta dishes.
  • Celebrate heritage beans.   Experiment with unusual varieties, such as rattlesnake beans or eye of the goat beans as a unique way to offer an array of textures, colors, and flavors to dishes.

Pulses can be incorporated into all meal occasions as well as snacks and even desserts. Suggestions include the following:

  • Breakfast:   Include in breakfast burritos, English baked beans, huevos rancheros, and lentil porridge.
  • Lunch:   Sprinkle in green, pasta, and grain salads; serve in wraps or falafel sandwiches; stir into bean or lentil soups; or include in bean tacos or tostadas.
  • Dinner:   Use pulses in veggie burgers, baked bean dishes, cassoulets, lentil loaves or patties, jambalaya, beans and rice, chickpea pancakes, or Indian curries.
  • Snacks:   Options include roasted chickpeas, in hummus, bean dips, and pulse crackers.
  • Baking and Desserts:   Pulse flours can be used in breads, muffins, waffles, pancakes, cookies, and bars. Purée cooked pulses to stir into batters, such as muffin or cookie batter. And use aquafaba (bean liquid) to replace eggs in baked goods. Just whip the reserved liquid from canned or cooked beans until thick and use it as a replacement for beaten eggs.


  1. Geil PB, Anderson JW. Nutrition and health implications of dry beans: a review.   J Am Coll Nutr. 1994;13(6):549-558.

Image: French Lentil Salad with Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes from Plant-Powered for Life by Sharon Palmer, RDN.

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