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Pulses – good for your health, your figure and for nature

Pulses are indispensable in a vegetarian and vegan diet. But their valuable nutrients are interesting for everyone and have a positive effect on our health. Pulses are also very important in terms of climate-friendly nutrition.

Why are pulses so valuable for our health?

Pulses
Pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and beans are high-quality sources of protein and dietary fibre. Their protein content is two to four times higher than that of cereals or potatoes. The dietary fibre and protein make you feel full for a long time and slow down the rise in blood sugar. The fibres have a positive influence on our intestinal flora as well.
Pulses also provide valuable minerals and vitamins. They are important sources of vitamin B1 and B6, folate, iron, magnesium and zinc. The contents can vary depending on the variety. Chickpeas and lentils are particularly rich in iron and folate, while beans provide zinc and vitamin B1. To ensure that we have enough of everything, it is particularly important to consume a variety of pulses.
Studies suggest that regular consumption of pulses can have the following positive effects on our health:
  • Improved blood lipid levels
  • Improved blood glucose levels for those with diabetes
  • Lower risk of high blood pressure
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease

Can pulses replace animal protein?

Assorted beans on spoons
In general, animal protein is of a higher quality than the protein from pulses, with the exception of soy. But combining pulses with grains increases the quality of vegetable protein. Therefore, it makes sense to combine pulses with bread, rice or maize, because the protein building blocks in pulses and cereals complement each other perfectly.

How do I prepare dried pulses?

You can boil yellow and red lentils in water for 10 to 15 minutes until they are cooked. Other dried pulses such as chickpeas and beans need to be soaked for eight to twelve hours or overnight before cooking. This shortens their cooking time and removes phytic acid. Since this acid reduces the absorption of zinc and iron in the intestine, it is best to pour away the water after soaking. Then let the pulses simmer in fresh water for 45 to 60 minutes.
It is important to note that pulses must always be cooked before consumption. In their raw state they contain toxins such as lectins. These are destroyed during cooking.

Avoid pulses because of bloating?

Chickpeas and a red spice
No, you don’t have to! Pulses contain complex carbohydrates. These are broken down by bacteria that colonize our gut. The composition of the intestinal bacteria, also called intestinal flora, differs from person to person. For some, bacterial activity during the breakdown of pulses leads to the formation of gases, which causes flatulence. But there is good news: the intestinal flora adapts to our eating habits over time. Therefore, it is best to only eat small quantities of pulses at first and to increase the quantity gradually. This alters the composition of the bacteria in a positive way, reducing digestive problems.
Spices and herbs can also improve our tolerance of pulses. These include savory, fennel seeds, marjoram, aniseed or caraway.

Pulses are good for the climate

Pea pods
No artificial nitrogen fertilizers are used in the cultivation of pulses. This is because the plants bind nitrogen directly from the air. They also have a positive effect on the fertility and health of the soil.
Pulses are suitable sources of plant protein and offer a good alternative to animal foods. Sources of animal protein, such as meat, cheese or eggs, produce up to 15 times more greenhouse gas than pulses. Pulses therefore play an extremely important role in a sustainable diet.

Tips for eating more pulses daily:

  • Cook larger portions of pulses and use them creatively over several days. They are suitable as salads, side dishes or in soups.
  • For variety, use pasta made from pulses such as lentils or chickpeas.
  • Hummus made from beans and chickpeas tastes great as a spread or as a dip for vegetables. How about an edamame hummus, for example?
  • Lentil dal, chilli sin carne, pea curry, chickpea soup or falafel are practical for freezing and preparing for long working days.
  • Crispy chickpeas are delicious as a snack or as a topping for soups and salads.

Rebekka Gerber

Author:

Rebekka Gerber
Nutrition Unit at Coop