If you don’t readily recognize the word “pulses,” or know it is the official name for the category of food that includes dry peas, chickpeas, beans and lentils, you’re not alone. In fact, most Americans have no idea what pulses are. But many of those same people likely have a can of chickpeas, a bag of dried lentils or some black beans lurking on the shelves of their kitchen cupboards. And now that the United Nations has officially declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, it’s only a matter of time before this pantry staple also becomes a household word.
Pulses, it turns out, have a lot going for them in terms of nutrition, sustainability and affordability. Here are the top five reasons to start including more of them in your diet.
They’re inexpensive. For just a few dollars, you can buy enough dried pulses to make several servings. The precooked, canned versions are slightly more expensive, but they’re still a bargain source of protein compared to the cost of meat.
They’ll help you lose weight. A study of people on a reduced-calorie diet showed that those who ate the most pulses (about a half-cup a day) lost four times more weight than those who ate the least (less than a tablespoon per day).
They’re versatile. Think beyond beans and rice or lentil soup. Pulses can be used in everything from dips and smoothies to main dishes — and even desserts.
They’re good for the planet. Pulses have a low carbon footprint and use significantly less water than other foods. For instance, while it takes only 43 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of pulses, a farmer will use 800 to 1,000 gallons of water to raise 1 pound of meat.
They’re high-protein, high-fiber foods. Just a half-cup of cooked pulses provides 9 grams of protein and 7 or more grams of fiber. They are also incredibly nutrient-dense — pulses pack high amounts of iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium and B vitamins. They even provide more antioxidants than much-touted antioxidant powerhouses, like berries and pomegranates.
Need more inspiration? Take the Pulse Pledge. When you sign up and commit to eating at least one serving of pulses per week for 10 weeks, you’ll receive information and recipes to help you find delicious new ways to use pulses.
Here are three recipes to help you incorporate pulses into your diet:
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.