Im-PULSE-able Foods To Resist!

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The United Nation declared that 2016 is the Year of Pulses, while many people still don’t know what they actually are! The term “pulses” refer to the dried seeds of an ancient plant species that include legumes, beans, lentils, and chickpeas.

Ancient food across the globe

Pulses have been used in traditional cuisines around the world for centuries. Soups, spreads, snacks and breakfast items are only a few food items that come in mind, but there are many more ideas (1). In case you didn’t know, the common favourite snack dip, Hummus, is a blend of chickpeas (or other pulses) with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic.

The underappreciated crop

With nitrogen-fixation properties, pulse generate a sustainable harvest that leave behind nutrient rich soil for the next crop to grow while requiring very little water. Pulses also require half the nonrenewable energy inputs of similar crops , therefore, creating a low carbon footprint in the environment  (2).

We are packed full of nutrients!

While pulses are also low in fat and are gluten-free, they are high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and protein. They also provide a good source of Iron, Potassium, Magnesium, and certain B vitamins (folate, thiamin, and niacin) (3).


Pulses can help prevent and manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions and cancer (5). A 2014 meta-analysis shows that eating pulses reduce LDL-cholesterol levels, which can lower the risk of heart attack and stroke (4) because fibre binds to bile, a substance that helps digest fats and oils), which, pulls cholesterol out of the blood to produce more bile.  

Pulses have a low glycemic index meaning they do not cause a rapid increase in blood sugar after eating. Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest than simple carbohydrates, leaving you feeling fuller longer. This is a good way to help manage blood sugar levels for those  who are at risk for, or have diabetes.

Pulses as an alternative

As mentioned, pulses can help address obesity and coeliac disease (1). Having high protein content, the Canada Food Guide deems ¾ cup (175 mL) of cooked legume appropriate as a single serving of meat alternative.  If you are vegetarian, pulses are a good way to get protein in your diet.   Gluten-free pulses (dried peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas) are a great choice for those with any level of gluten intolerance (6).

As of now, there are no known cure to coeliac disease, so a strict gluten-free diet is the only way to manage the disorder.


Be Cautious!

Certain raw pulses are high in lectin, a carbohydrate-binding protein, where a  high dose is toxic to the body and prolonged exposure may damage our digestive systems. Without cooking, soaking, sprouting, and fermenting legumes,  the lectin can cause a “leaky gut” where unwanted substances may enter the bloodstream (7). The lectin can then interact with antibodies in blood and cause an autoimmune reaction where the immune system mistakenly starts attacking the body. Those who have an autoimmune disease should avoid consuming pulses.

As long as we prepare and cook pulses thoroughly, consuming them in moderate amounts are more beneficial than they are harmful.

Some carbohydrates in pulses produce gas and bloating, but consuming pulses often allows your gut to adapt, decreasing these effects over time (3).

Let it be a pulse of your life

By consuming pulses, not only are you benefitting from its high nutrient value but you are also making an impact in creating a more sustainable food system. Remember a healthy diet means eating in moderation and having a balance in a variety of foods. Speak with a dietitian to learn more about the ways you can incorporate pulses into your diet in a healthy, yet scrumptious way!


Written by Ariane Lai in collaboration with Renée Chan

Edited by Renée Y. Chan, MS, RD, RDN, CDN


  1. Sozer, N., Holopainen, U., & Poutanen, K. (2016). Traditional and new food uses of pulses. Cereal Chemistry Journal, doi:10.1094/CCHEM-04-16-0082-FI
  2. Pulses & Sustainability. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from
  3. Nutritional Benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from
  4. Ha, V., Sievenpiper, J., de Souza, R., Jayalath, V., Mirrahimi, A., Agarwal, A., & Jenkins, D. (2014). Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 186(8), E252-E262. doi:10.1503/cmaj.131727
  5. Suárez-Martínez, S. E., Ferriz-Martínez, R. A., Campos-Vega, R., Elton-Puente, J. E., de la Torre Carbot, Karina, & García-Gasca, T. (2016). Bean seeds: Leading nutraceutical source for human health. CyTA – Journal of Food, 14(1), 131-137. doi:10.1080/19476337.2015.1063548
  6. Pulses can help. (2012). Nutrition & Food Science, 42(2) doi:10.1108/nfs.2012.01742baa.007
  7. Hollander, D. (1999). Intestinal permeability, leaky gut, and intestinal disorders. Current Gastroenterology Reports, 1(5), 410-416. doi:10.1007/s11894-999-0023-5

About the author:

Ariane Lai is currently in her second year of Food, Nutrition, and Health degree at the University of British Columbia. Her interests include trying new cuisines and working with children and youths. She hopes to become a dietitian and spread the love that comes with food.

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