If you’re an avid Indian food orderer, love swinging by a falafel joint on your way home from work (or the bar), or can’t wait for cold weather so you can make your famous chili, you’re eating superfoods way more often than you think. How do we know? Because you’re eating pulses. We’re talking about chickpeas, lentils, dry peas, and beans—or, if we’re getting technical on you, the dry, edible seeds of plants in the legume family.
The Beat on Pulses
If you think the word pulse sounds weird, remember when you couldn’t pronounce quinoa or when you felt like a dinosaur while eating kale for the first time? Well, just like those foods are now part of your everyday diet (and vocab), pulses soon will be too. The United Nations declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses to help raise awareness for this sustainable, affordable, and versatile superfood. And pulses definitely deserve that title—they’re loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Still not convinced? Here are 11 facts about pulses that prove great things really do come in small packages.
1. Protein Packed
We know quinoa is regarded for its protein content, but lentils actually deliver twice the amount of protein per serving than quinoa. According to the USDA, you’ll get 9 grams of protein from 1/2 cup of cooked lentils and only 4 grams from 1/2 cup of quinoa. Who knew?!
2. Fiber FTW
You probably already know the average bean has decent fiber content, but pulses actually have three times more fiber than brown rice. We don’t just love fiber for helping us go to the loo—a diet rich in it can lower your risk of heart disease.
3. Full of Iron
Think you can’t get enough iron from plant foods? Think again. One half-cup serving of black beans contains more iron than a 3-ounce flank steak. Vegetarians, we bet you’re happy to hear this. Pair with foods high in vitamin C like broccoli or red peppers, which will help your body absorb the iron.
High in plant-based protein and fiber, pulses (beans, lentils, chickpeas, and dry peas) are nutritious powerhouses. They’re easy to add into weeknight meals and on-the-go lunches. Sign up for the Half-Cup Habit challenge to eat a half cup serving of pulses three times per week for better health. For recipes, shopping lists, and lots of inspiration, go to pulses.org.
4. Your New Source of Potassium
When we say potassium, you probably immediately think of bananas. But time to think of something a little smaller and a little less sweet: dry peas! These little guys contain just as much, if not more, potassium than your favorite yellow fruit. Another reason to praise those spilt pea soups we slurp on all winter.
5. Antioxidant Abundant
You can stop relying solely on dark berries and pomegranate juice for your daily dose of antioxidants. Red kidney beans have a good amount as well, so pile those on at the salad bar.
6. Naturally Sodium- and Gluten-Free
Most canned versions have added salt, but if you buy dry or frozen versions, there’s typically no sodium at all. But of course we aren’t saying to never add salt. That would just be impossible. Oh, and they are gluten-free, but you probably already knew that.
7. Environmentally Friendly
While you eat your seventh scoop of hummus, you can be happy to know you’re contributing to the demand for food that does some good for our world. Pulses have a lower carbon footprint than almost any other food group with the ability to enrich the soil and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers. This is probably why pulses are hailed as one of the most sustainable proteins in the world.
8. Water Saver
Pulses need only one-tenth the amount of water to grow, as compared to other proteins. And they are drought and frost resistant, so they can basically withstand the apocalypse.
9. Super Affordable
Pulses are one of the most affordable proteins around the world. According to data from The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost for a serving of lentils is $0.10, as compared to $1.49 for a serving of beef, $0.73 for a serving of pork, or $0.63 for a serving of chicken. Multiply that by four for the standard family size, then again by seven for the nights of the week, and that’s saving you… well, let’s just say it’s a lot of extra cash in your pocket.
10. Weight-Loss Winner
If you’re hoping to lose a couple pounds or just want to stick to your current weight, research says that including pulses in your diet may lead to weight loss. We’ll take a second serving of pulses, please! And can we have that brownie made from black beans too?
11. Bean, Beans, They’re Good for Your Heart
And they’re good for everything else too. A recent observational study found people who consumed beans ate more nutrients overall and had lower body weights and blood pressure than non-bean eaters.
We’ll let you go so you can get to the store (or FreshDirect) and start adding pulses to your grocery cart. If you’re not sure where to begin, these recipes will get you started. Or you can get creative in the kitchen with these healthier swaps (seriously, you can use black beans or chickpeas instead of flour in tons of baked goods).