Pulses are very high in fibre, containing both soluble and insoluble fibres. Soluble fibre helps to decrease blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels, insoluble fibre helps with digestion and regularity.
Besides fibre, pulses contain other complex carbohydrates such as slowly digestible starch which is digested completely in the small intestine. This happens at a slow rate meaning the body’s blood sugar levels are kept closer to normal.
Pulses are somewhat unique as a plant food because in addition to a high amount of fibre and complex carbohydrates, they usually contain about twice the amount of protein found in whole grain cereals like wheat, oats, barley and rice. Pulses have higher amounts of the essential amino acid lysine, whereas cereals have higher amounts of the essential amino acids methionine and cysteine. Therefore blending pulses with cereals or nuts results in a better quality protein that contains all essential amino acids in appropriate amounts, this is particularly important for people eating vegetarian or vegan diets.
The fat content of both dried peas and beans is virtually nil and they can encourage lower cholesterol levels. The low fat content leads to a lengthy shelf life of the product as they are naturally dry (low risk of moulds / microbial activity) and should not go rancid due to the lack of fat. Therefore peas can often be stored for a number of years in a cool dry environment.
Pulses provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals in a relatively low amount of calories. Some of the key minerals in pulses include iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc, they are also particularly abundant in B vitamins including folate, thiamin and niacin.
Low Glycemic Index
For a food that is high in carbohydrates, pulses have a low glycemic index which means they do not cause a fast rise in blood sugar after eating. Studies have shown that eating pulses is a good way to manage blood sugar levels which is particularly important for people with diabetes.
Pulses are available as whole seeds, and can also be turned into ingredients like flours, fibre, proteins and starches. Their versatility gives endless options to add more pulses to the diet and to meet the recommended weekly amounts of several important nutrients.
Many health organizations recommend eating pulses to maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Some carbohydrates in pulses cause bloating for some people, however eating pulses often allows your gut to adapt to the higher fibre and carbohydrates, decreasing these effects over time.
To reduce the effects of bloating it is recommended to eat small amounts of pulses, drink lots of water and gradually increase your intake. There are also a number of easy ways to significantly reduce the digestive discomfort that can occur from eating pulses:
- Change the soaking water once or twice during the long cold soak.
- Do not use the soaking liquid to cook the pulses.
- Cook pulses thoroughly as undercooked starch is harder to digest.
- Thoroughly rinse canned or pre-soaked pulses before cooking.