Beans and Pulses In Your Diet

Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They are a cheap,..

Beans and Pulses In Your Diet

Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They are a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

History of Pulses

“Pulse” is a derivation from the Latin words puls or pultis meaning “thick soup”, Pulse crops are small but important members of the legume family, which contains over 1,800 different species.  Pulse crops are the seeds of legumes that are used as food, and include peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas and faba beans.  

Evidence of cultivation of lentils has been found in the Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a village in Switzerland dating back to the Stone Age.  

Archaeological evidence suggests that peas were grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century.  

Pulses are an important source of protein, especially in developing countries.  Pulses provide about 10% of the total dietary protein consumed in the world and have about twice the protein content of most cereal grains.  

Pea crops

Pea crops were a leading production crop in eastern Canada at the turn of the century, with an average of 720,000 acres (288,000 hectares) grown each year from 1883 to 1902. Production in eastern Canada gradually declined; by 1970, only 82,000 acres were grown in all of Canada with about 70% of that production in Manitoba.  

Pulses did not play a significant commercial or economic role in Western Canada until the 1970s, when the wheat glut encouraged farmers to diversify into cash crops such as rapeseed (canola), lentils, peas and other specialty crops.

In addition, the registration of herbicides provided a method of weed control in previously uncompetitive pulse crops and the development of new, well-adapted varieties at the Crop Development Centre of the University of Saskatchewan, both of which have contributed to the commercial acceptance of pulse crops.

A pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod. Pulses include all beans, peas and lentils, such as:

  • baked beans
  • red, green, yellow and brown lentils
  • chickpeas (chana or garbanzo beans)
  • garden peas
  • black-eyed peas
  • runner beans
  • broad beans (fava beans)
  • kidney beans, butter beans (Lima beans), haricots, cannellini beans, flageolet beans, pinto beans and borlotti beans


Why eat pulses?

Pulses are a great source of protein.

This means they can be particularly important for people who do not get protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products.

However, pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to add extra texture and flavour. This means you can use less meat, which makes the dish lower in fat and cheaper.

Pulses are a good source of iron.

Pulses are also a starchy food and add fibre to your meal. Eating a diet high in fibre is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Pulses are often bought in tins. If you buy tinned pulses, check the label and try to choose ones that have no added saltor sugar.

Pulses and 5 A DAY

It’s recommended we get at least five daily portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables, and pulses count towards your 5 A Day.

One portion is 80g, which is equivalent to around three heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses.

However, if you eat more than three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day, this still only counts as one portion of your 5 A DAY. This is because while pulses contain fibre, they don’t give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables.

This excludes green beans, such as broad beans and runner beans, which are counted as a vegetable and not a bean or pulse for 5 A DAY.

Learn more about 5 A DAY.

Don’t let flatulence put you off pulses

Baked beans are renowned for their effect on the bowels. This is because beans contain undigestible carbohydrates. Soaking and rinsing dry beans before cooking, as well as rinsing canned beans in water, can help to reduce these hard to digest carbohydrates.

You shouldn’t let a bit of wind put you off eating pulses. People react differently to certain foods and may find that symptoms subside, especially if you increase your intake gradually.

Cooking and storing pulses safely

Typically, pulses are bought either tinned or dried.

Tinned pulses have already been soaked and cooked, so you only need to heat them up or add them straight to salads if you’re using them cold.

Dried pulses need to be soaked and cooked before they can be eaten.

Dried kidney beans and soya beans contain toxins, so it is important to ensure they have been cooked properly before you eat them.

Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse and how old they are, so follow the instructions on the packet or a recipe.

How to prepare dried chickpeas

Chickpeas cooked from scratch tend to be firmer in texture and are a fraction of the cost of canned. Here’s how to prepare chickpeas.

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl. Pour over enough cold water to cover completely. Set aside overnight to soak.

After soaking, transfer the chickpeas to a colander to drain. Remove and discard any discoloured chickpeas.

To cook, place the drained chickpeas in a saucepan and cover with plenty of fresh cold water. Simmer until plump and tender.

Cooking kidney beans safely

Kidney beans contain a natural toxin called lectin. This can cause stomach aches and vomiting. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Tinned kidney beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away.

When using dried kidney beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  • soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  • drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  • boil them vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then simmer the beans for around 45-60 minutes to make them tender


Cooking soya beans safely

Soya beans contain a natural toxin called a trypsin inhibitor. This can stop you digesting food properly. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Tinned soya beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away.

When using dried soya beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  • soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  • drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  • boil them vigorously for one hour, then simmer the beans for about two to three hours to make them tender


Storing cooked pulses

If you cook pulses and you aren’t going to eat them immediately, cool them as quickly as possible and then put them in the fridge or freeze them.

As with all cooked foods, don’t leave cooked pulses at room temperature for more than an hour or two because this allows bacteria to multiply.

If you keep cooked pulses in the fridge, eat them within two days.

It should be safe to keep pulses frozen for a long time, as long as they stay frozen. However, keeping food frozen for too long can affect its taste and texture. Follow the freezer manufacturer’s instructions on how long types of food can be kept frozen.

Beans taste better cooked in advanced

Beans taste better if cooked a day ahead, but they should be refrigerated to avoid becoming sour. When cooked, they can be frozen. Store cooked beans, covered, for up to four days in your refrigerator. Cooked beans can be frozen up to 6 months.

Beans (soaked)


Pressure Cooker
at 15 Lb. Pressure

Black Beans1 to 1½ hours
5 to 8 Min.
Garbanzo Beans1 to 1½ hours5 to 7 Min.
Great Northerns1 to 1½ hours5 to 7 Min.
Lima Beans, Large45 to 60 minutesNot Recommended
Lima Beans, Baby
1 hourNot Recommended
Navy or Small Whites1 to 1½ hours5 to 8 Min.
Pink Beans1 to 1½ hours6 to 8 Min.
Pinto Beans1 to 1½ hours5 to 7 Min.
Red Beans1 to 1½ hours6 to 8 Min.
Red Kidney Beans1 to 1½ hours5 to 8 Min.
Soybeans3 hours12 to 15 Min.
Beans (not soaked)SaucepanPressure Cooker*
Black-Eyed Peas1 to 1½ hoursNot Recommended
Lentils30 to 45 minutesNot Recommended
Split Peas, Green30 to 45 minutesNot Recommended

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Daniel Messer, RNutr, CPT

We eat clean, are always motivated and helpout beginners in need. We sell guides on Cutting, Bulking and Muscle Building. Checkout our website!

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