It’s the Year of Pulses

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina MS, RD

portrait of Vesanto Melina

• The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has named 2016 the International Year of Pulses. Pulses are edible seeds that grow in pods – peas, beans, lentils. They are also known as legumes.

Pulses are packed with nutrients, especially B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc). Their high iron content is especially beneficial for women and children who might be at risk of anemia. They are a fantastic source of protein without the accompanying fat of animal products.

For people trying to control their weight, they can be a great way to keep blood sugar level while boosting protein intake. They have a low glycemic index due to excellent fibre content. Pulses are gluten-free and contain phytochemicals that are protective against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. One dietary feature of the longest-lived population groups in the world – Okinawa Japan, Sardinia, Italy and the Seventh-day Adventist vegetarians in Loma Linda California – is their regular consumption of pulses.

Pulses are important agriculturally as they are closely associated with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and thus play a key role in crop rotation and soil enhancement. In Canada, they are a very important crop as we are the largest exporter of lentils in the world.

Cooked lentils, beans and peas can easily be pureed and stirred into soups, stews and even sauces. It’s fine to use canned ones; nutrient content is retained. They not only add depth and flavour, but they also help thicken soups and stews to make them heartier and more nutrient-rich. If you are unaccustomed to eating pulses, start with smaller ones such as lentils – red, green, grey, French – in small amounts. Here are some very quick ways to boost your protein for the day:

Heat up a bowl of green peas (fresh or frozen).
Snack on fresh peas in the pod.
Add a pea-based protein powder to your smoothie.
Spread toast with peanut butter (peanuts are pulses).
Grab a handful of peanuts.
Serve tacos (see recipe).
Check out recipes at, and get gold medallist Ron Pickarski’s The Classical Vegetarian Cookbook,

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian.,, 778-379-5377.

Timesaving tacos

Makes 10 tacos; serves 3 to 5 people

This nutritious meal is almost instant. Just warm the shells and beans, chop the veggies and set out the colourful fillings in pretty bowls. If you prefer burritos, replace taco shells with soft tortillas. For mixed dietary choices, a meal of tacos is welcome as you can include non-vegan options such as grated cheddar. (Recipe from Becoming Vegetarian and from Cooking Vegetarian, Harper Collins)

10 taco shells
1 can vegetarian
refried beans
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 cup chopped tomato
1 carrot, grated
1 ripe avocado, chopped
1 cup salsa
1 cup grated non-dairy cheese (such as Daiya pepperjack)

Put the refried beans in a small pan and warm through (or heat in bowl in microwave). If the beans are too thick, mix in a tablespoon of water. Warm taco shells in a 250o F oven for 1-2 minutes, or in a microwave. Put the shells and beans, along with lettuce, tomato, carrot, avocado, salsa and cheese in serving bowls. Leftover fillings can be refrigerated in covered dishes and used at another meal.

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