2016. In Chinese circles, it’s known as the Year of the Monkey. In astrology circles, it’s known as the Year of Fire and Passion. In United Nations circles, it’s known as the Year of the Pulse. For those of you who may be as unfamiliar as I was with the term, a pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod (think beans, legumes, lentils).
While we’re still quite a ways from 2016, it’s never too early to get started on a good thing (especially since pulses grow spectacularly in summer gardens). After all, the Year of the Pulses can’t come quickly enough—pulses are the new wonder food. As the UN states, “pulses are a vital source of plant-based proteins and amino acids for people around the globe and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet to address obesity, as well as to prevent and help manage chronic diseases such as diabetes, coronary conditions and cancer.”
Nutritionally, these mighty pulses are overflowing with nutrients, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and healthy phytochemicals. A half-cup serving of lentils has more antioxidants than a serving of blueberries; lentils have more nutrients than beef, providing far more vitamins, minerals, protein, and fiber, and far less fat and fewer calories than beef. That’s hard to fathom. According to the CDC, high pulse consumption is linked to decreases in obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and anemia. A study of 10,000 US adults showed that those adults who ate pulses four or more times a week had a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease than those who ate pulses less than once a week. As I said, pulses are the new wonder food.
Environmentally, it’s hard to grow a more sustainable food crop than pulses. In contrast to raising and butchering farm animals, pulse crops consume far less water and land, require no antibiotics, and don’t release carbon emissions. Pulse crops can be grown in areas with very limited rainfall and don’t require any additional irrigation—those farmers in California should be salivating over pulse crops right about now. Even in contrast to other vegetable crops, pulse crops require just half the amount of non-renewable energy.
And, of course, it gets even better: growing pulse crops actually nourishes soil microbes and supports soil health. Pulse crops produce a lot of nitrogen, so the farmers who grow nutrient-hungry plants (tomatoes, peppers, corn, etc.) on the land which grew pulses the previous season require no fertilizer. In summary, the awesome nutritional power in each small serving of pulses means that limited amounts of land can produce high levels of dietary fiber, protein, and starch for each acre of planted pulses in the most environmentally sustainable way. It’s no wonder the UN wants to emphasize pulses, given our planet’s ongoing population and environmental crises. To address these problems, meat and chicken consumption has to decrease. Pulses are the new meat.
If you’re ready to kick-start your healthy eating plans, join in on Meatless Monday, or become an at-home vegetarian, pulses should become your new best friend. To facilitate you in your quest, we’ve provided one week of pulse-heavy, meatless, dinners below. We’ve tested and heartily approved each recipe. They’re all delicious.
Monday: Black-bean enchiladas
Tuesday: Egyptian red lentil soup or creamy red lentil soup
Wednesday: Tuna melts with one cup of navy or white beans mixed into the tuna
Thursday: Lentil and cauliflower tacos
Friday: Hummus, crackers, roasted red-peppers, olives, and cheese
Saturday: Salmon, edamame (Costco sells fabulous microwavable edamame), and broccoli
Sunday: Veggie Pizza (everybody needs a break from pulses every now and then)