Here are 10 things you may not know about pulses.
Pulses (or legumes):
- fuel your body with protein
- are cheap
- are good for the environment – protein from crops to stomach
- are low-fat, full of fibre, vitamins and minerals (including iron)
- count as 1 of your 5 a day
- are versatile and delicious
- go down well with children (think baked beans…)
- have been part of indigenous diets for millennia
- can be cooked so they aren’t so ‘musical’ (the wind…)
- keep you fuller for longer and are low GI so you have a sustained release of energy
My last blog focussed on how important protein was for the body and the importance of having enough of it each day to keep up with body maintenance. I also mentioned how we often equate protein with meat but actually, there are many great sources of non-meat protein. Pulses are one of these and have the advantage that they are lighter on digestion (which means our food gets digested, absorbed and used well without clogging us up with toxins).
The diets that spring to mind when we think of as healthy are often ones such as the Mediterranean and Japanese diets. These traditional healthy diets place a lot of emphasis on vegetables and grains, with moderate fish or white meat intake and, you guessed it, pulses. In a study published in The Lancet (Global Health) earlier this year, it was the poorer countries which had the healthiest diets. These traditional diets, with more emphasis on fresh vegetables and pulses with less meat and processed foods, give us an indication of where we need to return to in our dietary choices.
What are pulses?
Also known as legumes, pulses are the edible seeds of leguminous plants. They are either peas, beans or lentils.
Types of pulses
There are pulses from all round the world; with many variations in the way they are cooked – from curries to stews, dips to soups.
Pulses tend to be astringent in taste and dry and light. Astringent is one of the 6 tastes of Ayurveda, the one which is often lacking in our diets. Mung beans and red lentils are good for all doshas but the other pulses may aggravate vata if eaten in excess or without adding digestive spices and oil.
*Qualities and doshic effects taken from Bhavaprakasha and Vasant Lad.
**Bhavaprakasha has the properties of pigeon pea as opposite to those of Lad. This could be a difference between split versus whole, or the difference between the oily and the dry version. These properties listed here are from Bhavaprakasha.
*** Bhavaprakasha has different properties of kidney beans to Lad. These properties are from Bhavaprakasha.
Cooking pulses – how to reduce the ‘music’
Most people think of wind when they think of pulses, and sometimes rightly so. There are quite a few pulses which increase vata, which essentially equates to increasing wind.
There are two main factors which can reduce this effect. One is acclimatisation: if we gradually increase the amount of pulses in our diets, starting with a small amount, taking care to have plenty of fluids, our gut gets used to them and digests them better. The second is to follow a few simple tips in how we cook our pulses.
To reduce the wind-making propensity of the vata-increasing pulses (most apart from mung beans, red lentils and urad dal), follow these tips:
- SOAK CORRECTLY. Always soak pulses according to the instructions on the packet. Soaking not only starts the rehydration process but also helps remove the components which can make them difficult to digest. If the soaking time is long, change the water once or twice. Do not use the soaking water to cook the pulses. Use a 3:1 water:pulse ratio. Generally lentils and most split pulses don’t require soaking whereas other whole pulses do. If you want to be very thorough and/or you suffer from lots of wind with pulses, pour hot or boiling water over the pulses, drain and repeat, three times in an hour and then leave to soak. If you haven’t remembered to soak the pulses, bring them to the boil for 2 minutes, leave for 1 hour to soak (if you have time, you can even skip this step), tip out the water, reboil again with fresh water.
- COOK THOROUGHLY. Cook the pulses thoroughly, as undercooked pulses are more difficult to digest.
- COMBINE WITH HERBS, SPICES AND OIL. Always eat pulses with plenty of culinary herbs and spices to help digest them (especially hing – asafoetida, ajwain and fennel . Others such as cumin, coriander, fresh ginger etc also help). Make sure there is plenty of healthy oil in the recipe or added afterwards as this also mitigates the vata (saturated oils such as ghee or coconut oil or unsaturated ones such as virgin sesame or olive).
- ADD A PIECE OF KELP. Add a piece of kelp to the boiling pulses and then throw away afterwards. The kelp helps absorb the components which causes a lot of the gas.
Other pulse cooking tips
- DON’T ADD SALT UNTIL THE END. Do not add salt until the end of cooking pulses. Salt will prevent the inside of the pulses from becoming tender as it toughens the skins. Acid ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegar (neither of which come highly recommended in Ayurveda!) also have the same effect. Other seasonings such as garlic, onion, ginger, herbs and spices may be added to the cooking water right from the beginning.
- SKIM. Skim off the white scum that floats on the surface with a slotted spoon.
- KIDNEY AND SOYA BEANS: boil vigorously for ten minutes at the beginning of cooking to destroy toxins.
- RINSE. If using canned pulses, drain and rinse thoroughly in cold water before using.
- AVOID BAD FOOD COMBINATIONS. Ayurveda recommends avoiding certain food combinations to enable our digestion to work at its best and to avoid creating toxins in the digestive system. Don’t combine pulses in the same meal with eggs, milk, yoghurt, cheese, meat or fish. If you want to have dairy with your pulses to increase protein consumption, eat them at different meals in the day.
- GET FULL PROTEIN. To get the full requirement of protein in any 24 – 48 hour period, you will need to have grains (especially whole grains) or nuts and seeds as well as the pulses within that period. To understand more about proteins, read here.
Pulse recipe ideas
Some of The Ayurveda Practice Recipes
Cleansing mung bean soup with steamed green vegetables
Pinto beans & spinach with brown rice
Roasted vegetables & homemade hummus (it really is simple and quick!)
Pesto beans (cannellini beans with home-made non-dairy pesto) with vegetables, potatoes
Green lentil and vegetable curry with brown rice
Any bean sprout recipe such as stir fries, pad thai etc are great too.
Warm Salad of Tenderstem Broccoli and Chickpeas
Don’t use the chillis.
Spicy lentils and chickpeas
Use ghee, coconut oil or olive oil to cook this with (here’s why). Don’t add the chilli powder.
Spicy lentil and spinach salad
Don’t add the chilli flakes. Use tamari rather than soy sauce (here’s why). Make sure the honey is cold-extracted, not heated (as heating honey makes it lose it’s healthy benefits and even becomes toxic).
Roasted cauliflower and lentil salad with red pepper sauce
Don’t use the chilli flakes.
Mediterranean bean stew with potato griddle cakes
Try making this without the chopped tomatoes. You can always add red pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice to get a similar effect.
Mustard and butterbean pâté with garlic toasts
Use spelt bread, preferably sourdough with this – yum, yum.
Enjoy playing with pulses.
Until next time, take care of yourselves.
Author: Kate Siraj, Ayurvedic Practitioner, BSc Ayurveda, MChem (Oxon), MAPA.
© The Ayurveda Practice
 Researchers at the St. Michael’s Hospital Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of available clinical trials. They found that people who consume one serving of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils per day felt 31 per cent fuller than those who followed a controlled diet.