MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – Besides Valentines and increased talk of heart health in February, did you know that World Pulses Day is also celebrated on the tenth? Pulses, commonly mistaken as legumes, are a powerhouse in everyday nutrition. They are a healthy and affordable source of protein and carbohydrates, can improve cardiovascular health and add fun flavor to a healthy diet.
Though the terms legumes and pulses are often used interchangeably, the key difference is that a pulse is the edible seed of the legume plant. Examples include chickpeas, lentils and pinto beans. Pulses are rich in fiber, protein and micronutrients that include iron, potassium, magnesium and zinc. All of these nutrients help power our heart health.
“Pulses are fun foods that are not talked about enough. Sadly, these foods are not commonly found in most American pantries. There are thousands of pulse and legume varieties to try that will nourish our bodies, aid in digestion and even prevent heart disease,” said 1st Lt. Jacqueline Garcia, a registered dietitian and the assistant chief of Production and Service at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
In 2020, heart disease contributed to one in every five deaths in the United States. According to the Defense Health Agency’s Health of the Force Report, 10.8% of active duty Soldiers were diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or hypertension.
Cardiovascular disease results from a buildup of plaque on artery walls and makes blood flow difficult throughout the body. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, puts one at risk for heart disease, stroke, and heart attacks.
Fortunately, there are ways to improve cardiovascular health and reduce cardiovascular disease risk. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who consumed legumes four or more times per week had an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Though increasing our consumption of these foods sounds like an easy fix, only 8% of Americans eat pulses at least once a day. This shows that there is an opportunity for us to explore the power of pulses, and, fortunately, there are easy ways to add these foods in your meals.
“Pulses are inexpensive foods that are packed with high amounts of protein, fiber, and antioxidants,” said Garcia.
Not only are pulses healthy for our hearts but they are healthy on our wallets. The cost per serving of lentils is $0.10. In contrast, the cost per serving of beef and chicken is $1.49 and $0.63, respectively. On top of that, dried pulses have a longer shelf-life and retain their nutrients for up to three years, when stored properly. In comparison, beef and poultry do not hold up. The recommended refrigeration storage is 3 to 5 days. Freezer storage will give an additional 6-12 months, but that comes with the added cost of that electricity bill.
According to foodsafety.org, dried pulses should be stored away from light in an air-tight container. Cooked pulses should be stored in the refrigerator up to five days or up to six months in the freezer.
Dried beans require soaking one part to three parts water overnight. This simple step reduces cooking time and allows for easier digestion. According to the Cleveland Clinic, soaking beans for 12 hours reduces the gas-producing substances that cause flatulence. Note that dried lentils and split peas do not require soaking before cooking, and always remember that pulses double in size when cooked (i.e., ¼ cup dry will yield ½ cup cooked).
To reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and hypertension, try adding pulses to your daily meals or snacks. Pulses can be added to sweet and savory dishes. Simple bean dips are easy to prepare and are a great snack option. Examples include hummus, black bean dip and navy bean puree. Pulses are also a great addition to soups and stews, providing heartiness and flavor. Next time you make beef stew or chicken noodle soup, try adding lentils or chickpeas.
Don’t forget about dessert. Pulses provide a creative option to satisfy a sweet tooth. Bean purees can serve as egg binders in cookies, while pulse flours can add an additional boost of flavor and nutrients to cakes.
Support your heart and World Pulses Day this February by the using the power of pulses in your kitchen. Pulses are a delicious plant-based source of protein and carbohydrates that are heart and wallet friendly. Learning and exploring how to cook with pulses is exciting and serves as a great opportunity to improve cardiovascular health. Remember to help your heart this February and celebrate World Pulses Day by incorporating these delicious plant-based foods in your diet to power your body and prevent cardiovascular disease.
“Pulses are an excellent addition to any diet. These nutrient packed foods are easy to prepare and can brighten up any dish. Look out for pulses on your next grocery trip and see if you can incorporate them in any of your meals this month,” said Garcia.
For more pulse recipes, visit https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-kitchen/recipes and search pulses, beans, or legumes in your next recipe search. Try this recipe from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate site.
Chickpeas and Spinach Sauté
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 yellow onion (peeled and chopped)
- 1 clove garlic (peeled and minced) 1 celery stalk (chopped)
- 1 carrot (chopped)
- 1 can 14.5 ounce low-sodium diced tomatoes (including liquid)
- 1 can 16 ounce low-sodium chickpeas (drained and rinsed with cold water)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 package
- 10 ounce frozen spinach (kale can be used instead of spinach)
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (or red vinegar)
- 1/4 teaspoon Crushed red pepper flakes
- Put a skillet on the stove on medium high heat. When the skillet is hot, add oil.
- Add onion, garlic, celery and carrot and cook about 15 minutes until the mixture is soft and the onions are lightly browned.
- Raise the heat to high and add the tomatoes, beans (white beans instead of chickpeas) and water and cook for 5 minutes.
- Lower the heat to low and top the mixture with the spinach (don’t worry about stirring). Cover and cook until the spinach has thawed and heated throughout, about 10 minutes stirring well.
- Add the lemon juice and red pepper flakes and stir thoroughly.
- Serve with cooked quinoa or brown rice
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