Most of us can remember picking at our vegetables on the dinner plate and hearing our parents say that eating our peas and beans will make us strong and healthy. We all thought they were lying. However, on the nutritional value of peas and beans, our loved ones weren’t wrong.
Pulses, the edible seeds of leguminous plants (peas and beans) that are cultivated for both food for people and feed for animals, are considered to be heart healthy food options.
Research has shown that eating pulses is beneficial for overall health. They can lower blood cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and help with body weight management, which are all risk factors for developing heart disease. Pulses are known to be low in saturated and trans fats and high in soluble fibre which are all important for a heart healthy diet.
With February being observed as Heart Month, it’s good to showcase pulses and their relationship to heart health. Additionally, Friday (February 10) is observed as World Pulses Day, so what better way than to shed some light! This year, World Pulses Day is being observed under the theme, ‘Pulses for a Sustainable Future’.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), states that the day’s observation presents opportunities to raise public awareness about pulses and the crucial role they play in efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind. It is also important to note that the celebration of the day highlights two United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs): good health and well being as well as zero hunger.
BENEFITS OF PULSES
The FAO says you should include more pulses in your diet. We have highlighted a few that are mostly attributed to heart health.
1. Pulses are potassium-rich which means they support heart health and play an integral role in muscular and digestive functions.
2. They are naturally low in fat and contain no cholesterol. This can contribute to reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
3. The FAO states that pulses are often quoted among top high fibre foods. Being fibrous suggests that they support digestive health and help to reduce the risks of CVD.
4. Pulses are low glycaemic index foods. This means that they help to stabilise blood sugar and insulin levels, making them suitable for people with diabetes and ideal for managing weight.
5. Pulses are low in sodium. Sodium chloride, commonly called salt, is a contributor to hypertension and can be avoided by consuming foods with lower sodium levels such as pulses.
6. Pulses are a great source of plant-based protein.
INPUT FROM THE HFJ
Advocacy Officer of the Global Health Advocacy Project at the Heart Foundation of Jamaica (HFJ), Simeca Alexander-Williamson, expanded on and echoed some of the benefits of pulses to say that, “pulses contain a lot of fibre and are loaded with protein. The two main sources of protein come from foods from animals and leguminous plants. However, protein from animals is more likely to have a higher fat content. When it comes to peas and beans, pulses, or legumes, the fat content is low. As a result, consuming more pulses means a healthier source of protein,”
“That’s where vegans and vegetarians would get their main source of protein,” Alexander-Williamson added.
INCORPORATING PULSES USING THE MULTI-MIX PRINCIPLE
Alexander-Williamson applauded the traditional Jamaican diet based on its use of the multi-mix principle which means including three or more food groups in one meal.
“I think in Jamaica, we have incorporated pulses very well as we tend to use the multi-mix principle in our meals. For example, rice and peas with food from animals tends to be a common sight on our plates,” she said. “Other examples include stewed peas and peas soups. That is our traditional diet,” she continued.
Alexander-Williamson pointed out other ways in which pulses can be incorporated into our diets. She suggested making bean salads, bean stews, curried chickpeas, curried lentils or creating hummus from chickpeas and using it as a dip. She also suggested properly sauteed vegetables such as string beans or lima beans.
RECOMMENDATIONS IN USING PULSES
Alexander- Williamson cautions people against weakening the health benefits of pulses or legumes during meal preparation.
“Where we fall short is by using excessive salts and sugars. Diluting or reducing the health benefits is often done by adding unnecessary additives such as excessive salt, sugar, or sauces. For example, when having salads, people tend to douse their food with heavy ranch dressing. That defeats the purpose of having a healthy salad. Another example comes up where folks saute their vegetables in lots of butter (which tends to be high in salt). Just steam it with a bit of water and you’ll be good to go,” she said.
“You should also be steaming your vegetables al dente. There should be some amount of crunch to them after cooking,” she explains. “Otherwise, all the nutrients and vitamins will leach into the water or stock which many folks don’t use,” Alexander-Williamson urged.
In light of Heart Month, the HFJ urges everyone to do their part and check their heart to reduce or prevent the occurrence of heart disease.
“Know your numbers. Get your cholesterol levels, blood pressure and sugar levels checked. Engage in exercise and adjust your diet appropriately,” said Alexander-Williamson.
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