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Beans, Legumes, Pulses: Everything You Wanted to Know Part 1

Updated on December 9, 2012

What are beans, legumes and pulses?

Beans, peas and lentils combined with grains are the prime protein source in many countries of the world. They have the highest concentration of vegetable protein and twice that of grains. So, what are they? Pulses are the dried edible seeds of the legume plant. The term legumes is commonly used to describe beans, peas and lentils as a group.


Why eat legumes?

With all the facts and information available about the benefits of fibre, legumes, in particular beans, provides a source of insoluble fibre.  Fibre is good for the digestive tract, intestines, weight management and as a preventative measure against constipation.  Legumes take a long time to digest which helps to suppress appetite in a natural way.  The result helps in maintaining and controlling weight.  In addition to these benefits, legumes are gluten-free and are ideal for celiac and gluten free diets.  Also, there is evidence that regular bean eaters have lower blood pressure.

But they’re not a whole protein, so what do I do to make sure that I consume whole proteins?

Legumes are not a whole protein, but when combined with grain, seeds or nuts, they make a complete protein. Grains, seeds and nuts are also incomplete proteins, but by coupling two incomplete proteins, we gain a whole protein. It has been found that the body uses incomplete protein more efficiently when it is teamed with a complete protein such as dairy products, eggs, meat or fish.

Buying and Finding Legumes

Legumes come in three forms: dried, pre-packaged and canned. It is easy to locate the items in supermarkets, bulk food stores, health food stores, specialty shops and on-line.

The most common are canned beans and lentils. They are found in all supermarkets as well as health food stores and specialty stores. Canned varieties are the most convenient as they are ready to use once you open the can. I generally do not use canned goods as there is the potential for high salt content and preservatives.

Instead, I purchase dried beans and lentils, and carefully organize the preparation of the meal in advance alloting the necessary time to prepare the beans and peas. I prefer to soak the beans overnight, allowing the opportunity for the beans to absorb the maximum amount of water. This makes it easy to spot beans that have not swelled which is an indication that they are not edible and are are discarded.

There are a few things to consider when you are buying beans and lentils. When buying dried legumes and pulses, choose a popular and reputable vendor. This helps to ensure that the stock is sold and refilled frequently and ensures the product is fresh. It is natural to have a few cracked beans, but if there is an excessively large amount of cracked and shrivelled beans, avoid purchasing them. These are old and they are nearly impossible to soften even by soaking and simmering. Whether buying in bulk or in pre-packaged form, inspect the product carefully before purchasing as you would any product.

There are so many varieties. What are they and how do I use them?

There are many varieties on the market shelves, and each type has its own identifying markings. In the next instalment: Beans, Legumes, Pulses, Everything You Wanted to Know Part 2, I will review some of the more common types of beans, lentils and peas.



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