Pulses, seeds and nuts
Pulses, seeds, and nuts are all valuable sources of protein as well as being low in saturated fat and sodium and cholesterol-free. Inexpensive and versatile, these foods are nutritional gems.
In addition they are good sources of fibre, complex carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals, including B1, B2, niacin, folate, calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus (see What are Vitamins?).
The term “pulse” includes a huge range of peas, beans, and lentils (see image). They are important foods and have the advantage over animal proteins of being both inexpensive and versatile in how they are cooked, as well as being packed with nutrients.
Due to their high content of soluble fibre, pulses are believed to help reduce blood cholesterol levels. They also have a very low glycaemic index value, which means that their sugars are released relatively slowly into the bloodstream and do not cause sudden increases in blood glucose levels. This makes this group of foods particularly beneficial for anyone who has diabetes and for those at risk of developing this disease, such as people who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes.
Protein in seeds and nuts
Seeds are the embryo and food supply of new plants, whereas nuts are dried tree fruits that are contained within hard shells. Both seeds and nuts contain 10-25 per cent protein; they are both good sources of vitamins B1, B2, and E, the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron, and of fibre; and they are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Research shows that people who regularly eat nuts have a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. There are a number of possible explanations, in addition to the known benefits of unsaturated fat on cholesterol levels. For example, nuts are rich in arginine, an amino acid that boosts nitric oxide. This compound relaxes blood vessels and eases blood flow as well as making blood less likely to form clots.
Since the protein obtained from most plants lacks one or more of the amino acids that the body needs (essential amino acids), these sources of protein must be combined with a complementary plant-derived food or soya bean product in order to form complete protein. This is not an issue when animal proteins are also included in the diet, but it is important for vegetarians who eliminate most animal products from their diets. (see Is a vegetarian diet healthier?).
What is a serving?
- 3-4 tbsp cooked soya beans
- 3-4 tbsp cooked lentils
- 3-4 tbsp cooked chickpeas
- 3-4 tbsp cooked red kidney beans
- 3 tbsp sunflower seeds
- 3 tbsp sesame seeds
- 3 tbsp alfalfa seeds
- 3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
- 3 tbsp linseeds
- 3 tbsp almonds
- 3 tbsp macadamia nuts
- 3 tbsp Brazil nuts
- 3 tbsp pistachio nuts
- 3 tbsp hazelnuts
- 3 tbsp cashew nuts
Facts about soya beans
Soya beans supply nearly as many essential amino acids as animal proteins. They contain twice as much protein as other pulses and are a good source of vitamin A, the B vitamins, and the minerals calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron. They also contain large amounts of isoflavones, which are phytochemicals with beneficial health effects. Soya beans are processed into a wide variety of products, including:
- Soya milk: This has a fat content similar to semi-skimmed milk.
- Tofu: Available firm or silken, this can be used in smoothies, stir-fry dishes, soups, and burgers.
- TVP: In mince or chunk form, this has a chewy texture and nutty flavour. It can be used instead of meat in a variety of recipes.
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