Pulses

Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They are a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they count towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

A pulse is an edible seed that grows in a pod. Pulses include all beans, peas and lentils, such as:

  • baked beans
  • red, green, yellow and brown lentils
  • black-eyed peas
  • garden peas
  • runner beans
  • chickpeas
  • broad beans
  • kidney beans
  • butter beans

Why eat pulses?

Pulses are a great source of protein.

This means they can be particularly important for people who do not get protein by eating meat, fish or dairy products.

However, pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat sauces to add extra texture and flavour. This means you can use less meat, which makes the dish lower in fat and cheaper.

Pulses are a good source of iron.

Pulses are also a starchy food and add fibre to your meal. The fibre found in pulses may help lower blood cholesterol, so they are good for your heart.

Pulses are often bought in tins. If you buy tinned pulses, check the label and try to choose ones that have no added salt or sugar.

Pulses and 5 A DAY

Pulses count as one of your five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables.

One portion is 80g, which is equivalent to around three heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses.

However, if you eat more than three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day, this still only counts as one portion of your 5 A DAY. This is because while pulses contain fibre, they don't give the same mixture of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients as fruit and vegetables.

This excludes green beans, such as broad beans and runner beans, which are counted as a vegetable and not a bean or pulse for 5 A DAY.

Learn more about 5 A DAY.

Cooking and storing pulses

Typically, pulses are bought in one of two forms:

  • tinned pulses
  • dried pulses

Tinned pulses have already been soaked and cooked, so you only need to heat them up or add them straight to salads if you're using them cold.

Dried pulses need to be soaked and cooked before they can be eaten.

Dried kidney beans and soya beans contain toxins, so it is important to ensure they have been cooked properly before you eat them.

Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse and how old they are, so follow the instructions on the packet or a recipe.

Cooking kidney beans

Kidney beans contain a natural toxin called lectin. This can cause stomach aches and vomiting. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Tinned kidney beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away.

When using dried kidney beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  • soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  • drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  • boil them vigorously for at least 10 minutes, then simmer the beans for around 45-60 minutes to make them tender

Cooking soya beans

Soya beans contain a natural toxin called a trypsin inhibitor. This can stop you digesting food properly. The toxin is destroyed by proper cooking.

Tinned soya beans have already been cooked, so you can use them straight away.

When using dried soya beans, follow these three steps to destroy the toxins:

  • soak the dried beans in water for at least 12 hours
  • drain and rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water
  • boil them vigorously for one hour, then simmer the beans for about two to three hours to make them tender

Storing cooked pulses

If you cook pulses and you aren't going to eat them immediately, cool them as quickly as possible and then put them in the fridge or freeze them.

As with all cooked foods, don't leave cooked pulses at room temperature for more than an hour or two because this allows bacteria to multiply.

If you keep cooked pulses in the fridge, eat them within two days.

It should be safe to keep pulses frozen for a long time, as long as they stay frozen. However, keeping food frozen for too long can affect its taste and texture. Follow the freezer manufacturer's instructions on how long certain types of food can be kept frozen.

Find out more about how to store food safely.

Page last reviewed: 30/04/2013

Next review due: 30/04/2015

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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

rb126 said on 12 February 2013

Or at least can we have sensible measuring volumes, like half a cup (125ml), five level tablespoons (75ml), etc., rather than these "heaped" things which vary hugely depending on the size/shape of our spoon!

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kpf said on 24 October 2011

Several questions:
Why exactly do "more than three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day" only count as one portion of fruit and vegetables, compared with green beans "which can count as more than one portion a day"? What do they not contain that green beans do?

Do different pulses have different nutritional merits?

How does quinoa compare (neither pulse nor cereal)?

Are there any warnings about cooking lentils and chickpeas?

Thanks

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rb126 said on 13 October 2011

I hate these "three tablespoons" recommendations. Is that three measuring tablespoons, levelled off? Is it heaped? Is it three typical "tablespoons" from the cutlery drawer?

Could we have a weight in grams for what one portion is, as well, please?

Thanks.

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