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Beans and pulses in your diet - Eat well

Beans and pulses

Pulses include beans, lentils and peas. They're a cheap, low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and count towards your recommended 5 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
  • chickpeas (chana or garbanzo beans)
  • garden peas
  • black-eyed peas
  • runner beans
  • broad beans (fava beans)
  • kidney beans, butter beans (lima beans), haricots, cannellini beans, flageolet beans, pinto beans and borlotti 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.

But pulses can also be a healthy choice for meat-eaters. You can add pulses to soups, casseroles and meat dishes 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. Eating a diet high in fibre is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

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

It's recommended we get at least 5 portions a day of a variety of fruit and vegetables, and pulses count towards your 5 A Day.

One portion is 80g, which is equivalent to around 3 heaped tablespoons of cooked pulses.

But if you eat more than 3 heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses in a day, this still only counts as 1 portion of your 5 A Day.

This is because while pulses contain fibre, they do not 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: what counts?

Do not let flatulence put you off pulses

Baked beans are renowned for their effect on the bowels. This is because beans contain undigestible carbohydrates.

Soaking and rinsing dry beans before cooking, as well as rinsing canned beans in water, can help to reduce these hard to digest carbohydrates.

You should not let a bit of wind put you off eating pulses. People react differently to certain foods and you may find that symptoms subside, especially if you increase your intake gradually.

Cooking and storing pulses safely

Typically, pulses are bought either tinned or dried. 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. They can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. It's important they're soaked overnight and then cooked properly before you eat them.

Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse. Follow the instructions on the packet.

You should not slow-cook dried red kidney beans as it does not destroy the toxin and may increase its toxicity.

Find out how to store food and leftovers

Page last reviewed: 26 July 2021
Next review due: 26 July 2024