Beans, pulses, nuts and seeds

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.

Types of pulses

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

Reasons to 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 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 'five a day'

Pulses count as one of your five recommended daily portions of fruit and vegetables. One portion is 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. This is because we need a variety of fruit and vegetables to make sure we get all the important nutrients.

This does not apply to green beans, such as broad beans and runner beans, which can count as more than one portion a day.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts

Nuts are high in fibre, rich in a wide range of vitamins and minerals and a good source of protein (which is important for vegetarians).

Nuts can be a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat. They are a good source of monounsaturated fat, which can help reduce the amount of cholesterol in our blood. They also contain other unsaturated fats called 'essential fatty acids' which the body needs for good health.

However, nuts are also high in fat so it's a good idea not to eat too many of them. Try to avoid salted nuts because they are very high in salt.

Seeds

There are many different types of seeds such as:

  • sunflower
  • pumpkin
  • sesame
  • poppy
  • flax

Seeds contain protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals. They also add extra texture and flavour to various dishes and can be used to coat breads.

They make a healthy snack and you could try adding them to salads, casseroles and breakfast cereals.

You can eat them raw, or try dry frying or dry roasting them in a frying pan or in a roasting tin without any oil.

Cooking and storing beans and pulses

Typically, pulses are bought in one of two forms: tinned or dried. Cooking times vary depending on the type of pulse and how old they are. Follow the instructions on the packet, tin or a recipe. Pulses need to be stored properly once cooked.

Tinned and 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 make sure they have been cooked properly before you eat them.

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 to 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.

More useful links

 

Share this page

Feedback

Would you like to leave feedback about this page? Send us your feedback