South Africa celebrates National Nutrition Week from 9 to 15 October, and 2016 has been declared ‘International Year of Pulses’.

This year’s campaign theme is ‘Love your beans – eat dry beans, peas and lentils!’

This year’s campaign theme is ‘Love your beans – eat dry beans, peas and lentils!’ echoing the country’s food-based dietary guideline to ‘eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soya regularly’.

“There’s a good reason to put dry beans, peas, lentils and soya into the spotlight. Unfortunately, they are largely overlooked as they are often seen as ‘poor’ or ‘peasant’ food and they can take a long time to cook.

“We should be eating them, along with a variety of foods, at least four times a week; and yet many of us hardly include them in our diets. There’s just not enough awareness of how they contribute to healthy lifestyles, or how to use them well to make delicious meals,” says Lynn Moeng-Mahlangu, Cluster Manager of Health Promotion, Nutrition and Oral Health at the National Department of Health.

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So much nutrition advice is centred on what we need to eat less of, but when it comes to pulses – your dry beans, peas and lentils – the message is about eating more!

The top nutritional benefits of eating dry beans, peas, lentils and soya:

  • They are low in fat, high in fibre and have a low glycaemic index
  • They are naturally cholesterol-free
  • They are naturally gluten-free
  • They are a good source of plant protein, providing twice as much protein as wheat
  • They are good sources of vitamins such as folate, and minerals such as potassium and calcium

According to Professor Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the HSFSA, “Including dry beans, peas, lentils and soya regularly in your diet, along with other health-promoting behaviours, contributes to better health, helping to improve blood pressure and the maintenance of a healthy weight, reducing the risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes.”

“Including dry beans, peas, lentils and soya regularly in your diet, along with other health-promoting behaviours, contributes to better health, helping to improve blood pressure and the maintenance of a healthy weight, reducing the risk for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and strokes.”

When it comes to cooking, pulses are wonderfully versatile and can be incorporated into the diet in many ways. “Pulses are excellent when used as the main ingredient in a vegetarian meal,” Linda Drummond from the CGCSA points out,

“Or they can be used as an affordable way to extend meat in something like a meat stew or a bolognaise sauce. Cook up a large batch, portion and freeze to use to make a quick meal like soup or a bean salad.”

“Some people experience bloating and gas as a result of eating beans, but we would like to highlight steps that can be taken to prevent this from being a reason why many don’t include these nutritious foods in their eating plans”, says Maretha Vermaak from the CEP of Milk SA. Vermaak advises people to start with small amounts to build up one’s tolerance over time and to soak dry beans well, before cooking.

Cooking tips for pulses (from dieticians)

Tinned chickpeas, beans and lentils are just as nutritious as the dried versions. Stock up on tinned pulses for quick emergency meals, e.g. chickpeas and tuna, mince with tinned lentils or add any tinned beans to your favourite salad. – Monique Piderit, RD (SA)

Soak in the morning (ahead of cooking in the evening) using boiling water, or use canned varieties to cut down on cooking time. – Nazeeia Sayed, RD (SA)

Add salt only at the end of the cooking process. Adding it at the beginning increases the cooking time and hardens the skins. – Mpho Tshukudu, RD (SA)

Soaking and rinsing dry beans before cooking, as well as rinsing canned beans in water, can help to reduce hard-to-digest components, which could cause flatulence in some individuals. – Jessica Byrne, RD (SA)

Rinse tinned legumes well before serving, as this increases your tummy’s tolerance to beans, lentils and chickpeas. – Cath Day, RD (SA)

Great, easy snack ideas for pulses

Drain a tin of chickpeas and place in a roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil, cumin, paprika and black pepper. Roast for around 40 minutes for a quick and easy roasted chickpea snack. Store in an airtight container for a quick snack on the go. – Monique Piderit, RD (SA)

Pulses can be used to make tasty dips, e.g. pureed chickpea and butternut, or pureed white beans flavoured with a little vegetable oil, garlic, lemon juice, sprinkling of salt and herbs.  Dips can be enjoyed with veggie sticks or crackers. – Nazeeia Sayed, RD (SA)

Keep it even simpler and just mash or blend pulses with garlic, herbs and spices for a delicious, healthy spread or dip. – Kelly Schreuder, RD (SA)

Lentils are quick and easy to cook together with your brown rice, pearled barley or crushed wheat. – Zelda Ackerman, RD (SA)

“Pulses should be a regular part of a family’s healthy eating plan and can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Aim to include them in your diet at least four times a week,” says ADSA spokesperson, Jessica Byrne.

For more information on National Nutrition Week 2016, please visit the website: http://www.nutritionweek.co.za/