A simple change to your diet can improve your health, slim down your waistline and save you money.
The key is to eat more pulses – the edible seeds of legume plants, including beans, lentils and chickpeas.
Much of the world is already wise to the benefits of pulses. These foods make up 75 percent of the diet in some parts of the world, particularly in developing nations, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Nutrition experts hope the rest of the globe will catch up soon. To that end, the United Nations declared 2016 to be the "International Year of Pulses."
But it's not too late to start eating pulses in 2017.
Why pulses are good for you
Pulses offer many health benefits, says Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor at Boston University and author of "Nutrition and You." "They are a meat alternative, and a great source of protein," Blake says.
In fact, pulse foods contain up to 25 percent protein by weight, compared to between 30 and 40 percent for meat, according to the FAO. By contrast, wheat contains just 10 percent protein.
Pulses also are rich in the minerals iron and zinc, and B-vitamins such as folate, Blake says. They are a good source of soluble fiber, which helps you feel full.
"That will help you better manage your weight," Blake says. "If you are feeling fuller, you may eat less."
Studies show eating pulses helps people control blood glucose and cholesterol levels, Blake says. Not only are pulses good for you, but they are economical, too.
"They are cheaper – we are talking less than $2 a pound," she says. "So they are very kind to your wallet."
Pulses are also eco-friendly. For example, the FAO estimates that growing pulses requires just 1,250 liters of water per kilogram. That compares to 4,325 liters of water for raising1 kilogram of chicken and 13,000 liters of water for 1 kilogram of beef.
Tips for adding pulses to your diet
There are many ways to add pulses to your diet, Blake says. For example, you can add pulses to homemade or canned soup. "The soup can become a meal," she says. "That makes it very cheap."
Another tip is to add black beans to tacos, which allows you to use less ground meat or ground poultry. Or, add white beans to spaghetti sauce and skip the ground beef.
Blake also suggests adding black beans and salsa to macaroni and cheese, and adding chickpeas to salads.
Pulses sound so good that you might be tempted to make wholesale changes to your diet overnight. But that can be a mistake.
"If you add a lot fiber to your diet all at one, you can have some (gastrointestinal) discomfort, and it creates gas for some people," Blake says.
So, she suggests starting more gradually.
"Start adding them to your soup and salad, and let your body get used to it," she says. As you add more pulses, increasing your fluid intake can help mitigate any side effects, she says.
Some pulses must soak for up to 12 hours and require another hour of preparation time before they can be eaten. This can be another roadblock to adding pulses to your diet.
You can save preparation time by buying canned versions of pulses, such as black beans. Blake warns that these can be high in sodium. However, rinsing them off can remove 40 percent or more of this sodium content, she says.