The “pulse diet” refers to a dietary approach that emphasizes the consumption of pulses as a primary source of protein and other nutrients. Pulses are part of the legume family (which refers to any plant that grows in a pod), but the term “pulse” refers only to the dry edible seed within the pod. 

A diet rich in pulses, such as chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans, is often promoted for its high nutrient density. 

In addition to being good for you, pulses have an additional benefit in their environmental impact. Pulses have the ability to undergo nitrogen fixation – a process that converts nitrogen in the air into ammonia, a compound that contributes to an enriched and healthy soil. Planting pulses reduces the need to add nitrogen-containing fertilizers to the soil of crops, supporting a healthy farm system and improving the environmental sustainability of agricultural processes. 

As a ‘nutrient powerhouse’, pulses are rich in fiber, vitamins (especially B vitamins), minerals (such as iron, magnesium, and potassium), and antioxidants – helping adults meet their recommended daily intake of a wide range of nutrients.

Pulses are also an excellent source of plant-based protein, making them a valuable protein source for vegetarians, vegans, and individuals looking to reduce their intake of animal products. 

The high amount of dietary fiber in pulses helps to promote digestive health, regulate bowel movements, and may contribute to weight management by promoting feelings of fullness and reducing overall calorie intake. Additionally, the insoluble fiber in pulses can help to lower cholesterol levels and improve our vascular health. 

Vascular health refers to the wellbeing of the body’s network of blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen to the heart, brain and all vital organs. Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is a core tenet to ensuring vascular health since excess cholesterol can lead to a buildup of plaque in arteries. This increases the risk of vessel blockage and interruption of the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to our organs.  

Vascular dementia is a type of dementia that occurs when there is damage to the brain’s blood vessels, leading to impaired blood flow and oxygen delivery to brain cells. This damage often results when plaque buildup from high cholesterol leads to obstruction of blood flow to areas in the brain. Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The treatment and prevention of vascular dementia focuses on promoting vascular health through medications, exercise and dietary interventions. 

A 2022 article published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition by a team of clinicians from Japan set out to investigate whether bean intake amongst Japanese adults was protective against the future risk of dementia. With a large cohort of adults between 40 and 64 years old, participants were asked to recall their estimated dietary bean intake, amongst other risk factors for vascular dementia including smoking and alcohol consumption. 

Participants were followed longitudinally to record the incidence of stroke and development of dementia. The authors found an inverse association between legume consumption and dementia risk, indicating that those adults with higher bean intake had decreased risk of developing dementia and stroke even after other potential risk factors were accounted for. 

These findings support the notion that a balanced diet, including pulses, can support vascular health and reduce risk of vascular complications, including dementia. 

In addition to their role in maintaining brain and vascular health, the benefits of pulses extend to many other components of health including weight management, fiber intake, and regulation of blood sugar. With a finger on the pulse, turn to beans as a superfood to incorporate into your balanced diet.  

Check out our favourite bean superfood recipes here >>