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A great source of protein and fibre, they also taste delicious! They form a key part of a balanced diet and we should all be eating more of them. Here's how to make them part of your healthy eating plan.

Pulses: The nutritional low-down

This family includes all varieties of beans and lentils. As an added bonus, they are one of the cheapest sources of protein around, as well as being gentle on the planet, requiring far less energy to go from field to plate than meat. They are also endlessly versatile.

Pulses contain protein, fibre, minerals and B vitamins, and help to lower blood cholesterol levels. They also count towards one of your five a day.

However, pulses are not a "first class" protein, in that they don't contain all the essential amino acids necessary for growth and health. For this reason, they should always be combined with wholegrains and some sort of vegetable. In vegetarian societies, as in parts of India, this is why you'll see lentils or chickpeas often combined with rice or chapati. So it's still perfectly possible to get all the nutrients you need when you are cutting down on meat or fish.

The exception to this is soya, which has a higher balance of amino acids. Soya also contains unsaturated fat.

Using pulses

Apart from lentils and split peas, other dried pulses need to be soaked before cooking. Check the use-by dates: if stale, beans and lentils will never soften, no matter how long you cook them for. The bonus of pulses for the cook is that they can absorb all different sorts of spicing so you can give them an Indian flavor in a lentil dish such as dahl, or a Mediterranean one, by adding olive oil and lemon to borlotti beans, for example. If you are using canned pulses, drain and rinse them under cold running water before use. This washes off the excess brine and unwanted saltiness.

Pulses

o   Aduki beans

o   Black-Eyed beans

o   Borlotti beans

o   Broad beans

o   Cannellini beans

o   Chickpeas

o   Kidney beans

o   All lentils – brown, green, red and puy

o   Mung beans

o   Pinto beans

o   Soya beans

o   Split beans

Description: Pulses

Pulses

Cereals

Common cereals

o   Barley

o   Bulgar wheat

o   Corn

o   Malt

o   Millet

o   Oats

o   Rice

o   Rye

o   Wheat

Description: Common cereals

Common cereals

Cereal fact file

Cereals such as wheat and barley are at their most nutritious in their wholegrain form, when they contain higher levels of B vitamins and fibre. They are also a good source of carbohydrate and protein.

Most of the fibre, vitamins and oil are contained in the base, called the germ, and the outer layer of the grain, the endosperm. The more refined the food, the lower it is in natural fibre and nutrients. So brown rice or wholewheat are healthier choices than their refined counterparts.

Spelt has become very on trend in the past few years yet it’s an ancient crop, which was mentioned in the book of Exodus. Most spelt products - including flour and the pearled grains - are wholegrain, so high in fibre. However, although the gluten in spelt is more easily digestible than in wheat, it is not suitable for coeliacs. It has a nutty sweetness to it and is quite delicious.

Most cereals contain gluten except

o   Maize or corn, used for popcorn, polenta (cornmeal) and cornflour

o   Millet, used in making flatbreads in Asia and North Africa

o   Oats - because the germ is left intact, oatmeal is quite high in protein and oil, but the latter makes it go rancid more quickly. The soluble fibre contained in oats has been found to help lower cholesterol levels.

o   Rice, which is a staple for over half the world's population. Brown rice is higher in B vitamins and calcium than white. Using white or brown rice really depends on what you are cooking as the flavors are quite different.
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