Pack your diet with pulses for the health of the planet and your bank balance

World Pulses Day: Highly nutritious and cheaper to buy than other sources of protein, pulses help you eat well for less

World Pulses Day was launched by the United Nations five years ago to raise awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses and legumes as part of sustainable food production.  

This global, annual February 10 event aims to recognise the importance of pulses and how they can help feed the world’s growing population more sustainably.

Pulses including lentils, chickpeas and red kidney beans are picturedCredit: Shutterstock / PBD Studio

Shifting your diet away from relying too much on meat, fish and dairy and introducing more plant-based sources of protein such as lentils, chickpeas and beans can benefit your health, animals, the environment and save you money too.


What are pulses?

Pulses are the edible seeds of plants in the legume family and include: 

  • Broad beans 
  • Kidney beans 
  • Haricot beans 
  • Chickpeas 
  • Black eyed peas 
  • Yellow and green split peas 
  • Marrowfat peas 
  • Brown lentils 
  • Green lentils 
  • Spilt red lentils 
An assortment of pulses including lentils and chickpeas on a brown backgroundCredit: Shutterstock / Plateresca

Why are pulses good for us?

Shireen Kassam is a visiting professor in plant-based nutrition at the University of Winchester and wants more of us to consider adding pulses to our plates. 

“Pulses are a great addition to the diet,” Kassam explains. “Not only are they associated with a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and a healthier weight, but they have also shown to improve both health span and lifespan.  

The majority of people are not eating nearly enough to reap the benefits, yet they can be incorporated into all traditional and cultural diet patterns. Pulses are a great source of healthy nutrients”, such as protein, complex carbohydrates (starchy, less processed carbohydrates) and fibre. 

Researchers from Aarhus University in Denmark have recently looked at how the cost of living crisis and rising food costs is impacting on the types of food we choose to buy.  

They found that almost 40% of people are buying less red meat now and a third of Europeans are also cutting back on how regularly they buy fish and poultry too. If you’re considering cutting back, pulses are a great substitute. 

Why are pulses better for the environment?

Pulse crops have a lower carbon footprint than most foods because they require a smaller amount of fertiliser to grow. They also have a lower water footprint as they can adapt to semi-arid conditions and tolerate drought stress.  

Pulses are easy to store, inexpensive, highly nutritious, and have the ability to enhance the soil microbiome. This has been key in improving farming techniques in low-income rural areas. 

“The Indian diet is based on pulses as they are nutritious and affordable,” explains Vandana Shiva, an ecologist and food rights activist.  

“They also have a wider environmental benefit; the harvesting of pulses leaves behind nitrogen-rich crop residues that help maintain and increase soil fertility – a far more sustainable process than using synthetic fertilisers. This also helps tackle food insecurity. I would encourage people to grow pulses for sustainability and to eat pulses for their health.” 

For recipe ideas on how to add pulses to your dishes, visit Eating Better’s new site, Everything is Pulse-able 

Julie Penfold

Written by Julie Penfold she/her


Julie Penfold is a Staff Writer for Fitness and Wellbeing at Saga Exceptional. She’s been a specialist health and wellbeing journalist for more than 15 years and has been a finalist in three prestigious health and medical journalism awards during that time.

She has written for a wide variety of health, medical, wellbeing and fitness magazines and websites. These have included Running, TechRadar, Outdoor Fitness, Be Healthy, Top Sante,, Primary Health Care, Community Practitioner, CareKnowledge and The Guardian’s Social Care network.

Away from work, Julie is a huge Sunderland fan, loves watching football, athletics and swimming (live whenever possible!) and is a long-term vegetarian. She also loves to run, swim and practise yoga.

Previously, she loved to race too but since 2018, this has been firmly put on the backburner due to her having back-to-back sports injuries, both of which required subsequent surgery. Julie was gearing up to a return to racing after five years, but a further injury has hampered her imminent plans. Instead, recovering well is top of her list at the moment.

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