Pulses are sizzling.
The United Nations has officially designated 2016 the “International Year of Pulses.” Forkful.com calls pulses “one of the hottest food trends of 2016.” The Crop Science Society of America suggests the Matt Damon astronaut character in “The Martian” would have done better to plant pulses than potatoes.
So what are pulses? They’re basically dried seeds in the legume family, from lentils and dried peas to kidney beans and chickpeas (not fresh peas or green beans). Staples since ancient times, pulses’ health benefits are so overwhelming that even the new recommended U.S. Dietary Guidelines, just out this week, mention “beans and peas” twice as part of a healthy eating pattern. Plus, they’re good for the environment, enriching the soil rather than depleting it. They’re cheap. And they may even help with weight loss.
Nutritionists have been praising pulses for years, so “it’s great to see that recognition,” says Linda Antinoro, a registered dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “They’re chock full of nutrition; they’re a plant-based protein, they’re high in fiber, they’re low in saturated fat — the fat that’s not great for us — they’re loaded with a variety of vitamins and minerals. They’re really a powerhouse of nutrition.”
So why aren’t we all devouring pulses at every meal? Well, you know why. It’s a little awkward to discuss.
“Probably the No. 1 reason is the fear of flatulence,” says Dr. Michael Greger, founder of NutritionFacts.org and author of the new bestseller “How Not To Die.” (It doesn’t promise eternal life — the title refers to not dying prematurely, after a chronic, disabling illness.)
Consumption of legumes is the single best dietary predictor of how long a population lives, Greger says — from soy in Japan to brown beans in Sweden to lentils and chickpeas in the Mediterranean. “So why aren’t we taking advantage of this dietary fountain of youth? Well, there’s the concern about gassiness.”
But there are also many possible solutions to that concern, he and others say — some culinary and some psychological.
• Nothing to fear but the fear of gas itself
Greger says that when researchers tested the flatulence effect by adding a half cup of beans to people’s diets, “the majority of people experienced no symptoms at all. And even among the people who do get gassy, 70 percent report it being diminished by the second week of the study. So the concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans really may be exaggerated.”
But let’s say it’s not exaggerated. Let’s say you know your own digestive reactions, even after weeks, and your fear is well-justified. Maybe a rethink could help:
• Reframing: Gas is good — or at least natural
Research shows that the average person passes gas 14 times a day, Greger notes in a NutritionFacts.org post headlined “Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air.”
He writes: “Many people who think they have too much gas fall well within the normal range, concludes famed flatologist Michael Levitt, M.D., and they simply have to be informed of their ‘normality.’” (Fascinating historical note: NASA funded some research on flatulence out of concern for astronauts on long trips in confined spaces, Greger writes.) Continue reading