Pulses, or legumes, (lentils, beans, peas) are key ingredients in the Mediterranean diet. They help control blood glucose and blood lipid levels; reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and hormonally-driven cancers; are high in soluble fibre promoting the gut microbiome and the immune system, and they are a wonderful store of protein.
Pulses are often termed the ‘cornerstone’ of the Rainbow Diet.
Pulses are edible seeds that grow in pods. A great source of protein, they are low in fat and have low GI levels. In the UK in 1900 we derived more than 30 per cent of our protein from pulses; now it is less than 2 per cent.
Not so in the Rainbow Diet. Pulses still feature prominently; for example lentils in France of Morocco, chick peas (hummus) in Greece, red kidney beans and dried peas and beans (everywhere!). Storage was easy for these sources of protein – you dried them and had protein all year round..
The fiber in pulses is an important constituent and controls the slow release of carbohydrate. 2014 research showed that a daily helping of lentils was linked with extremely low levels of diabetes. A meta-review of pulses in diabetes (1) showed that they helped manage blood glucose levels, manage blood lipid levels, helped reduce body weight and increased cardiovascular health.
With oestrogen-driven cancers, pulses are an excellent source of phytoestrogens that can block receptor sites so that dangerous oestradiol cannot bind there. Unfortunately phytoestrogens do not bind tightly, and wash through the body, resulting in a need to eat them regularly.
Furthermore, the fibre is ‘soluble’ fibre, much loved by your friendly gut bacteria. Indeed one study showed that people who consumed the highest level of pulses have the best immune systems. 85% of your immune memory is produced in response to the volume and diversity of your gut microbiome.
Often dubbed ‘poor man’s food’, pulses feature throughout the Mediterranean region, right up to the high fat dish of the Pyrenees – cassoulet – duck fat, bacon fat and gigantic beans – all in olive oil.
It should be noted that soya, in any form, has no place in the colourful Mediterranean Diet. It has nothing to do with the regions around the coast of the Mediterranean.