2016: The Year of the Pulses

{skip the foreplay and head straight to the recipe}

Maybe you’ve heard or maybe you haven’t, but the UN declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses.  Now, we usually think of a pulse as the palpitation of our heartbeats that lets us know we’re alive and signals how vigorously we’re exercising.  While this kind of pulse is definitely worth celebrating (something Andy Grammer did last year singing Good to be Alive), the UN is focusing on the other kind of pulse: Legumes. Agriculturally, a pulse is a crop that is harvested only for its dry grain.  Therefore, pulses include crops like chickpeas, lentils, beans, and split peas. These are edible seeds that grow in a pod and should be cooked before they are eaten.  In contrast, vegetables are crops that are harvested for green food and (obviously) can be eaten raw or cooked.

So, why’d the UN decide to highlight pulses this year?  Because pulses aren’t just a win-win.  They’re a win-win-win: They’re cheap, nutritious, AND they have positive effects on the environment! The nutrition profile differs based on the specific pulse, but generally speaking, legumes are a good source of plant-based protein and are high in iron, folate, and potassium.

In an effort to celebrate the year of pulses, each month (or so…) I will post recipes highlighting various legumes and their nutritional greatness.  First up: chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans.  Chickpeas are a great source of fiber, protein, iron, and a number of B Vitamins.FullSizeRender

Chickpeas can be used in many ways, but the most common way you’ll see is mashed up and combined with tahini and oil to create hummus.  I’m a huge hummus fan.  It makes a great dip for veggies and a tasty sandwich spread.  There are a number of really good store-bought hummus brands.  When buying from the store you want to aim for about 150mg sodium per serving.  This will allow you a little sodium wiggle room in case you plan to enjoy your hummus with 1/2 a serving of pretzels or pita chips in addition to your veggies (carrots, peppers, cucumbers, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, snap peas etc are all great options). You’ll feel fuller after snacking on hummus and veggies than on hummus and pretzels or pita chips.

Another thing I really like about hummus is the variety of flavors it comes in. Be careful here though because the different varieties can result in a nutrition loss just as easily as a nutrition gain…the levels of vitamins as well as sodium, sugar, and fat can vary between varieties. When you make hummus at home, though, YOU have control of how much salt and oil you put in, and your flavor options are limitless!  This sunshine hummus recipe, for example, has curry powder, garlic, and turmeric which really kick up the antioxidant profile of the dip.

I was given this recipe from the Nourishing Kitchen program at the New York Presbyterian Hospital.  Started by Jackie Topol, RDN, Nourishing Kitchen is a really unique cooking demo program that teaches inpatient oncology and cardiology patients and their families diet-appropriate recipes and cooking tips they can use when they get back home. IMG_5739

This hummus recipe is intended for oncology patients, but is delicious for everyone!  One of the side effects of cancer treatments is a weakened sense of taste and loss in appetite.  Besides containing powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds these patients need, the curry, turmeric, and garlic are also really strong flavors which enables oncology patients be able to actually taste their food.  This goes a long way in getting these patients to eat during treatment, a critical component of their success.

Sunshine Hummus Recipe

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy peasy
  • Print

*Recipe from Jackie Topol, MS, RD, CSD, CDN, The Nourishing Kitchen, New York Presbyterian Hospital

1 (15.5oz) can low-sodium chickpeas, rinsed
1 large clove of garlic
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
sea salt to taste

1. Place all ingredients into a food processor or strong blender. Blend until smooth.
2. Adjust the spices to your taste.
3. Enjoy with cut up vegetables.











What do you want to do AFTER you eat that?

This past weekend I had brunch at a great spot in Bushwick called Café Ghia.  I had narrowed my decision down to two menu items, and, as I often do (for better or for worse), I asked my server’s opinion.  Should I have the seasonal omelet (goat cheese, zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus) with roasted potatoes or their breakfast mofongo (an egg overtop fried plantains)?   Both dishes looked good to me, but were very different.  The waitress thought about my question for a minute and then said, “Well it depends what you want to do afterwards today.”  That wasn’t what I had expected.

Outside Bushwick’s brunch gem, Café Ghia

I had thought maybe she’d tell me to get the mofongo because it’s more unique–I could find a similar omelet anywhere in the city.  Or, perhaps that she would suggest I have the omelet as it’s “seasonal” and likely to change soon.  I had even semi-expected her to simply recommend the more expensive dish.

I stared at her for a second, not sure if it was a rhetorical question or if she really wanted me to tell her what I had planned for the rest of my day. Sensing my confusion, she explained that both were really good options, but that the mofongo was a much heavier dish and was likely to “sit in my stomach.” As she told me this, she kind of leaned back and set her hands on her stomach as if to demonstrate just where that mofongo was going to go.  Then, putting down her hands, continued to say that if I had a more active day planned I might want to opt for the omelet. My dietitian-to-be brain turned on.  The waitress, whether she understood why or not, was completely correct.  With the main part of the dish being fried, high-glycemic carbohydrates, the mofongo would be considerably higher in fat and be slower to digest, making me feel kind of sluggish.  I ordered the omelette.

The interaction got me thinking: What if we approached all our eating decisions asking, what do I want this food to do for me, or, maybe more importantly, what do I not want this food to do to me?  Would we make more nutritious decisions? One of the reasons I love food so much is the culture and experience of eating and cooking, but I think food’s main purpose: to fuel us, can easily get lost within all the rituals and social pressures surrounding it.

As often as we use a machine as a metaphor for the human body, we aren’t machines.  Food is more than fuel to us and not considering the many other reasons why we eat isn’t practical.  So, I’m not going to tell you not to have dishes that might “sit in your stomach.”  I’m not suggesting that you avoid cookies at Christmas or stop making rolls with your mom. And, I’m not saying that you need to stop enjoying a happy hour with your coworkers at the end of a particularly long week.

I am going to remind you, however, that none of these things should be done everyday, let alone every meal.  Your default eating habit needs to be one of health.  One doughnut because it tastes so. freakin. good. or a few pieces of pizza is fine. Totally fine.  But it’s a slippery slope because repeated crap food decisions can lead to the development of chronic health problems–heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, etc.

In fact, one of the main things emphasized in the recently released 2015 dietary guidelines was a shift towards the importance of meal patterns versus specific foods or nutrients. This adjustment in thinking about how we eat is an important one, and has been applauded by many dietitians because it isn’t what you eat one time, it’s what you eat, on average, all the time that matters.

Unfortunately we don’t always have mindful waitresses following us around to help us connect our food choices with the rest of our lives. We have to do it ourselves.  So be mindful: What do you want to do after you eat?  Me? I want to live healthfully.