2016 Is Officially the ‘Year of Pulses’—Because They’re Really Good for You and the Planet

Last Update: September 29, 2022

Every year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) chooses a topic—relating to the human diet—to highlight all year long. For instance, 2015 was the “Year of Soils,” which brought awareness to the importance of biodiverse and nutrient-rich soils to a healthy and productive global food system.

For 2016, the FAO has turned its spotlight on pulses. No, not the rhythmic pumping of blood through arteries (my first thought, if I’m being honest)—but instead the edible, dried seeds of certain legume plants. Think navy beans, fava beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas.

According to the FAO, the Year of Pulses will “heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition; create a unique opportunity to encourage connections throughout the food chain that would better utilize pulse-based proteins, further global production of pulses, better utilize crop rotations and address the challenges in the trade of pulses.”

OK, but why all the international fuss about pulses?

They’re super nutritious

Pulses are a critical source of plant-based proteins, amino acids, and other essential nutrients. Vegans love lentils and chickpeas, for instance, because they can easily replace animal proteins. Besides providing everyday nutrition, pulses also have numerous preventative health benefits. One study found that regular pulse consumption may make people feel fuller, curbing obesity. Another recent study found that eating just a handful of pulses daily can lower cholesterol, reducing a person’s risk of heart disease.

Cultivation of pulses helps the planet

Growing pulses—even rotating them in occasionally—can reduce a farm’s carbon footprint, curbing climate change. Here’s how: When a legume plant dies in the field, all of its remaining nitrogen and amino acids are converted to nitrate and released back into the soil, serving as a green fertilizer for future plants. This allows farmers to use fewer synthetic fertilizers, benefitting both the environment and consumers.

They help fight global food insecurity

Consumed and developed widely in developing countries, pulses are some of the most economically accessible foods on the planet. For this reason, the UN and many others view pulse cultivation as a crucial tool in fighting global food insecurity. It’s already working in Malawi, where smallholder farmers are being encouraged to grow legumes and other nuts—efforts that are leading to better production and fuller stomachs.

Now, who’s hungry for a steaming bowl of lentils?

Photo credit: Paul Delmont

Share this article

Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats,, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

Download the app for easy shopping on the go

By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive marketing text messages from Thrive Market. Consent not a condition to purchase. Msg & data rates apply. Msg frequency varies. Reply HELP for help and STOP to cancel.

If you are visually-impaired and having difficulty with our website, call us at 1‑855‑997‑2315

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

© Thrive Market 2024 All rights reserved.