Most of us can agree that sustainable agriculture and food is a priority. There isn't a universal definition of the term "sustainable food", but with research it's clear that most organizations have a similar working definition — a sustainable food integrates many components in order to enhance a community's environmental, economic, and social well-being.

The UN declared the year of 2016 to be the International Year of the Pulse, and for good reason. Pulses have serious potential for a sustainable future. You may be wondering, what the heck is a pulse? According to Pulse Canada, pulses are a part of the legume family, and the most common types are beans, chickpeas, and lentils. 

Not only are pulses sustainable in terms of the Food and Agriculture Organizations 5 part definition, pulses are also affordable, easy to incorporate into meals, and nutritious. This makes them sustainable for individual health, finances, and use. In a guide to The International Year of the Pulse, the FAO describes 5 main things that make pulses so sustainable.

Climate Change

vegetable, coffee, legume, buckwheat, lentil, horse gram, cereal
Christin Urso

One of the biggest benefits that pulses have to offer are their environmental benefits. Pulses don’t require much water to grow so they can be grown on dry lands, they help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and they cause soil to absorb some of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. 


sweet, soup, meat, vegetable, bread
Paige Twombly

As the FAO states, pulses have tons of positive effects on ecosystems. Pulses can fix their own nitrogen, which means that they don’t need fertilizer and they also improve soil health. When soil health is improved, soil is able to grow more diverse crops and it can also help nourish crops nearby.

Food Security

salad, rice, legume, parsley, cereal, pepper, corn, vegetable
Katherine Baker

Pulses have a lot of potential in terms of personal and global food security. Pulses are a low-cost crop that can survive harsh and dry climates, meaning that they improve global food security and the food security of farmers. Pulses also improve individual food security since they are affordable and have a long shelf-life.


salad, edamame, pea, vegetable, legume
Elyse Belarge

The FAO claims that pulses are a solution to both eating too much and eating too little by being a really balanced food. Pulses are a good source of low-fat protein, fibre, and iron. Their report goes on to explain that many cultures use pulses paired with grains as the main source of sustenance in their diet.

Health Benefits

pasture, chickpeas, meat, corn, pea, cereal, legume, vegetable
Jordan Miller

Pulses have a huge impact on health when they're a part of your regular diet. Some of the health benefits that the FAO lists are the ability of pulses to aid in weight management, reduce the risk of heart disease, and prevent nutrient deficiencies when paired with other foods in developing countries.

Though the fight for sustainability may seem like an impossible task, there are so many small things that people can do on a daily basis which add up and make a huge impact. Being educated and choosing sustainable foods like pulses when you're at the grocery store is just the beginning.