When you think about pulses—more commonly known as beans and lentils—chances are it’s in the context of thick, hearty soups or other cool-weather dishes. But part of the appeal of pulses is their versatility. They're just as suited to summer salads as they are to winter stews, plus there are plenty of healthy reasons to make pulses part of your diet year round.

Every serving of pulses packs a surprising array of nutrients, including antioxidants, folate, iron, potassium. And they are an especially good source of protein and fiber: 9 grams of protein and about 8 grams of fiber per half-cup, cooked. “Eating more pulses has been shown to improve the overall nutrition quality of people’s diets,” says Cynthia Sass, RD, the author of "Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses—The New Superfood" (Harper Collins, 2016). “Those who have higher intake of pulses have higher intakes of key nutrients that most Americans tend to fall short on—like fiber, folate, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.”

Numerous studies have established a link between increased pulse consumption and weight loss. In fact, a review of findings from 21 randomized controlled trials published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that eating more of these nutritional powerhouses leads to weight loss, even in people who aren’t actively cutting calories. “Pulses are a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich plant food with high amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber, as well as slowly digestible starch,” explains Rebecca Mollard, Ph.D., the clinical research development officer at the University of Manitoba.

Those attributes not only help boost fullness and satiety and curb cravings but also explain why higher pulse consumption has been linked to better blood sugar (glucose) regulation, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers.

Good for the Planet—and Your Budget

The United Nations declared 2016 The International Year of Pulses for the health and myriad other benefits they provide. Pulses are an easily sustainable crop, requiring only about 43 gallons of water per pound to produce, compared with 800 to 1,800 gallons to produce a pound of animal protein. They have a low carbon footprint, serve as a natural fertilizer by enriching the soil in which they’re grown, and can withstand both drought and frost. A serving of protein-rich pulses costs only about 10 cents, compared with nearly a $1.50 for a serving of beef

Easy, Tasty Serving Suggestions

Now that you know how amazing pulses are for you, it’s time to find simple and creative ways to work them into your favorite warm-weather dishes. Cynthia Sass has these suggestions:

No-cook tacos: Add chilled black beans (canned or cooked, then cooled) and pico de gallo or salsa to the outer leaves of romaine lettuce—the lettuce serves as the taco “shell”. Top with shredded cabbage and sliced avocado.

Bean gazpacho: Add your favorite cooked beans to a chilled gazpacho. You can leave the beans whole or purée them first to give the soup a thicker, creamier texture.

Lentil salad: Add cooked lentils to chopped or shredded vegetables and toss with a dressing made with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, garlic and dried herbs. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Chickpea chocolate-chip cookies: Try replacing half (or all, if you like) of the regular flour in your favorite cookie recipe with chickpea flour to give the treats a healthy boost of fiber, protein and other nutrients.

Pulse ice pops: Make a smoothie blend with any type or blend of fruit you like, some almond milk, chia seeds, and puréed white beans, then pour the mixture into ice-pop molds and freeze.