Consider adding beans, lentils, and peas to your holiday meal this year. According to a review published in November 2019 in Advances in Nutrition, consuming legumes reduces the risk of all forms of cardiovascular disease and lowers blood pressure.
To zero in on the power of legumes and pulses (the edible seeds of plants in the legume family), investigators reviewed 73 prospective cohort studies with one year or longer of follow-up that examined the relationship between eating legumes and the incidence of death due to cardiometabolic diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Researchers divided the groups into quartiles from highest to lowest consumption of legumes or pulses. Pooled analysis revealed that compared with the people who ate the smallest amount of legumes, people who ate the most legumes and pulses experienced the following benefits: eight per cent decrease in cardiovascular disease; 10 per cent decrease in coronary heart disease, nine per cent decrease in hypertension and 13 per cent decrease in obesity.
John Sievenpiper, MD, PhD, an associate professor in the department of nutrition studies at the University of Toronto and a co author of the study said people derive two kinds of benefits when they incorporate more legumes into their diet.
First, there’s the intrinsic value of the beans themselves; the protein, fiber, and micronutrients could all positively contribute to heart health. According to him, “some pulses contain 7S globulins protein, which has been shown in experimental work to reduce cholesterol.”
A study published in 2015 in the Journal of Nutritional Science showed that this protein promoted cholesterol-reducing effects in rats.
According to him, eating more legumes also has an extrinsic benefit, adding “Often when people are eating more legumes, its displacing red meat, processed meat, and other sources of cholesterol. That can improve heart health as well.
Tamanna Singh, MD, a clinical cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic main campus in Ohio, who was not involved in this research said although these findings aren’t unexpected, this review does a good job of looking at existing research to begin to quantify the health impact of legumes.
He added: “Because legumes contain complex carbohydrates, plant-powered protein, and not much fat, it makes sense that consuming more of them would be associated with some reduction in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or some of those risk factors that are associated with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.”
Legumes, which are part of the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, include soybeans, alfalfa, fresh peas, and green beans. Common pulses are things like lentils, beans, and black-eyed peas.
Meanwhile, Sievenpiper said that people do not need to eat large quantities of legumes to improve their heart health. According to him, “The [U.S. Department of Health & Human Services] considers a half cup of legumes a serving, which would be about 100 grammes. Anywhere from a half serving to a full serving per day is where we see the best signal for the associated benefits.”
The authors of the study point out that eating more legumes may also have benefits for society as a whole, including “the potential to lower annual healthcare costs and contribute to environmental sustainability, which is a growing global concern.”