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Why Beans Rock for Cholesterol and Type 2 Diabetes

beans for cholesterol and diabetes



Now think about your cholesterol levels, in particular your bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, LDL) level. That’s one of the factors that can raise your risk of cardiovascular problems.

Near ideal LDL levels are 100 to 129 mg/dL. However, if you are at risk for heart disease (i.e., you have risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity, family history of heart disease, smoking), then less than 100 mg/dL is your target.

Yet if you made just three-quarters of a cup of pulses (the dried seed of the legume family) a part of your diet every day, you could reduce your levels of LDL by 5 percent, according to researchers reporting in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. If 5 percent doesn’t sound like much, it’s good enough to also reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 5 to 6 percent as well.

Pulses include beans (e.g., black, white, navy, kidney, pinto), lentils, chickpeas, and dried peas. They are rich in protein and fiber and great sources of iron, zinc, B vitamins, and phosphorus. They also are incredibly low in fat, which distinguishes them from soybeans. (Not that soybeans are bad, but they do contain more fat. However, they are low on the glycemic index, which is good for diabetes.)

Pulses are already a big factor in the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to be great for heart health, brain health, diabetes, and overall health. Now that I mentioned diabetes, let’s take a look at that relationship for a moment.

This new study also pointed out that pulses are low on the glycemic index (which means then metabolize slowly), which gives them clear sailing for people with diabetes. In fact, a glycemic index of less than 55 is considered low, and pulses like chickpeas come in at a low 10 for just 5 ounces, while lentils are 29.

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Beans and other pulses also rock when it comes to reducing hemoglobin A1c levels and improving high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol). These positive effects were seen in another study in which the investigators found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate 1 cup of legumes daily reduced their risk of cardiovascular events.

How? Overall, the bean eaters experienced a decline in hemoglobin A1c of 0.5 percent, a significant drop in total cholesterol and triglycerides by an average of 8 mg/dL and 22 mg/dL, respectively, and a modest decline in blood pressure, all important factors in type 2 diabetes.

When you add all of these benefits to the reduction in LDL cholesterol and the fact that pulses are inexpensive, these little bundles of nutrition are looking better and better.

They will look really great on your plate, but you have to make an effort to include them as much as possible (i.e., daily). If you currently don’t eat many pulses, be sure to add them to your diet gradually, because they are known to cause some belching, gas, and bloating.

The good news is that these symptoms are typically temporary, more like your body getting used to a “foreign” food. You can significantly reduce the chances of experiencing these symptoms by checking out some degassing tips.

So how can you increase your bean and other pulse intake a little at a time?

  • Toss a handful into soup or on top of a salad
  • Whip some up in a blender or food processor with salsa and/or herbs and make a sandwich spread or dip to enjoy with fresh veggies
  • Make chili using lentils instead of meat
  • Add mashed lentils or chickpeas to ground beef when making burgers or meatloaf
  • Include lentils or chickpeas in your pasta sauce

Are you ready to rock some beans and other pulses? Even if unhealthy cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes are not facts in your life, these nutritional stars are a wise dietary choice.

Ha V et al. Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ 2014
Mayo Clinic