Eat Legumes for Better Health

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • We’re often bombarded by advertisements urging us to take prescription drugs to keep our cholesterol under control. Sometimes medications are necessary for some people, but there may be an easier – and tastier – way to reign in your cholesterol. Just up the amount of legumes that you’re eating.

    What exactly are legumes? According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, “Legumes are plants with seed pods that split into two halves. Edible seeds from plants in the legume family include beans, peas, lentils, soybeans and peanuts.” Legumes often aren’t part of the typical Western diet, but they are inexpensive and nutrient-dense sources of protein that can easily be switched in place of animal protein. Furthermore, legumes tend to be healthier since these types of protein are mostly unsaturated fat and are considered excellent sources of essential minerals, dietary fiber and phytochemicals.

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    Need evidence of the health benefits of legumes? In a recent study, researchers looked at 26 previously published studies involving more than 1,000 participants that lasted at least three weeks. These studies compared the results of eating a diet rich in legumes to eating a diet that didn’t contain these foods. These research studies looked at a variety of health indicators. Their analysis found that diets that included about a daily serving of beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas significantly lowered low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (the “lousy” cholesterol) by five percent (which is the equivalent of a five-percent lower risk of heart disease). Interestingly, men benefitted more than women in seeing lower “bad” cholesterol levels in these studies, although the researchers wondered if this might be attributed to female participants having a better overall diet. Not surprisingly, some study participants who eat diets that were rich in legumes reported bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhea. While the researchers are encouraged by these findings, they still want to see if additional longer studies will back up these findings.

    Researchers are also finding that legumes are powerhouses in supporting human health in other ways. For instance, legumes are considered a low glycemic food and, as such, are an important part of the food arsenal to avoid developing Type 2 diabetes mellitus. There also is limited evidence that suggests that eating large quantities of legumes can decrease the risk of prostate cancer. Specific legumes also provide protection. For instance, black beans provide extra support for colon health. Black beans also have a large number of phytonutrient benefits that support your health. Meanwhile, some studies have found that eating garbanzo beans regularly results in less consumption of processed snacks and overall food intake.

    There are lots of choices of legumes that you can include in your meals:

    • Adzuki beans (field peas or red oriental beans)
    • Anasazi beans (Jacob’s cattle beans)
    • Black beans (turtle beans)
    • Black-eyed peas (cowpeas)
    • Chickpeas (garbanzo or ceci beans)
    • Edamame (green soybeans)
    • Fava beans (broad beans or horse beans)
    • Lentils
    • Lima beans (butter beans or Madagascar beans)
    • Kidney beans (red kidney beans)
    • Dried peas
    • Navy beans
    • Pinto beans
    • Soy nuts (soya beans)

    Many beans come in dried forms and require soaking in room-temperature water in order to be rehydrated. There are also canned versions; if you use these, be sure to rinse them off since they often contain salt.

  • There are lots of ways to incorporate legumes into your diet. I personally love to add chickpeas into salads (especially this time of year when I am drawn to the bounty of fresh produce that’s available). Another option is to snack on chickpeas or make them into hummus. Beans also can easily be added to soups and stews. 

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    Ha, V., et al. (2014). 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.

    Linus Pauling Institute. (2009). Legumes. Oregon State University.

    Mayo Clinic. (2012). Beans and other legumes: Types and cooking tips.

    Preidt. R. (2014). Beans, lentils, peas: Your recipe for lower cholesterol?

    The George Mateljan Foundation (ND). Black beans.

    The George Mateljan Foundation. (ND). Garbanzo beans (chickpeas).

Published On: April 11, 2014