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New health benefits found for beans, chickpeas, and lentils

Eating one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils can significantly reduce 'bad cholesterol' and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Dr. John Sievenpiper, a researcher in the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. A daily serving of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils can significantly reduce bad cholesterol, says the new study,"Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials," published April 7, 2014 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Health benefits of lentils, chickpeas and beans found in new study.
Photo credit: St. Michael's Hospital. Dr. John Sievenpiper, a researcher in the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Center of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

And beans, chickpeas, and lentils are low on the glycemic index, meaning they don't quickly turn to sugar in the bloodstream. Beans, chickpeas, and lentils are also called pulses. The intake of dietary pulses, such as beans and lentils, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. In a meta-analysis of 26 randomized controlled trials, the authors found an overall effect but substantial variation in results between trials. They call for trials of longer duration and higher quality to verify the results of the new review.

Most North Americans would have to double intake of pulses to achieve the benefit. Eating one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils can significantly reduce "bad cholesterol" and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease, a new study has found. However, most people in North America would have to more than double their consumption of these foods known as pulses to reach that target, said the researchers at St. Michael's Hospital.

Dr. Sievenpiper said that by eating one serving a day of pulses, people could lower their LDL ("bad") cholesterol by five per cent, according to the April 7, 2014 news release, "Daily serving of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils can significantly reduce bad cholesterol." He said that would translate into a five to six per cent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

One serving of pulses is 130 grams or ¾ cup, yet North Americans on average eat less than half a serving a day

Pulses have a low glycemic index (meaning that they are foods that break down slowly) and tend to reduce or displace animal protein as well as "bad" fats such as trans fat in a dish or meal. "We have a lot of room in our diets for increasing our pulse intake to derive the cardiovascular benefits," Dr. Sievenpiper said. "Pulses already play a role in many traditional cuisines, including Mediterranean and South Asian. As an added bonus, they're inexpensive. Since many pulses are grown in North America, it's also an opportunity to buy and eat locally and support our farmers."

Dr. Sievenpiper's meta-analysis reviewed 26 randomized controlled trials that included 1,037 people. Men had greater reduction in LDL cholesterol compared with women, perhaps because their diets are poorer and cholesterol levels are higher and benefit more markedly from a healthier diet. Some study participants reported stomach upset such as bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation but these symptoms subsided over the course of the study.

St. Michael's Bean Salad

2 cups cooked navy/white/red/black/Romano/kidney beans (19 oz. canned)
1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced
1 small clove of garlic, minced
2 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
Juice from ½ a lemon
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Pepper to taste

Serves 4

Combine all ingredients together in a bowl and mix well. Adjust pepper to your liking.

Eating one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils can significantly reduce 'bad cholesterol' and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease, says Dr. John Sievenpiper, a researcher in the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St Michael's Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital's recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.