How often do you eat lentils, kidney beans, hummus (made with chickpeas) or split pea soup? These are all examples of “pulses” or foods based upon them. Each pulse is part of the legume family, but the term refers only to dried, low-fat seeds, so it excludes both fresh beans and fatty seeds such as peanuts.
New research from Canada shows that one ¾ cup daily serving of pulses could lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by as much as five percent. And that drop would result in a five to six percent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, according to study leader John Sievenpiper, M.D., Ph.D. Unfortunately, the average consumption of pulses is only about a half serving per day in the U.S. and Canada, the team reported. To reach their conclusion, the investigators reviewed 26 randomized controlled trials that gathered data on 1,037 people. They found that adding pulses to the diet benefitted men more than women, possibly because their cholesterol levels were generally higher and their diets poorer. The researchers found that participants in some of the studies they analyzed complained of bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation when they first added pulses to their diets, but the symptoms subsided over the course of the study.
My take? There are many important advantages to adding pulses to your diet. They are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber; are enjoyable additions to meals if prepared properly; and are among the most inexpensive foods you can buy - the ultimate refutation of the notion that "you have to be rich to eat healthy." Legumes are also heart-healthy; their high fiber content lowers cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels. A study of more than 15,000 middle-aged men across the U.S., Europe and Japan for 25 years found the consumption of legumes was associated with an 82 percent reduction in risk of death from heart disease. Most varieties of beans and lentils are also high in folate, a vitamin that helps prevent the build-up of the amino acid homocysteine - elevated levels of which are a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Whether you enjoy pluses as dips and spreads like hummus, paired with nutritious whole grains such as the ever-popular beans and rice, or merely to bulk up soups, stews and salads, they deserve a prominent place in your anti-inflammatory kitchen!
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John L. Sievenpiper 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 DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.131727