The Health Benefits of Beans

For quite a few years nutritionists have been telling us that legumes (beans, peas, and lentils) can help lower cholesterol. Now it appears that these foods bring two other benefits: they can improve blood glucose control and they can lower blood pressure, which means they can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems.

This new information came about as the result of a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto. The scientists recruited 121 people who had Type 2 diabetes and divided them into two groups. The first group was asked to increase legume intake by at least one cup a day. The idea was that the legume diet would rank low on the glycemic index (GI), which is a ranking of foods based on their effect on blood glucose levels. The second group was given a diet high in whole-wheat products, which contain higher amounts of insoluble fiber. The purpose of the research was to compare the benefits of a high-legume, low-GI diet with those of a high-fiber diet.

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The study lasted three months, and the results showed that the legume diet was related to better control of blood glucose and a greater lowering of blood pressure than the high-fiber diet. The difference was not huge, but the researchers noted that even a small difference can have large implications, considering the magnitude of diet-related health problems in the general population. Although it was not one of the researchers’ concerns, it’s also worth noting that legumes tend to be very inexpensive sources of protein.

Nutritionists have speculated that one reason people don’t eat a lot of legumes is that they are unaware of the variety. The following are some of the many kinds: chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), black beans, peas, lentils, edamame (fresh soybeans), black-eyed peas, soy nuts, fava beans (also known as broad beans), cannellini beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, navy beans, and lima beans. Bean curd (tofu) is made from legumes, and even peanuts are a kind of legume (although the salted ones are probably not optimal for health).

Want to learn more about the health benefits of beans? Read “Beans Will Rock Your World” and “The Beauty of Beans: Part 1,” “Part 2,” and “Part 3.”