Food Fit for the Heart

Cardiac health improved with consumption of beans and other legumes

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) There’s good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. The bad kind hurts hearts, but a diet filled with a wide array of non-fatty foods is one of the top ways to keep bad cholesterol in check.

In a new study, a single daily serving of beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes reduced the bad cholesterol that contributes to heart disease.

"Talk to a dietitian about heart-healthy eating."

This study was conducted by John Sievenpiper, MD, PhD, of the University of Toronto.

For this study, these researchers at medical centers in the United States and Canada reviewed 26 clinical trials that enrolled a total of 1,037 people and were designed to measure if consuming legumes or not affected cholesterol levels. Of those clinical trials, the most recent one's results were published in February 2014, these researchers wrote.

Each of the trials lasted for at least three weeks. Most lasted for three months or less, researchers wrote.

Based on their findings, these researchers concluded that study participants who consumed three-quarters cup (one serving) of legumes a day experienced a 5 percent drop in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol - the bad kind - builds up in the blood stream and eventually clogs the cardiovascular arteries.

Researchers said that 5 percent decline was a modest but meaningful drop in LDL cholesterol.

Furthermore, the researchers wrote that men had greater reduction in LDL cholesterol than women. Overall, such a difference may have resulted from the men in this study following less nutritious diets and having more bad cholesterol build-up than the studies' female participants, according to these researchers. And that would lead to men benefiting more from changing their diets, researchers added.

The researchers also wrote that some study participants complained that eating legumes caused them to suffer intestinal gas, diarrhea and constipation but those symptoms eased as they continued to eat legumes.

Black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed pea, fava beans, kidney beans also are legumes, which are low in fat. Cholesterol is a fat that mainly comes from animal products. High-density lipoprotein is considered to be good cholesterol.

People in several other parts of the world typically eat legumes, these researchers wrote. By comparison, legume consumption in the United States and Canada is low overall.

"Canadians have a lot of room in their diets to increase their [legume] intake and derive cardiovascular benefits," said a study co-author, John Sievenpiper, MD, of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. "Only 13 percent consume [legumes] on any given day. And, of those who do, the average intake is only about a half serving."

"Because ... [legume] intake may have beneficial effects on other cardiometabolic risk factors, including body weight, blood pressure and glucose control, future systematic reviews and ... analyses should evaluate the effects of such dietary interventions on these outcomes and others to address factors that contribute to residual cardiovascular disease risk," these researchers wrote.

They continued: " ... [H]eart health guidelines have stopped short of ascribing specific benefits to this type of intervention or have graded the beneficial evidence as low," they wrote.

Still, these researchers concluded that more study is needed before the merits of eating legumes can be more fully confirmed.

This study was published online April 7 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The Canadian Research Chair Endowment, Canadian Institute for Health Research and others funded the study.

In addition, these researchers reported receiving research grants, speaking fees and other funds from a wide array of entities. They ranged from Coca-Cola to the American Heart Association to organizations aimed a reducing diabetes and digestive diseases.

Review Date: 
April 4, 2014
Last Updated:
April 7, 2014