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Study finds one serving a day of beans, chickpeas, lentils or peas reduces “bad” cholesterol

April 7, 2014

A high level of LDL cholesterol (often called “bad” cholesterol) in the blood is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The good news is that cholesterol levels can often be managed by making diet and lifestyle changes. Results of a new study suggest that adding beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas (known as dietary pulses) to your diet may help.

The new study showed that eating one serving per day of beans, chickpeas, lentils or peas significantly reduced levels of LDL cholesterol. Reducing LDL cholesterol lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease.

One serving of dietary pulses was 130 grams, or three-quarters of a cup.

The research was led by Dr. John Sievenpiper of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. The researchers performed a meta-analysis (a review of existing research that combines the results of earlier studies) that included 26 randomized controlled trials. Each of the included trials compared a diet that stressed pulses to a diet that was similar in calories, but did not include pulses. The trials involved a total of 1,037 people, with a median age of 51.

The results showed that those who ate the diets high in pulses reduced their levels of LDL cholesterol by five per cent. The reduction in LDL cholesterol was greater in men than women. The study authors suggest that this might be because men may respond better to healthier diets because they tend to have higher LDL cholesterol levels to start with, and also tend to have poorer diets than women.

Of the 26 trials included in the study, 11 provided information on gastrointestinal symptoms. In these trials, some participants reported issues such as gas, bloating and upset stomach. In most of these trials, the symptoms improved over time.

The study results show that eating a daily serving of beans, chickpeas, lentils or peas may help lower LDL cholesterol, but the study authors note that few people eat that many dietary pulses. In fact, they note that only 13 per cent of Canadians eat pulses on any given day, and those that do eat them only eat about half a serving.

The researchers also note that many of the trials they looked at were short and did not use the highest quality methods, so longer and better trials are needed to confirm the results.

The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) on April 7, 2014.

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital