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Lowering cholesterol by eating chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas

One serving per day dramatically cuts "bad" cholesterol

A serving of beans is 130 grams but Canadians typically eat less than half a serving a day (Bigstock photo)

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.

The study, led by Dr. John Sievenpiper of the hospital’s Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre, was published today in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Co-authors include University of Toronto Professor David Jenkins of the Department of Nutritional Sciences in the Faculty of Medicine.

Researchers found that by eating one serving a day of pulses, people could lower their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by five per cent. This would translate into a five to six per cent reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease, the second leading cause of death in Canada.

One serving of pulses is 130 grams or ¾ cup, yet Canadians 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.

“Canadians have a lot of room in their diets for increasing their pulse intake to derive the cardiovascular benefits,” Dr. Sievenpiper said. “Only 13 per cent consume pulses on any given day. Pulses already play a role in many traditional cuisines, including Mediterranean and Indian. As an added bonus, they’re inexpensive. Since many pulses are grown in Canada, it’s also an opportunity to buy and eat locally and support Canadian 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.

Leslie Shepherd is a writer with St. Michael's Hospital.