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Legumes Lower Heart Disease Risk

A recent evaluation of 19 years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Study clearly shows that increasing your consumption of legumes—beans and peas—can significantly lower your risk of heart disease. Making legumes frequent contributors to your healthy way of eating can lower your risk of coronary heart disease up to 22%, while also greatly lessening your likelihood of developing diabetes.

Practical Tips

Here are just a few of the many quick serving ideas provided by the World’s Healthiest Foods to help you lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes by enjoying legumes more often:

  • Purée cooked peas with your favorite herbs and spices and serve as a side dish.
  • Combine cooked lentils, orange segments and chopped sweet peppers to make a delicious cold salad. Season with your favorite herbs and spices.
  • For a twist on the traditional native American dish succotash, make lima bean burritos. Fill corn tortillas with lima beans and corn kernels, then top with chopped tomatoes, avocado and scallions.

Want to learn more about the many other benefits offered by these legumes, truly some of the World’s Healthiest Foods, click dried peas, lentils, or lima beans.

For a list of the World’s Healthiest Foods’ recipes containing these or a variety of other legumes profiled on the site, click on the Recipe Assistant, select any of legumes on the healthy foods list, and click on the Submit button. A list containing links to all our recipes containing the legume chosen oil will appear immediately below.

Research Summary

Researchers evaluated data collected during interviews and medical exams over an average of 19 years on 9,632 men and women who participated in the First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. None of the study participants had heart disease when the study began, but over the ensuing 19 years, 1,800 cases of coronary heart disease were diagnosed.

The follow-up data revealed that those men and women who ate legumes at least four times a week had a 22% lower risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who consumed legumes less than once a week. In addition, those who ate legumes most frequently also had lower blood pressure and total cholesterol and were much less likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Why did making legumes a staple in their diets confer such dramatic benefits? Legumes are not only an excellent source of virtually fat-free protein, they are rich in soluble fiber, which has been shown to help lower total cholesterol and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels while also improving the body’s ability to utilize insulin. Legumes contain negligible amounts of sodium, a mineral that may contribute to high blood pressure in some individuals, but are rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium—a mineral combination associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

And legumes are also a rich source of the B vitamin, folate. One of folate’s most important jobs is the critical role it plays in the conversion of homocysteine (a compound produced during a metabolic process that occurs in every cell called the methylation cycle) into other useful compounds. Without adequate folate, homocysteine accumulates. Since homocysteine is directly damaging to blood vessel walls, when blood levels of this compound rise, the result is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Bazzano LA, He J, Ogden LG, et al. Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women: NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Arch Intern Med 2001 Nov 26;161 (21):2573-8.

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