Pulses might be the most important food you’ve never heard of—the dried seeds of plants in the legume family, which includes beans, lentils and chickpeas. They have long been considered an important part of any healthy diet—in fact they are a staple food for many indigenous diets worldwide—and a systematic review published this week has confirmed that regular intake of pulse foods can significantly lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Touted by some as a “perfect” food, pulses are high in protein and fiber, very low in fat, and rich in nutrients like iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins—as well as being inexpensive and environmentally friendly. They have a high glycemic index, making them a great choice for people with diabetes or metabolic syndrome, and are gluten free, so also suitable for people with celiac disease and other food sensitivities.
Controlled studies on the health benefits of pulses have been small and inconsistent, so a team of American and Canadian researchers combed through all the available evidence from studies that compared diets with and without pulses. They found that eating about one serving a day of lentils, dried beans or other pulses (about three-quarters of a cup) led to an average reduction in LDL cholesterol of about 6.5 mg/dl. The average American intake of pulses is less than half a serving a day, but eating a full serving each day could translate to a meaningful reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease—currently the biggest killer in the nation.
(Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2014; doi: 10.1503/cmaj.131727.)