Legumes and Their Effect on Heart Disease

Georgia E. Hodgkin

At the beginning of the twentieth century heart disease in the public was a small problem; by the end of the century it had become the most frequent cause of death. Studies have shown a strong association between dietary saturated fat intake and the occurrence of this disease. The American diet provides an overabundance of saturated fat and cholesterol found primarily in animal products.

Changes are necessary in your diet in order to reduce cardiovascular disease effectively; therefore, less saturated fat and cholesterol (fewer animal products). As LDL (bad cholesterol) increases, the risk for disease also increases.

Nutrition experts tell us that diets high in cereal grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. This is linked to consuming less cholesterol and saturated fat. When we decrease foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol in the diet and replace them with a variety of cereal grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, cholesterol levels drop. Choosing a fiber-rich diet (whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables) may be responsible for reducing cholesterol levels in the blood and thus reducing your chances of heart disease.

Legumes and Heart Disease

So how can you increase dietary fiber, with its protection against heart disease? The answer may very well be consuming more legumes.

Legumes are a family of plants that are identified by their seed-bearing pods. They are all the common beans (black, pinto, kidney, and white), lentils, fava beans, chickpeas (garbanzos), and dried split peas. There are actually 13,000 species of legumes; we, as humans, consume only 20.

Legumes are powerhouses of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (plant chemicals). For example, in 1/4 cup of dried black beans there are 70 kilocalories, 15 grams of fiber, 23 grams of carbohydrates, and 0 percent fat. Legumes are an excellent source of fiber. With the recommendation for fiber at 25-30 grams per day, legumes do make a substantial contribution to the total, with 15 grams in 1/4 cup of dried or 1/2 cup of cooked legumes.

How can legumes reduce your risk of heart disease?

The way in which legumes can lower your risk for heart disease is very interesting and simple. Fiber binds to cholesterol and carries it out of the body, thereby reducing cholesterol levels. Eating more fiber will cause more cholesterol to be eliminated.

Cooking Legumes

Plan ahead when serving legumes. Allow time for them to cook; they will need little attention while slow cooking. Just add water if they get a little dry. Try putting some in a Crock-Pot in the morning before you go to work. When you come home, not only does your house smell wonderful from the onions and garlic, but dinner is almost ready to be served. All you have to do now is round out the meal with a vegetable, bread, fruit, and beverage, and you have a tasty, nutritious, heart-healthy meal.

Canned beans

Canned beans are also very good for you. Ready to eat right from the can, they could be called one of the original fast foods. Add them to salads or pastas, or just enjoy them plain. If you are “salt-sensitive,” it’s a better choice to make your own beans at home to avoid the extra salt added by the food processors.

Start Now

Today is the best day to begin making lifesaving lifestyle changes. One of those changes could be to choose fiber-rich foods–in particular, legumes. Plan ahead to allow time to cook those legumes, so they may add time (years) to your life.

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