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Bring on the Bean Diet for Health?

Study: Eating More Legumes Helps Blood Sugar Control, Lowers Heart Risk in People With Diabetes

Beans and Blood Sugar: Results continued...

This lab test provides a measure of average blood sugar control over the previous two to three months.

People with diabetes are advised to aim for a level of below 7%.

The values declined by .5% in those on the bean diet and .3% in those on the high wheat fiber diet.

Reductions of .3% to .4% are considered meaningful by the FDA, Jenkins writes.

The average for both groups at the study end was 6.9%. However, those in the high wheat fiber diet group started at 7.2%. Those in the bean diet group started at 7.4%.

Beans and Heart Risk: Results

Next, Jenkins calculated their predicted risk of heart disease. He used a standard equation that plugs in blood pressure and other health measures.

Those on the bean diet had a greater risk reduction in the heart disease prediction than those on the high wheat fiber diet.

How it reduced the heart disease risk score was a surprise to Jenkins. "It reduced heart disease risk predominantly because of its effect on blood pressure," he says. "That came as a shock to us."

Those on the bean diet started with an average blood pressure of 122/72 and ended with 118/69. (Below 120/80 is normal.) That difference looks slight, Jenkins says, but is considered significant.

Those on the high wheat fiber diet started out with blood pressures averaging 118/70 and had the same average at the end of the study.

Bean Advice

Jenkins' advice? "Swap a few of your meat meals for bean stew," he says. Lentil soup or bean chili are among other options.

Symptoms such as bloating or gas were about the same in both groups, he says.

Jenkins reports serving on the scientific advisory boards of numerous companies and organizations, including the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers and Agri-Culture and Agri-Food Canada.

Bean Diet: Another Perspective

"Beans are part of a healthful eating pattern," says Marion Franz, RD, a nutrition consultant in Minneapolis. She wrote an invited commentary to accompany the study.

However, she wonders how long most people can keep up a cup-a-day bean habit.

She also questions if the beans by themselves deserve all the credit. "The group that ate the low glycemic index diet also ate considerably more fiber," she says.

The bean group started out eating 15.6 grams of fiber a day. At the end of the study, they averaged 25.6 grams.

The high wheat fiber group started out with 16.6 grams a day and ended at 18.5 grams.

A cup of navy beans, for instance, has about 19 grams of fiber.

Franz says people with diabetes are encouraged to eat about 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day, as it can improve total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and thus help lower heart disease risk.

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