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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
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 22, 2012 -- Adding beans and other legumes to the diet appears to help people with type 2 diabetes improve their blood sugar control and lower their risk of heart disease, according to new research.

Two diets were tested in 121 men and women with type 2 diabetes. Both diets were healthy, but one added legumes, such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans.

"People with diabetes did better in terms of blood sugar control on the bean diet versus a diet without beans, which was otherwise extremely healthy," says researcher David J.A. Jenkins, MD, PhD, DSc, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Toronto and St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

The bean diet lowered the predicted risk of heart disease more, too, Jenkins says. And it did so in a way that surprised him, he says. "It reduced heart disease risk predominantly because of its effect on blood pressure," he says.

While Jenkins is a backer of the bean diet, a nutrition expert who wrote a commentary published with the study questions if the beans deserve the credit, or the high fiber in the bean-heavy diet.

The study and commentary are published online in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study was funded by Canada's federally funded ABIP (Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program) through the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (legumes) and PURENet (Pulse Research Network).

Bean Diet Study Details

Legumes are known as low glycemic index foods. The index measures the effects of sugar in food on blood sugar. Jenkins says legumes have been shown to improve blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes. 

Jenkins assigned half the men and women to follow a healthy diet high in wheat fiber. They ate whole grain cereals, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables, he says. The other half was told to eat a healthy diet, including a cup of legumes per day, or about two servings.

Each group got a checklist of recommended foods and quantities to eat every day.

The study lasted three months.

Beans and Blood Sugar: Results

The bean diet improved blood sugar control more, as measured by the HbA1C test.

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%.

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