Do you want an inexpensive but delicious way to improve your heart health? Then, add more beans into your diet.
Beans are a high-fiber and low-fat protein source, and they provide multiple phytochemicals that can help in reducing your risk of many health conditions, including heart disease.
Beans belong to a family of foods called legumes, which are plants whose seeds are contained within pods. Legumes include soybeans, lentils, peas, peanuts and green beans. Beans are harvested from within the seed pod of the legume. Then, they are dried or eaten fresh.
Many health organizations, including the World Health Organization and American Heart Association, reported that the healthiest diet is a plant-based diet, that includes beans.
Below are 5 ways beans can improve your heart health:
1. Lowers Blood Pressure
Elevated blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease, therefore, maintaining a normal blood pressure is heart-healthy.
According to the Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, participants who consumed beans had a 47% lower risk of elevated blood pressure, as compared to those who did not include beans in their diet (1).
This study suggests that consuming beans can help in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Several other studies have reported that consuming a diet that is rich in beans and other legumes can lead to greater elasticity in the blood vessels, thus resulting in lower blood pressure. (2,3)
2. Provides Heart-Healthy Vitamins
Beans are a good source of several minerals and vitamins that are linked with improved heart health, including magnesium, niacin, potassium and zinc. One B vitamin in particular,known as folate, decreases the levels of the amino acid homocysteine, that can cause damagein the blood vessel walls.
When present in high concentrations, homocysteine has been associated to an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. By decreasing the levels of homocysteine, folate can help in reducing the risk of heart disease (4,5)
3. Reduce Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Beans contain several phytochemicals, including terpenoids, polyphenols and anthocyanin, which can reduce the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to heart disease. (6) Beans that contain dark-colored seed coats, including red kidney beans, black beans and pinto beans, have higher levels of these beneficial phytochemicals.
Researchers have identified oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, as 2 primary factors in the development of heart disease. A vicious cycle can begin when free radicals cause damage to blood vessel walls in the process known as oxidation.
The immune system responds with a natural inflammatory response that heals the damage. But,when inflammation becomes chronic, the damaged areas can develop plaque or cholesterol deposits, that can lead to clogging of the arteries.
4. Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
One epidemiological study has directly studied the linked between bean consumption and occurrence of cardiovascular disease. Kabagambe et al. (2005) have reported that just 1 serving or 1/2 cup daily of beans was linked with a 38% lower risk of myocardial infarction, or what is known as heart attack. While more than 1 serving per day did not provide any further decreased risk.
5. Reduce LDL or Bad Cholesterol
Adding just 1/2 cup of beans daily into your diet can significantly reduce your LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels, that is according to a meta-analysis published by the Canadian Medical Association(7).
Researchers studied data from 26 randomized control trials, which included 1,037 participants, and reported that LDL cholesterol dropped an average of 5% after consumption of 1/2 cup of beans daily, over an average of 6 weeks. The researchers suggested that adding beans into the diet can be a simple way to benefit heart health.
1 Papanikolaou Y, Fulgoni VL, 3rd. Bean consumption is associated with greater nutrient intake, reduced systolic blood pressure, lower body weight, and a smaller waist circumference in adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. J Am Coll Nutr 2008;27:569-76.
2 Zahradka, P., et al. Daily non-soy legume consumption reverses vascular impairment due to peripheral artery disease. Atherosclerosis. 2013 Oct;230(2):310-4. Epub 2013 Aug 6.
3 Hanson, MG, et al. Lentil-based diets attenuate hypertension and large-artery remodeling in spontaneously hypertensive rats. Br J Nutr. 2014 Feb;111(4):690-8. Epub 2013 Sep 24.
4 Holt, E.M., et al., Fruit and vegetable consumption and its relation to markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc, 2009. 109(3): p. 414-21.
5 Mente, A., et al., A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors
6. Xu BJ, Yuan SH, Chang SK. Comparative analyses of phenolic composition, antioxidant capacity, and color of cool season legumes and other selected food legumes. J Food Sci 2007;72:S167-77.
7 Ha V, Sievenpiper JL, de Souza RJ, et al. Effect of dietary pulse intake on established therapeutic lipid targets for cardiovascular risk reduction: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. CMAJ. 2014;186:E252-E262.