Lower Heart Disease
Among Beans' Benefits
4 or more
servings of legumes a week can make a
MSNBC October 6, 2006
By Karen Collins, R.D.
BACK TO ARTICLES
Could eating more beans be your next step toward a healthful diet?
Two new studies suggest that eating beans could lower your risk of
developing a colon adenoma, a non-cancerous tumor that can progress into
colon cancer. Previous studies link greater consumption of legumes
(dried beans and peas) with lower risk of heart disease.
New analysis of almost 35,000 participants in the Nurses’ Health
Study shows that women who ate four or more servings of legumes a week
were 33 percent less likely to develop colorectal adenomas than those
consuming one serving a week or less. A new study from the National
Cancer Institute shows that among people who had previously developed
colon adenomas, those who increased consumption of dry beans the most
were 45 percent less likely to face a recurrence of advanced adenoma
than those who slightly decreased the amount of beans they ate. Four or
more servings of legumes per week was enough to decrease risk of heart
disease 22 percent compared to those eating legumes less than once a
week in a large national survey.
How they help
These health benefits of legumes may come from this food’s unique
phytochemicals. Saponins, lignans and phytosterols are under study for
potential benefits in fighting cancer and heart disease. Legumes are
also a major source of several nutrients most often lacking in
Americans’ diets: magnesium, potassium, folate and fiber.
Recommendations for the amount of legumes we should eat vary, partly
based on calorie needs. One dietary pattern recommended in the 2005
Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests five servings of legumes a
week for sedentary adults and up to six servings a week for adults with
higher calorie needs. A serving is considered a half-cup of cooked
beans, dried peas or lentils. That translates into the average adult
eating an average of only a third-cup or less per day.
But what about ...
Some people hesitate to eat beans because they can produce too much
intestinal gas. Gas develops as indigestible carbohydrates in beans pass
into the large intestine, where bacteria break down the carbohydrates
and produce gas. A product called Beano taken with or just before eating
provides a protein that breaks down these carbohydrates, preventing or
reducing gas formation.
Cultures that traditionally use beans abundantly tend to use herbs
and spices said to fight flatulence. These include turmeric, ginger,
cinnamon, cumin, anise, fennel seeds, caraway seeds, rosemary,
lemongrass, garlic and basil.
Little research “proves” their effectiveness, but you lose nothing by
flavoring bean dishes with them to see if they work for you. Italian,
Greek, Indian, Caribbean, Mexican, Middle Eastern and Asian cookbooks
can provide inspiration, since all these cuisines use legumes
Even without special recipes, experiment by adding cooked beans to
soups, salads, casseroles and rice or pasta. Or puree beans and use them
to thicken soups or as a base for dips and spreads. When using canned
beans make sure to rinse and drain them first to reduce the amount of
Nutrition Notes is provided by the American Institute for Cancer
Research in Washington, D.C.