New data lay out pulse crops’ health benefits

New data compiled by researchers across North America show beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas can help people fight chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes, according to Canada’s pulse crop association.

Pulse Canada on Thursday publicized the results from six clinical trials, all released that day in Toronto during the Pulse Health and Food Symposium at the Park Hyatt Hotel.

“These research results add to the body of evidence that shows beans, peas and lentils have enormous potential to reduce cholesterol, fight cardiovascular disease, help with insulin management and improve gut health,” said Peter Watts, director of market innovation for Winnipeg-based Pulse Canada, in a release.

The clinical trials, which were supported by Pulse Canada through its Pulse Innovation Project, which received $3.2 million in federal funding, show “pulses are a prescription for healthy living right out of the grocery cart,” Watts said.

Trials

In one trial, University of Toronto researchers found blood sugar and hunger reduced after eating pulses, which continue to reduce blood sugar and hunger following subsequent meals. Eating pulses for eight weeks improved blood sugar control, reduced the amount of food and calories eaten and decreased the waist line. Researchers concluded that regular consumption of pulses could lead to reduced risk of diseases related to excess body weight.

Second, researchers from the University of Manitoba found benefits in daily pulse consumption in trial subjects with peripheral arterial disease (PAD). Eating half a cup of mixed pulses per day for eight weeks reduced circulating cholesterol levels, reduced body mass index and decreased total cholesterol by five per cent and LDL cholesterol by 8.75 per cent.

Third, trials at the University of Guelph found that regular daily inclusion of pulses in the diets of healthy individuals can improve gut health. Improved intestinal bacterial population and metabolic activity suggested pulses have prebiotic activity in humans. Positive changes were also seen in fecal pH and enzyme activity.

A related study at the University of Saskatchewan and University of Florida have found regular daily inclusion of pulses in the diets of healthy people may increase levels of beneficial gut bacteria and reduce the levels of harmful “putrefactive and pathogenic” bacteria.

Research at Bastyr University in Washington and Purdue University in Indiana found eating 0.5 cups a day of pulses improved weight loss success, giving trial participants a smaller waist size and lower diastolic blood pressure by the end of the study. Participants also had improved fasting insulin levels, compared to those eating less or no pulses.

Lastly, researchers at the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals at the University of Manitoba found that the dietary fibre-rich content of peas was “key” to regulate insulin management in overweight, hyper-cholesterolemic adults.

In the Richardson study, participants eating muffins made with either whole pea flour or pea fibre had fasting insulin levels 15 per cent lower than those eating control muffins made with wheat flour.

As well, the trials found consuming pea fibre “significantly” lowered insulin resistance by up to 18 per cent. Insulin resistance — in which the body no longer properly uses the insulin it produces — increases the risk of elevated blood glucose levels and the development of diabetes.

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