Thursday, June 22nd, 2000
These inexpensive food staples can benefit your heart

Keep eating black bean soup or bean burritos. New research presented at the American Heart Association"s 40th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention shows the beans and dried peas can help reduce the risk of heart disease. There"s a catch: a bean burrito just once a week won"t offer much in the way of heart health. Beans and peas are in the legume family, as are peanuts. The heart protective effect of legumes was most striking in those who ate beans four or more times per week, compared to those who ate beans or peas once a week or less, researchers say.
Beans four times a week may seem like a lot, but soybeans and tofu, which is made from soybeans count too, according to one of the author's, Lydia A. Bazzano, B.S., of Tulane University in New Orleans. "Over the course of the study, we discovered that the people eating legumes at least four times each week had a 19 percent lower incidence of heart disease compared to those who ate legumes less than once a week," Bazzano says. In addition, the frequent bean-eaters also reduced their risk for all forms of cardiovascular disease by nine percent compared to the others.
"This may be the first study to identify a relationship between bean consumption and incidence of heart disease," says co-author Jiang He, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Tulane. "Many cultures, including Latin American and Asian countries, count beans and bean products as an important part of their daily diet, and even in New Orleans, red beans and rice are a staple." Bazzano and He say it's probably a good idea to add beans to your grocery list, but it's too early for a sweeping public health recommendation.
"We need more prospective studies with well collected food data to confirm the results," Bazzano says. Researchers looked at the effects of legumes on various forms of cardiovascular disease , including heart disease and stroke. They examined 19 years worth of data gathered on 11,924 U.S. men and women who participated in the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study.

The participants were between the ages of 25 and 74 when the study began, and free of cardiovascular disease. They were divided into several groups; those who ate beans less than once per week; those who ate beans one a week; those who ate beans two or three times a week; and those who ate beans at least four times per week. The beneficial effects of bean consumption were seen regardless of an individual"s age, race, gender, blood pressure, total cholesterol, body mass index, alcohol consumption, physical activity level, smoking habits, and other risk factors for heart disease, researchers say. What is it about beans that make them good for your heart? 'It may be the protein content of beans,' says Bazzano. 'For instance, soybean protein has been shown to reduce total cholesterol levels as well as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) 'bad' cholesterol.' Bazzano adds that fiber , which is found in abundance in beans , has also been shown to improve cholesterol levels.
Although most legumes are low in fat, peanuts are the exception. However, they contain polyunsaturated fat, which has been found to have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. Bazzano says the study indicates that legumes can ply a valuable role in a balanced diet. 'Beans come in a lot of different forms,' she says. 'So it"s possible to work beans into almost any diet.' Co-authors of the report on the benefits of eating beans and dried peas are: Lorraine G. Ogden, M.S.; Suma Vupputuri, M.P.H.; Leann Myers, Ph.D.; and Paul K. Whelton, M.D., M.Sc., Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans. Also contributing to the report on the benefits eating beans and a healthier heart was Catherine Loria, Ph.D. M.S., of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Bethesda, Md.

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