Add Legumes to Your Diet to Cut Diabetes Risk, Suggests Study

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 Eating more legumes may cut your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by up to 35 percent, says a new study appearing in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

In particular, adding lentils to your diet shows the most protective benefit, according to Spanish researchers who assessed a four-year study involving more than 3,000 participants.

Lentil soup is a delicious way to eat more legumes. Credit: Emily Carlin/Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

“Legumes, a low-energy, nutrient-dense and low glycemic index food, have shown beneficial effects on glycemic control and adiposity,” write the researchers in Clinical Nutrition.

Eating about one-and-a-half servings of legumes — a group of vegetables that includes lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas — per week was associated with a 35 percent reduced risk of developing diabetes. People who ate one serving of lentils per week saw a 33 percent reduced risk of acquiring the chronic disease.

“The researchers also found that the effect of replacing half a serving/day of foods rich in protein or carbohydrates, including eggs, bread, rice and baked potato, for half a serving/day of legumes was also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes incidence,” report the study authors.

Related: Fasting Diet Reprograms Pancreatic Cells, Reverses Diabetes in Mice

The researchers assessed diabetes risk among 3,349 participants of the PREDIMED study, a longitudinal study looking at overall health. In particular, the researchers tracked individuals who were at an elevated risk of heart disease.

Public health groups warn that there’s a strong correlation between heart disease and diabetes, with 68% of deaths among those older than 65 who have diabetes being attributable to cardiovascular disease. Adults with diabetes are up to four times as likely to die from heart disease compared to adults without diabetes, according to the American Heart Association.

The natural properties in legumes that make them healthy for the heart also assist with lowering diabetes risk.

“Legumes are a food group rich in B vitamins, contain different beneficial minerals (calcium, potassium and magnesium) and sizeable amounts of fiber and are regarded as a low-glycemic index food, which means that blood glucose levels increase only slowly after consumption,” explain the researchers.

Related: Too Little Gluten May Increase Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Chickpeas go great in salads with other beans and vegetables. Credit: Vegan Feast Catering/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

If you’re seeking to add legumes to your diet, you’re in luck — they’re an easy addition and won’t break your wallet. “Legumes are inexpensive, nutrient-dense sources of protein that can be substituted for dietary animal protein,” notes the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University.

While many cultures embrace the humble legume, such consumption is lacking in the United States. “Although legumes are an important part of traditional diets around the world, they are often neglected in typical Western diets,” states the Oregon State University website.

But the benefits can be significant.

“Numerous clinical trials have shown that the consumption of low-glycemic index foods delays the return of hunger, decreases subsequent food intake, and increases the sensation of fullness compared to high-glycemic index foods,” describes the website.

If you’re new to legumes or want to eat them more frequently, take note of some cooking tips from the Mayo Clinic. Often you’ll have to soak legumes to make them tender enough to consume. Oregon State University has you covered with additional health benefits, which some research shows includes cancer prevention as well.

Here are some tips to easily add legumes to your diet.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.