Doctor’s Tip: Eat more (beans), weigh less
Obesity causes many chronic health problems and shortens lifespan. This is another column in a series taken from Dr. Michael Greger’s 2020 book “How Not to Diet.”
Lowly legumes are often don’t get the respect they deserve. Legumes include beans of all kinds, chickpeas, peas and lentils. Many cultures have developed tasty dishes based on legumes, such as lentils and chickpeas in Indian and Middle Eastern food; soy beans, tofu and tempeh in Asian food; and beans in Cuban, Mexican and South American dishes.
Legumes contain fiber, iron, magnesium, potassium, protein and zinc. They have been shown to help prevent cancer, and the American Institute for Cancer Research came out with a recommendation in 2007 advising people to eat whole grains and/or legumes with every meal. Legumes feed the health-promoting bacteria in the gut microbiome. They lower LDL (bad cholesterol) by as much as 19%. Legumes prevent harmful insulin spikes. Soy lowers blood pressure.
If you look at the Blue Zones — five areas in the world where people live the longest, with good-quality lives — the common threads are that these populations eat primarily plant-based, whole food diets, and they move about frequently. What stands out most, though, is that they all eat a lot of legumes.
Regarding weight loss, Dr. Greger notes that in “Harvard studies, the food category most associated with weight loss over time was soy food products…” Both fiber and protein are associated with appetite suppression. Only plant products have fiber — animal products do not. And plant protein is more effective than animal protein in suppressing appetite.
If beans are part of a meal, people end up eating fewer calories. The interesting thing is that calorie intake over many hours following the bean-containing meal diminishes as well, a phenomenon known as “the second meal effect.” Dr. Greger explains how this works like this: “Good gut flora can take fiber and produce valuable short-chain fatty acids that get absorbed into our bloodstreams and circulate throughout our systems. So if we eat a bean burrito for dinner, by the next morning, our gut bacteria are eating that same burrito, and the by-products they create may affect how our breakfasts are digested and how full we feel.”
In “How Not to Die,” Greger recommends three servings of legumes a day, with a serving size being 1/4 cup of hummus or bean dip (without oil); 1/2 cup of cooked beans, peas, lentils, tofu or tempeh; or 1 cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils.
Feel bloated and gassy after eating beans? It takes 10-14 days for your gastrointestinal system to get used to the extra (but health-promoting) fiber, and then these symptoms usually resolve. In the meantime, lentils, soy products and peas usually don’t cause these symptoms.
A note of caution: Beans need to be cooked adequately in order to destroy a toxin present in raw beans. This is not usually an issue, because raw beans are hard, so it would be difficult to eat them even if you wanted to.
Greg Feinsinger, M.D., is a retired family physician with a special interest in heart disease and diabetes prevention and reversal, ideally though lifestyle changes. He’s available for free, one-hour consultations — call 970-379-5718.
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