Have you checked your pulse?

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When was the last time you ate pulses? Maybe in vegetable soup or some baked beans on toast? Most Australians do not eat pulses (legumes) very often, but two recent studies add to the evidence that eating them regularly significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, Australia’s leading cause of death. So, maybe it is time we checked our pulse.

The Heart Foundation estimates that heart disease accounts for approximately 33 per cent of deaths each year, killing one Australian every 11 minutes.1 Older Australians are at the greatest risk, but changes to diet, such as eating pulses more often, could help reduce your risk.

Key points

  • Eating pulses regularly leads to higher fibre intakes and lower cholesterol
  • Most pulses have a low glycemic index
  • Eating pulses more often can improve blood glucose control and decrease risk of heart disease in people with diabetes
  • In a recent study of people aged 50 years and older, people were asked to eat pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, beans and peas regularly for two months, while another group ate their usual meals.

    Their cholesterol levels dropped significantly in the group eating pulses. This was estimated to reduce their risk of heart disease by 17 to 25 per cent.2

    People in the study ate approximately 36 per cent more fibre during the pulse-based diet compared with their regular diet. This helps to explain why their cholesterol dropped because fibre in pulses is thought to bind cholesterol and prevent re-absorption into the blood (similar to plant sterols in margarine).

    As well as older people, people with diabetes are also at high risk of heart disease. Nearly one million Australians have diabetes, and about half of those are not aware that they have it. This is especially concerning as poorly controlled diabetes significantly increases the risk of dying from heart disease.

    However, small changes in diet can help control diabetes and so help reduce the risk of heart disease.

    One important way to control diabetes is by choosing foods with a lower glycemic index (GI). Low-GI foods are digested slowly and so help improve blood glucose control. Most pulses are low-GI.

    A Canadian study compared a high-fibre diet based on wheat foods with a low-GI diet that encouraged people to eat at least one cup of cooked pulses per day. The researchers concluded that the low-GI diet including pulses was more effective at improving blood glucose control and reducing the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes.3

    To help reduce your risk of heart disease, aim to eat pulses two or three times a week. For tips on cooking legumes and recipes visit the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council website (www.glnc.org.au).



    1. The Heart Foundation. Accessed online 13 November 2012, www.heartfoundation.org.au
    2. Abeysekara, S et al. A pulse based diet is effective for reducing total and LDL cholesterol in older adults. British Journal of Nutrition 2012, 108, pp S103–S110.
    3. Jenkins, D et al. Effect of legumes as part of a low glycemic index diet on glycemic control and cardiovascular risk factors in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of Internal Medicine 2012. Published online.

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