By now, you probably know there isn’t a food or supplement that will magically melt off the extra body fat you might be trying to lose. To be rewarded with meaningful weight loss, you need regular exercise and dietary tweaks – fewer processed foods, smaller portions, and less sugar, in combination with regular aerobic and resistance exercise. Still, some foods can give you an extra fat loss edge as long as you make them part of an overall healthy lifestyle. As a new study shows, legumes are one of those foods.
The Wonderful World of Legumes
When is the last time you ate a bowl of lentil soup or devoured a bowl of beans as a side dish? Legumes, including beans, dried peas, and lentils, are an underappreciated food. That’s unfortunate since they’re inexpensive and widely available in bins at natural food stores. You might argue beans take too long time to cook, but that argument doesn’t hold water anymore. Simply throw them in a Crockpot and let them cook while you’re doing other things.
Why should you care about legumes? In a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed the impact of legumes on weight loss. They pored over 21 different clinical trials involving almost 1,000 adults. What they found was eating the equivalent of ¾ of a cup of legumes daily led to an average weight loss of ¾ of a pound over a 6-week period. While this isn’t enough to qualify beans and lentils as miracle weight loss foods, combining them with a healthy diet could give you an extra fat loss edge.
Legumes and Weight Loss
So how might eating a serving of legumes daily help you lose weight? Beans and lentils contain fiber but they also contain a special type of fiber called resistant starch. Your body can’t easily break down and absorb the calories in resistant starch. Instead, bacteria in your gut ferment the starch and produce healthful compounds called short-chain fatty acids that help keep the lining of your intestinal tract healthy.
There’s more good news. Diets high in resistant starch are linked with weight loss. Plus, the copious amounts of fiber in legumes makes these plant foods highly satiating. How many times have you felt hungry after eating a bowl of beans? In fact, research shows beans and lentils increase feelings of fullness by 31%. Plus, legumes are a good source of plant-based protein to help fill you up and control your appetite for hours after a meal.
Other Reasons to Love Beans and Lentils
Another benefit of eating legumes is that their high fiber content makes them low on the glycemic scale. When you eat beans or lentils, they don’t lead to a rapid rise in blood sugar. As such, your pancreas doesn’t release as much insulin. That bodes well for your metabolic health.
One study compared two different diets on blood sugar parameters. Diet A consisted of lots of fruits and veggies along with moderate amounts of whole wheat. Diet B included similar amounts of fruits and vegetables but substituted a cup of legumes for the whole wheat. The results? Blood sugar parameters were better with the legume diet than with the whole wheat one. That makes beans a good choice for diabetics too.
Did you know beans are also an excellent source of antioxidants? Red beans and black beans are among the highest antioxidant-rich foods. What gives beans such kick-butt antioxidant activity are compounds called phenols. Beans with higher levels of phenols include black kidney beans and baby lima beans. Other good choices are red kidney beans and black beans. You probably think of vegetables and fruits as being the best sources of antioxidants but beans have strong antioxidant activity. In fact, red kidney beans are higher in antioxidants than blueberries!
What’s Not to Love about Them?
All in all, legumes are the “total package.” A 0.5 cup serving of cooked lentils has only 120 calories but supplies your body with 9 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. Plus, when you enjoy a bowl of beans or lentils, you’re getting B vitamins and minerals like zinc, magnesium, and iron. In addition, the soluble fiber in beans and lentils helps to lower your cholesterol when you eat them consistently. One study showed eating one serving of legumes daily led to a 5% reduction in LDL-cholesterol.
One issue that keeps some people from eating a bean-rich diet is flatulence. Beans are gas producers because they contain several natural sugars your body can’t digest, the main one being stachyose. Bacteria can break these sugars down and when they do you’re left with the uncomfortable and socially unacceptable problem of gas. Here’s a way to reduce gas when you prepare beans. Soak the beans overnight in 4 times as much water as you have beans. Then drain off the water before cooking them. The water will absorb some of the sugars in question so you’ll be less gassy.
The Bottom Line
You’ll discover lots of ways to add legumes to your diet. Toss them into soups and stews – and don’t forget about chili, the perfect vehicle for beans. Puree chickpeas and make your own hummus dip for spreading on whole grain crackers and vegetables. These days, you can even find recipes for black bean brownies, for a healthier take on this often unhealthy comfort food. Add chickpeas kidney, beans, or black beans to salads for extra plant protein to help you stay full. How about homemade black bean or lentil burgers? Most of us don’t take advantage of this nutrient-rich food source. Show some love for these fiber and protein-rich plant foods – and reap the rewards.
Eurekalert.org. “Eating Beans, Peas, Chickpeas, or Lentils May Help Lose Weight and Keep It Off”
Nutraingredients.com. “Legume Consumption Helps Glycemic Control and Lowers Heart Risk: Study”
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Food Chem. 2014;152:462-6. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2013.12.006. Epub 2013 Dec 9.
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Medical News Today. “Eat one daily serving of legumes to keep away ‘bad cholesterol”
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