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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Beans and Lentils May Deter Diabetes
Study links soy and other beans to reduced diabetes risk
by Craig Weatherby

Given the rapid rise in diabetes rates, anything that promises to reduce risk of the disease is welcome.

It comes as little surprise that the results of a joint US-Chinese study link beans to reduced risk of diabetes, because they are rich in “resistant” starch: a type that stabilizes blood sugar levels.

Resistant starch reduces the rate at which other starches in the same food (or meal) are broken down during digestion, and this reduces unhealthful spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.

In fact, thanks to its so-called “second meal effect,” resistant starch improves the body's response to dietary sugars and starches (glucose tolerance) for hours after a meal, and even into the next day (Slowly-digested starches and soluble dietary fibers, such as in oats, also slow digestion of starches, to a lesser extent).

Beans are the best food source of resistant starch: in general, the starch in beans is about evenly divided between slowly-digested starch and resistant starch (Whole, intact grains are also substantial sources of resistant starch).

When we eat resistant starch, it raises intestinal levels of short-chain fatty acids that appear to protect colon cells from cancer-causing genetic damage. And resistant starch enhances absorption of minerals such as calcium and magnesium: an effect also associated with reduced colon cancer risk.

Resistant starch offers a variety of benefits:
  • Stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels.
  • Lowers total cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Raises HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels.
  • Promotes beneficial bacteria, and suppresses disease-causing bacteria and their toxic products.
  • Promotes regularity.
  • Reduces storage of dietary calories as fat.
For more on the benefits of beans, see “Beans Seen to Discourage Weight Gain and Diabetes.”

US-Chinese team links beans to reduced diabetes risk
Prior indications that beans might reduce diabetes risk received support from a recent epidemiological study.

Researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Shanghai Cancer Institute recruited 64,227 middle-aged Chinese women with no previous history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer, surveyed their dietary habits, and examined them after an average of 4.6 years.

The authors reported that the women reporting the highest intake of legumes – beans, lentils, soybeans, and peanuts – had the lowest rates of diabetes.

The women with the highest intake levels of legumes were 38 percent less likely to have developed diabetes and those with the highest intake of soybeans were 47 percent less likely to have developed diabetes.

It is important to note that this apparent protective effect did not extend to processed soy products and pure soy protein.

As they wrote, “The association between soy products (other than soy milk) and soy protein consumption (protein derived from soy beans and their products) with type 2 [diabetes] was not significant.”

Last April and March, Harvard University researchers published the results of clinical trials, in which 42 post-menopausal women with signs of metabolic syndrome replaced red meat with either soy protein or soy nuts.

All of the women were placed on the anti-hypertension diet called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products and low in saturated fat, total fat, cholesterol, refined grains, salt, and sweets.

Both studies showed very positive results from replacing meat in the DASH diet with soy nuts, but did not display as much benefit from replacing red meat with soy protein:

“Short-term soy nut consumption reduced some markers of inflammation… increased plasma nitric oxide levels… improved glycemic control and lipid profiles in postmenopausal women with the metabolic syndrome” (Azadbakht L et al 2007).

It seems that beans, the "musical fruit" of nursery school rhymes, hit some very sweet preventive-health notes.

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