New research shows that a high consumption of legumes significantly reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which is a serious health concern across the globe.
The legume family consists of plants such as alfalfa, clover, peas, peanuts, soybeans, chickpeas, lentils, and various types of beans. As a food group, they are believed to be particularly nutritious and healthful. One of the reasons for this is that they contain a high level of B vitamins, which help the body to make energy and regulate its metabolism.
Additionally, legumes are high in fiber and contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. They also comprise a variety of so-called phytochemicals — bioactive compounds that further improve the body's metabolism and are believed to provide protection against heart disease and diabetes.
Finally, legumes are also considered to be a ‘low glycemic index food’, which means that blood sugar levels increase very slowly after they are consumed. Because of their various health benefits, it has been suggested that legumes protect against the onset of type 2 diabetes — a serious illness that affects more than 400 million adults worldwide.
Researchers at two institutes in Spain recently embarked on investigating the association between legume consumption and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in people at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
The team investigated 3,349 participants who did not have type 2 diabetes at the beginning of the study. The researchers collected information on their diets at the start of the study and every year throughout the median follow-up period of 4.3 years.
Individuals with a lower cumulative consumption of legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, dry beans, and fresh peas had approximately 1.5 weekly servings of 60 grams of raw legumes, or 12.73 grams per day. Higher legume consumption was defined as 28.75 daily grams of legumes, or the equivalent of 3.35 servings per week.
The study revealed that those with a higher intake of legumes were 35 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than their counterparts who consumed a smaller amount of legumes. Of all the legumes studied, lentils had the strongest association with a low risk of type 2 diabetes.
In fact, individuals with a high consumption of lentils (defined as almost one weekly serving) were 33 percent less likely to develop diabetes compared with their low-consumption counterparts — the participants who had less than half a serving per week.
The authors conclude that: "A frequent consumption of legumes, particularly lentils, in the context of a Mediterranean diet, may provide benefits on type 2 diabetes prevention in older adults at high cardiovascular risk."