A new Canadian study on obesity finds that eating foods known as pulses -beans, lentils, dry peas and chickpeas can help people lose weight.
In fact, one serving of pulses a day (about 3/4 of a cup) appears to lead to weight loss even without any added dietary restrictions. We’re not talking about a lot of weight, mind you (the study found that participants lost on average about half a pound over six weeks) but the findings are certainly significant enough considering no other changes to diet were required to produce the drop.
Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto analyzed the findings from 21 previous studies involving a total of 940 participants, for the most part made up of middle-aged men and women, to produce their results. Along with the modest reduction in weight, they found that in 6 of the 21 trials, eating pulses also led to a reduction in body fat.
“Despite their known health benefits, only 13 per cent of Canadians eat pulses on any given day and most do not eat the full serving,” says Dr. Russell de Souza of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital. “So there is room for most of us to incorporate dietary pulses in our diet and realize potential weight management benefits.”
But how is it that eating more of something, like chickpeas, help people lose weight? The researchers have their theories.
First, being high in protein and fibre, beans and lentils are also highly satiating, meaning that people feel full after eating them (and therefore are less prone to keep eating). In fact, one study found that pulses produce a 31 per cent increase in subjective satiety compared to a control meal. Second, pulses are low on the glycemic index (GI), thereby helping to regulate blood glucose levels and insulin release, which have been linked to weight control and the prevention of overeating. Studies have also shown that eating a diet of high GI foods increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Finally, the bioavailability of the calories from pulses is lower than in other foods, so that the body’s digestive enzymes have a harder time accessing the nutrients in pulses, thus reducing the absorption of fats into the body.
“Our results indicate that dietary pulses may be effective for weight loss even when incorporated into a non-calorically restricted diet,” say the study’s authors, “They can provide a potentially effective alternative to calorie-restricted diets that may be difficult to adhere to.”
All this is good news, especially considering that 2016 has been declared by the UN General Assembly as the International Year of Pulses. One of Canada’s ambassadors for the year is Chef Michael Smith, Food-TV host and host of the web series Lentil Hunter.
“We all know that we need more fibre in our diet, more protein. And we all know food is going up in cost. So here’s an ingredient -pulses: chickpeas, lentils and beans- that hits all those marks,” said Smith, who also adds that pulses are an environmentally sustainable crop and financially lucrative for Canadian farmers.
The St. Michael’s Hospital study was published this month in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.