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Oct 26, 2012

Legumes Improve Blood Sugar Control and Reduce Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetics

Patients with diabetes may want to think twice when choosing between whole wheat foods and legumes, like beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

For patients with diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels is extremely important. Out of control blood sugar levels can lead to serious health problems and sometimes, like with a heart attack, stroke or kidney failure, the damage can’t be undone. Fortunately, there are many ways that diabetics can help control their blood sugar, like through exercise, weight control and diet. And a new study shows that incorporating more legumes into the diet could not only help control blood sugar levels but also reduce cardiovascular risk in patients with type 2 diabetes.

This study was published recently in the Archives of Internal Medicine – a peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Medical Association. Through this study, researchers assigned more than 120 patients with type 2 diabetes to one of two diets. Half of participants were instructed to eat at least 1 cup of legumes, like beans, chickpeas and lentils, a day, while the other half were instructed to eat more whole wheat products. After following patients for 3 months on these diets, researchers found that patients increasing their consumption of legumes had significantly better blood sugar control than patients who increased their intake of whole wheat products. And as mentioned earlier, increased legume intake was also associated with lower blood pressure and cardiovascular risk compared to increased intake of whole wheat products.

So what’s the difference between legumes and whole wheat products? The good news is that both are packed with insoluble fiber, which is known to have many health benefits like lowering blood pressure and helping with blood sugar control. But the main difference between legumes and whole wheat products is where they fall in the glycemic index – a measure of how quickly blood sugar levels rise after eating certain foods. Foods with a high glycemic index can cause a spike in blood sugar, which is generally not ideal for blood sugar control, whereas foods with a low glycemic index increase the body’s sugar levels slowly, leaving you feel more satisfied.

When we compare legumes to whole wheat products, legumes generally have a lower glyemic index than whole wheat products. So it’s not surprising that this study showed that eating legumes helped control blood sugar more than whole wheat products. But it’s important to note that consumption of both legumes and whole wheat products helped improve blood sugar control in this study. So for patients with diabetes, the take-home message is that diet can be extremely important in controlling blood sugar levels. Incorporating foods into the diet that are full of fiber and have a lower glycemic index can help control blood sugar and improve heart health. In general, both legumes and whole wheat products have a lower glycemic index than many other foods and it’s important that patients with diabetes try to eat more foods with a lower glycemic index to aid in blood sugar control and reduce cardiovascular risk.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What are legumes?

  • Legumes refer to a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas and lentils. These vegetables are generally low in fat, cholesterol-free, and high in potassium, iron, fiber and protein.
  • What is the glycemic index?

  • The glycemic index is a measure of how much foods raise our blood sugar levels after eating. Based on a scale of 1-100, foods with a low glycemic index cause a gradual increase in blood sugar, whereas foods with a high glycemic index cause a rapid spike in blood sugar.

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