For centuries, legumes or dry beans, as they are commonly known, have been a staple food in the Mediterranean countries where they have played an important part in the fight against heart disease.

Why? Because…

- Legumes contain essential minerals and vitamins such as iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, folic acid, and some of the B-complex vitamins.
- They are low in fat and sodium which make them an ideal food to keep high cholesterol and high blood pressure at bay.
- Legumes are also high in soluble fiber, the kind that lowers cholesterol.
- They can help balance your budget because they are very inexpensive.

As you can see, dry beans are an almost perfect food.

In the past few years, research has paid a lot of attention to the connection between regular legume consumption and a lower incidence of heart disease. The studies have shown that the people who eat dry beans regularly have a lower risk of suffering from heart attacks than the ones who barely eat them.

One study examined the relationship between soluble fiber intake and the risk of heart disease on 9,632 men and women over a period of 19 years. It showed that consuming legumes four times or more per week, compared with less than once a week, lowered the risk of heart disease by 22 percent1

How Eating Legumes Can Help You Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease?

1. Dry beans contain high amounts of soluble fiber

Fiber is what gives plants its structure. It’s found mainly in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as whole grains. It is the portion of plants that our system can not break down because it doesn’t have the appropriate mechanisms to do it. Consequently, our cells have very little use for fiber. Fiber can be soluble and insoluble, and most plant foods contain a combination of both.

Soluble fiber means that the fiber dissolves in water and forms a jelly-like paste with other foods in the intestine. This feature is very important because it reduces the amount of cholesterol circulating in the blood. Soluble fiber not only lowers LDL cholesterol, the “bad” guy, but it also raises HDL cholesterol, the “good” guy.

Insoluble fiber does not have any effect on cholesterol but it is very beneficial for our whole body because it acts as a natural laxative

2. Dry beans help remove cholesterol from your system.

Bile, produced by the liver, is a substance necessary to break down the fat we ingest in food. To produce bile, the liver grabs the cholesterol from the blood, converts it into bile, and sends it to the gallbladder where it’s stored until needed. Then, when we eat, the gallbladder sends the bile to the intestines to help break down the fat portion of the food. Once the bile has done its job in the intestines, one of two things can happen:

- If our meal has enough soluble fiber, the fiber grabs the bile and takes it out of the body through the feces. Once the bile is eliminated, the liver responds by drawing more cholesterol from the blood to make new bile. The result is less cholesterol circulating in our system.

- If our meal does not have enough soluble fiber, the bile is not taken out of the body. In this case, the liver doesn’t need to draw more cholesterol from the blood to produce more bile because there is plenty available in the system. The result is more cholesterol navigating in our blood vessels.

3. Dry beans stop cholesterol from even forming

When our meal includes soluble fiber, bacteria in the colon ferment it. This fermentation produces certain compounds that prevent the formation of cholesterol. This results in lower levels of cholesterol circulating in your blood vessels.

4. Dry beans can stop homocysteine from causing heart attacks or strokes

Homocysteine is a substance the body needs to produce certain compounds vital for our organs to function properly. To produce homocysteine, the body needs adequate amounts of vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid. However, when any of these vitamins is lacking, homocysteine is not converted into the necessary compounds. It then spills into circulation.

Many studies have shown that when homocysteine accumulates in our system, it becomes toxic. Even in small amounts, it will dramatically increase your risk of heart disease. High levels of homocysteine concentrations in the blood may cause a heart attack or a stroke, even among people who have normal cholesterol levels.

How can homocysteine cause heart attacks or strokes?

Abnormal levels of homocysteine appear to:
- Damage the inner lining of the arteries and blood vessels
- Promote blood clots
- Oxidize LDL cholesterol

How can you prevent homocysteine from accumulating in your blood?

Eat foods that contain folate as well as vitamins B6 and B12. Legumes are an excellent source of folate and contain moderate amounts of B6. Recent data show that the practice of fortifying foods with folate has reduced the average level of homocysteine in the U.S. population.

You don’t have to eat dry beans every day but based on studies conducted during more than 25 years, nutrition experts at the Michigan State University have concluded that eating 2 to 4 cups of cooked dry beans every week can protect us against heart disease2. Try to include a variety of legumes such as dry beans, garbanzo beans, and lentils several times a week. Mediterraneans follow this practice and are notorious for having a low incidence of heart attacks and strokes.

1.Bazzano L, He J, Ogden L, Loria C, Suma Vupputuri S, Myers L, Whelton P, Legume consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in US men and women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2001;161:2573–2578 (a).

Author's Bio: 

About the Author:
With her new book, “Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet”, American Dietetic Association Registered Dietitian Emilia Klapp has helped thousands of people just like you lower high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and remove the risk of heart disease. For more information on the book and to obtain a free especial report of the “Top 10 Mediterranean Curative Ingredients” go to: