Beans — Your Body’s Cholesterol Cleanup Crew

beans and cholesterol
Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat , the more you f___”.

We’ve all experienced the truth of beans as gas-producers, but did you know about their ability to protect the heart?

It’s true, and it has to do with cholesterol.

Your body needs cholesterol to make cellular membranes and hormones, but the liver produces all of the cholesterol that the body needs, from scratch. Diets that are high in saturated fat cause the liver to pump out more bad cholesterol, also known as low-density lipoprotein, even though the body doesn’t need it. That excess cholesterol gets stuffed into the walls of our arteries, causing the plaque-like buildups known as atherosclerosis. These plaques can grow so large they block the flow of blood; sometimes they break off and lodge in the arteries downstream, again blocking blood flow. This roadblock in our vessel highway leads to heart attacks, strokes, and other arterial problems.

As those levels of bad cholesterol rise, the body has to figure out what to do with the excess— and that’s where beans come in. Lowering blood cholesterol helps protect our arteries from getting clogged, so think of beans, and the generous helping of fiber they contain, as a heavy duty clean-up crew, whizzing around in your bloodstream, cleaning up the mess and removing the bad cholesterol.

A recent study out of Canada analyzed the ability of beans to lower cholesterol. The study’s investigators looked at the outcomes of 26 different studies and found that people who ate just one serving of beans per day (that’s only ½ cup), had significantly lower levels of bad cholesterol. The effect was especially pronounced in men, and included all types of beans and lentils: black, navy, pinto, red, kidney, brown, etc.

Are you thinking about adding more beans to your diet but dread the bloating and flatulence? Don’t worry; your body will adjust within a few weeks. Try to be consistent, and eat at least one serving a day to get both the maximum cholesterol-lowering effect, and the least amount of gas.

NCBI & Integrative medicine, rakel, 3rd edition.

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