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Glycemic control and cardiovascular disease in Type 2 diabetes

A comprehensive aggregation and review of available research finds that regular pulse consumption can significantly lower cholesterol.

Today in Canada, heart disease and diabetes affect millions of lives. In fact, there may be no greater health issue in Canada than the need to prevent or mitigate the damage caused by these conditions.

As John Sievenpiper sees it, however, making an impact on the lives of Canadians won’t require any kind of far-fetched medical moonshot. One important tool has been here all along: pulses.

“In reviewing the evidence, we’re seeing a clearer signal for the benefit of pulses,” said Sievenpiper, a physician and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences. “We’re finding that high consumers of pulses have lower cardiovascular disease and lower coronary heart disease incidences than people who are low consumers of pulses.”

Since 2015, with funding from APG and others, Sievenpiper has been looking at the effect of pulses on glycemic control, blood lipids, blood pressure and body weight by analyzing a vast array of available medical research. This included 26 separate research projects encompassing 1,000 people.

Sievenpiper searched for hard evidence that consumption of pulses can help mitigate the impact of heart disease and diabetes. He found plenty.

“Pulses are a pretty incredible food,” Sievenpiper said. “There are a number of mechanisms that relate to the composition of the pulse that would explain their ability to lower blood pressure, lower blood sugar and cholesterol. In particular, pulses have a low glycemic index, they’re a source of viscous fibre that may reduce blood lipids, the pulse plant proteins can lower cholesterol, plus they have anti-nutrients that may help lower blood sugars.”

Include more pulses in daily diet to drive benefits

Sievenpiper is currently in the process of formalizing his findings through a detailed scientific paper, but he’s already begun speaking to medical and health professionals about this project.

The headline benefit of Sievenpiper’s research is that regular pulse consumption (just ¾ cup per day) can lower LDL, the so-called ‘bad cholesterol’,  by 5%.  This benefit is readily accessible. You only need to eat one serving of pulses per day. For some Canadians, this may require a move out of their food comfort zone, but there are signs that this is starting to occur.

The 2016 United Nations International Year of Pulses was a catalyst for the Canadian pulse industry to promote pulses to Canadian consumers. Food manufacturers across North America are beginning to integrate more pulse ingredients into their products. Many consumers are placing greater emphasis on choosing plant-based foods more often.

Given the benefits to individuals’ health and the health of society, Sievenpiper sees Canada’s pulse growers playing a critically important role by continuing to produce home-grown pulses.

“As the awareness around the health benefits of pulses increases,” he said, “I think we have an opportunity to see a meaningful increase in pulses, and with it, a meaningful increase in the health of Canadians.”