In the past few years, research has paid a lot of attention to the connection between regular legumes (dry beans) consumption and a lower incidence of heart disease.
Several studies conducted by the University of Michigan have shown that consuming legumes four times or more per week, compared with less than once, lowers the risk of heart disease by 22 percent.
Fiber: A Quick Overview
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. Both types are important for our health, but the fiber that interests us today is the soluble type because is the one that lowers cholesterol.
What does Soluble Fiber mean?
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, as we’ll see because it reduces the amount of cholesterol circulating in the blood. Soluble fiber not only lowers LDL cholesterol, the “bad” guy but 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 and removes toxic waste by promoting regular bowel movement. Let us take a look now at how soluble fiber does lower cholesterol.
The Cholesterol-Fiber Connection
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:
1. If our meal has enough soluble fiber, the fiber grabs the bile and takes it out of our body through the feces. Once the bile is gone, the liver responds by drawing more cholesterol from the blood to make new bile. The result is less cholesterol circulating in our system.
2. 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.
In addition, when our meal includes soluble fiber, this fiber gets fermented by bacteria in the colon. This fermentation produces certain compounds that prevent the formation of cholesterol. This results in lower levels of cholesterol circulating in our blood vessels.
Another benefit of including dry beans as part of your diet is the effect they have on homocysteine.
What is Homocysteine?
Homocysteine is a substance our body needs to produce certain compounds vital for our organs to function properly. To produce homocysteine, our bodies need adequate amounts of vitamin B6, B12, and folic acid. When any of these vitamins is lacking, homocysteine is not converted into the necessary compounds and spills into the circulation.
Many studies have shown that when homocysteine accumulates in our system, it becomes toxic even in small amounts, increasing the risk of heart disease. High levels of homocysteine concentrations in our blood may cause a heart attack or a stroke, even among people who have normal cholesterol levels.
How can Homocysteine cause heart attacks?
Abnormal levels of homocysteine appear to:
– Damage the inner lining of the arteries
– 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.
Do you need to eat Legumes every day?
You don’t have to. Based on studies conducted during more than 25 years, nutrition experts at Michigan State University concluded that eating 2 to 4 cups of cooked dry beans every week can protect us against heart disease. Try to include a variety of legumes such as dry beans, garbanzo beans, and lentils. Studies have shown that people who eat dry beans regularly have a lower risk of suffering from heart disease than the ones who barely eat them.
A soluble fiber foods list that will help you lower LDL cholesterol
Legumes (Dry beans)
- Pinto beans
- Lima beans
- Kidney beans
- Navy beans
- Black beans
- Lentils, all colors
- Brussels sprouts
- Green peas
- Sweet potatoes
- Summer squash
- Brazil nuts
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Rolled oats
- Psyllium husk
Making this fiber foods list part of your daily menus, not only will help you lower your bad cholesterol but will also help you with many other areas of your health. And don’t forget that one of the best remedies to lower LDL cholesterol is brisk walking, 5 days a week. Both, a healthy diet and adequate exercise, are your best medications to bring cholesterol levels back to normal. No pill, regardless of how expensive it is, can replace this natural remedy.