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Back to Fall 2013 PNN Articles

Beans Can Help Battle the Bulge

The battle of the bulge is a constant one for most of us. And apparently it’s hard to beat. The number of people who are overweight or obese continues to rise at dramatic rates. One third of Americans (36%) are obese, which is roughly 35 pounds overweight. And now North Americans aren’t the only ones facing this fight. It is estimated that 1.5 billion people worldwide are overweight, of whom 500 million are obese. Some 43 million children under the age of 5 were overweight in 2010, with 35 million residing in developing countries (largest numbers in Asia and fastest growth rates in Africa).

It is clear that many of us are fighting this battle if you consider the army of weight loss products that have emerged over the last few decades. We’ve long been searching for the answer to this pending epidemic. Sugar-free drinks including Tab and Diet Pepsi were launched into the market in the 1960s. In the 1980s, health professionals and governments began making recommendations to eat less fat. The food industry responded with low-fat food products that mostly had replaced fat with carbohydrates so the amount of calories was virtually unchanged.

The 1990s saw the “low carb craze” which corresponded with the publication of the Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution book. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, low-carbohydrate diets became some of the most popular diets in North America. But here we are over 30 years later and we’re still larger than ever.

So what have we learned? We need fat in our diets, but some types of fat are better than others. Our bodies also require carbohydrates for energy, however complex carbohydrates like fibre are better than simple sugars. We also need protein, but lean protein that is low in saturated fat is best. In terms of weight control, appetite and satiety, the latest research is pointing to the combination of fibre and protein as the winning combination.

Beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas are “healthy made easy foods” because they have a natural nutrient makeup that meets all the criteria for healthy weight loss. They are low in fat, provide twice the protein as cereals, and have very high amounts of fibre. As an added bonus, they have lots of vitamins and minerals like iron, folate and zinc.

Researchers from the University of Toronto confirmed this with a recent meta-analysis where they found that eating meals with pulses results in greater satiety than control meals. Simply stated, the people who ate pulses felt fuller. The researchers plan on submitting their findings for publication.

But there is never one magic bullet. The right way to lose weight or maintain a healthy body weight requires healthy food choices from all food groups to ensure the body gets the right amounts of all nutrients. So arm yourself with knowledge before you tackle the grocery store, and be sure to add pulses to your shopping list.