By Michael O'Reilly, M.D.
"Beans, beans, they're good for your heart ..."
OK, that may not be the way the old rhyme goes. But scientists have come to the conclusion that consuming certain beans -- otherwise known as legumes -- can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
Legumes are a food group including beans, peas, peanuts, lentils and soybeans. They are among the oldest cultivated plants and are a principle food source throughout much of the world.
Soybeans in particular have been touted as the premier health food for years, especially for women for whom soy may treat menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes, as well as prevent breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Now, researchers would like to add the prevention of heart attack to the list of benefits of the bean. Heart attacks claim the lives of more women than men in the United States, and women are twice as likely as men to die after a heart attack.
Supported by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, researchers from the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine studied 9632 men and women. All participants were examined at the onset of the study to be sure none had pre-existing heart disease. They were then followed for an average of 19 years, filling out food frequency questionnaires every three months.
At the end of the study, Dr. Paul Whelton, the principle investigator, announced, "Legume consumption four times or more per week compared with less than once a week was associated with a 22 percent lower risk of CHD."
The group concluded, "Our study indicates a significant inverse relationship between legume intake and risk of CHD and suggests that increasing legume intake may be an important part of a dietary approach to the primary prevention of CHD in the general population."
This means that you may benefit from adding beans to your diet even if you donít have heart disease. Remember that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over the age of 35.