Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, explains why everyone should be stocking their pantries with pulses.
A new study suggests that swapping potatoes, rice, or other starchy grains with fresh lentils and other pulses (also known as legumes) could lower blood sugar levels by more than 20 percent.
The research comes out of the University of Guelph in Canada and was headed up by Professor Alison Duncan in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences. Her research found that substituting just a half portions' worth of starch for pulses can make a drastic difference in how your body responds to the carbs in the first place.
The swap could help lower blood glucose by up to 20 percent, whereas choosing a full serving of lentils over potatoes is shown to cut blood sugar levels by up to 35 percent. It's a finding that adds more weight to pulses' substantial health benefits.
"Pulses are a seriously under the radar superfood," says Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, a New York Times bestselling author who penned Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses—The New Superfood in 2016.
"In addition to being convenient, affordable, and incredibly versatile, pulses are chock full of fiber, vitamins, key minerals, and plant protein, plus their antioxidant levels rival berries," Sass says. "Pulses are also eco-friendly, because they require less water than other protein sources, and they enrich the soil in which they’re grown."
In the latest study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers tested the blood sugar levels of 24 healthy adults fed four dishes throughout the experiment: White rice only, a mix of white rice and larger green lentils, white rice and smaller green lentils, and a combo of white rice mixed into split red lentils.
The team of researchers measured blood glucose levels both before and two hours after eating, and then later repeated the test again adding white potatoes to the same mix of lentils and rice.
Sugar counts fell in similar fashion even when just half of the starch was replaced by any of the three types of lentils. It turns out that pulses can aid digestion by slowing down the process and the rate at which sugar from starches are released into a person's bloodstream. Eating pulses can help lower the risk of running high blood glucose levels for long periods of time, which is a significant risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
"Pulses have been shown to help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes," Sass says. "Pulses' unique nutrient profile helps control blood sugar and insulin levels, regulate hunger, and foster healthy gut bacteria, all while upping overall nutrient intakes. That’s a lot of benefits, especially for a food that is very satiating."
In addition to this study and its implications for those struggling to maintain healthy blood glucose levels, Sass points to previous research within her book that demonstrates a pulse-heavy diet rivals a low-carb diet for overall weight loss.
"[Another] study found that regular pulse eaters have higher overall nutrient intakes, including important nutrients that many people tend to fall short on," Sass says. "Namely: fiber; potassium; zinc; magnesium; folate; thiamin; and Vitamin B6."