Updated 06 November 2015

The secret weight-loss ingredient

If you want to lose weight for the summer – without starving yourself or resorting to exclusion diets – try adding a handful of pulses to your daily diet.

In a study published in the journal Obesity, researchers at the University of Toronto have found that people who ate around 160 grams of pulses every day felt 31% fuller than those on who didn't. 

In the long term, this results in weight loss, as feeling satiated after eating may help you avoid snacking between meals.

Lead author of the study, Dr John Sievenpiper of St Michael's Hospital's Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre, said that 90% of diets fail or result in weight regain because of hunger and food cravings.

By making a pulse – beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – part of your daily diet, you will benefit from their low glycaemic index (foods that break down slowly), keeping you fuller for longer.

Pulses also have the uncanny ability to lower the total glycaemic index of your entire meal.

Test: Check the glycaemic index of different foods and drinks

Sievenpiper's research group also found that eating on average one serving of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils every day can reduce bad cholesterol by five percent, thereby lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sievenpiper’s systematic review and meta-analysis included nine clinical trials involving 126 participants out of more than 2 000 papers screened.

How much should you eat?

Researchers say 130 grams a day is sufficient. That's just over three-quarters of a cup.

Pulses are rich in fibre and protein, which means they're a good alternative to meat. Since eating too much meat has recently been linked to colorectal cancer, this sounds like a great way to enjoy your protein without the risk.

Remember too that combining pulses with other plant-based protein sources, such as cereal grains (e.g. wheat or rice), makes for a more complete protein. A great idea is to add some black beans or lentils to your brown rice, or tuck into South Africa's favourite, samp and beans.

You can also add them to salad, instead of cheese, or replace one third of your ground beef with kidney beans and use lentils to bulk up your soup.

Read: Avoid diabetes with more protein and more fibre

Lower consumption of pulses nowadays

The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology confirms that, since ancient times, pulses have been combined with cereal grains – primarily wheat, rice, or corn, or tubers such as potato or cassava – to provide a balanced source of protein and carbohydrate.

Add to that seed oils, fruit and vegetables, and you have a nutritionally adequate diet, they say.

Interestingly, back in the day the established ratio of cereal grains to pulses to meet nutritional requirements was 2:1.

However, over the last 60 years both production and consumption patterns, globally, have changed to 8:1.

One consequence of these changes, according to researchers who looked at differences among pulse grains and cereal grains in dietary fibre, has been a marked shift in the quality of carbohydrates we eat.

Researchers found that people who regularly swapped a serving of white rice for one of beans had a 35% lower chance of showing the symptoms that usually precede diabetes.

Compared with rice, beans also contain much more fibre, certainly more protein and they typically have a lower glycaemic index – meaning they induce much lower insulin responses.

The bottom line? Ensure you include pulses in your daily diet. They're inexpensive, and if you don't have time to cook them, are easily available tinned. Just be sure to rinse them before using to get rid of added salt.


Dietary pulses, satiety, and food intake: a systematic review and meta-analysis of acute feeding trials

The physiology of food cravings

Should protein and carbs be eaten separately?

Tim Noakes on carbohydrates


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