There may be a number of factors that increase a person's risks of having high cholesterol levels, but what they eat is one of the primary reasons. If you're consuming too much packaged foods, fried food, meat and dairy products, for instance, you will likely have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) otherwise known as the bad cholesterol.

It appears, however, that while your diet plays a critical role in increasing LDL levels in your blood, there are certain foods that can actually lower your bad cholesterol levels. A new study by Canadian researchers found that consuming more beans, peas, lentils and other legumes may actually help reduce LDL and reduce your risks for developing cholesterol-related health problems such as coronary heart disease.

In the study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal April 7, researchers reviewed 26 studies involving more than 1000 men and women to assess the effects of pulses (legumes) on bad cholesterol.

The researchers found that consuming one serving or ¾ cup of legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, beans and peas a day is linked to a drop in LDL cholesterol by up to 5 percent which could translate to up to 6 percent reduction in risks for heart attack and stroke.

The researchers also observed that the beneficial effects of legumes is greater in men than in women which is likely because the eating habits and cholesterol levels of men are often worse than those of the women so the effects of adopting a healthier diet becomes more apparent in men.

Although some of the participants claimed to have experienced flatulence, bloating, constipation and other stomach problems due to eating legumes, these went away over the course of the study. The researchers have likewise urged people to eat plenty of legumes for their health benefits.

"Only 13 per cent consume pulses on any given day," said study author John Sievenpiper of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada. "Pulses already play a role in many traditional cuisines, including Mediterranean and Indian. As an added bonus, they're inexpensive."

Besides their ability to reduce bad cholesterol levels, registered dietitian Susan Weiner said that legumes are also packed with fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals as well as phytonutrients, plant-based compounds that can reduce risks for chronic diseases.

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