12 January - 20 June 2016

Can dietary pulse consumption aid long term weight loss?

Obesity has become a global epidemic and is reported as a being a leading risk factor for global deaths. A recent study, published in the Lancet, led by Imperial College London, has indicated that if trends continue, by 2025, global obesity prevalence will reach 18% in men and surpass 21% in women; severe obesity will surpass 6% in men and 9% in women.

Obesity has become a global epidemic and is reported as a being a leading risk factor for global deaths.  A recent study, published in the Lancet, led by Imperial College London, has indicated that if trends continue, by 2025, global obesity prevalence will reach 18% in men and surpass 21% in women; severe obesity will surpass 6% in men and 9% in women.

Previous studies have indicated that foods high in fibre and protein and low in glycemic index (GI) may aid weight loss. A systematic review and meta-analysis study, cited by the media, and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, by Souza et al. has investigated the effect of dietary pulses consumption on body weight, waist circumference and body fat.  The scientists note that although WHO has suggested the consumption of legumes to help reduce the risk of obesity, dietary guidelines have not been provided.

Using MEDLINE, embase, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library, Souza et al. searched for human adult studies including randomised controlled trials, which were more than 3 weeks in length and investigated the effect of diets containing whole dietary pulses with those of comparator diets without a dietary pulse intervention.   

Souza et al. quantified the effect of dietary pulse consumption on weight loss in 21 trials covering 940 middle aged, overweight or obese men and women.  The majority of trials used mixed or bean dietary pulse types with 4 using chickpeas, 2 dried peas and 1 using lentils alone.  The caloric value of the pulse diet was the same as the comparator diet in each trial. Analysis found that compared to comparator diets, diets containing pulses (from 80 to 278 g/d – mean 132g/d) reduced weight by -0.34 kg. They state that this is a small but significant change.  The study notes that high quality trials (based on Heyland MQS) showed a 0.60 kg weight loss compared with low quality trials that showed a 0.05 kg weight loss.  Souza et al. notes that the pulse-consuming individuals who experienced weight loss made no other major changes to their diets. 

Souza et al. quantified the effect of dietary pulse consumption on waist circumference (6 trials involving 509 participants) and body fat (6 trials involving 340 participants).  They report that the dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference, but favoured a reduction in body fat.

The scientists discuss several mechanisms for the explained weight loss including the satiety effects of pulses due to being high in fibre and protein and low in GI.  Foods rich in dietary fibre have been reported to contribute to feelings of fullness, and the high protein content can stimulate the secretion of two gastric hormones which can cause the sensation of fullness.  Souza et al. state that low GI diets regulate insulin release and blood glucose which may help prevent overeating. 

Souza et al. reiterate their findings in conclusion by stating that “the inclusion of dietary pulses in a diet may be a beneficial weight-loss strategy because it leads to a modest weight-loss even when diets are not intended to be calorically restricted.”

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