New food study: small changes produce significant effect

Follow dietary guidelines, but get into the habit of adding some legumes and barley every day, and you could reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by eleven per cent. This is the conclusion of an extensive new food study from Lund University.

The results of the study showed that the research subjects lowered their blood pressure, reduced their LDL cholesterol and cut their levels of a marker linked to the risk of developing metabolic syndrome. In total, the risk markers for cardiovascular disease were reduced by eleven per cent. “This demonstrates a simple way to prevent ill health. As well as the health benefits, just think of the huge cost savings for the health service if people followed this diet!” says Juscelino Tovar, a researcher at the Antidiabetic Food Centre, Lund University who led the study.

The study compared two different diets. One was high in Swedish brown beans, chick peas and wholegrain barley products, whereas the other contained the same amount of fibre, but from wholemeal wheat-based products instead. Both diets followed the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, which in turn form the basis for Sweden’s National Food Agency recommendations. These recommend a certain amount of fibre per day, but do not differentiate between different types of fibre or other active substances in food. However, it could be beneficial to take these factors into account as well, according to the researchers:

“Brown beans, chick peas and barley kernels contain an efficient combination of insoluble carbohydrates as well as a number of other bioactive substances such as antioxidants, which are good for our health.”

When these compounds reach the colon, they can be used by ‘friendly’ gut bacteria and converted into new compounds that have been shown to have a positive effect on our metabolism. The research community is increasingly convinced that the bacteria in the colon play a greater role in our health than previously thought.

The short-term benefits of eating beans and chick peas have recently been identified by Juscelino Tovar’s colleagues at the Antidiabetic Food Centre. Short-term studies on barley have been carried out previously. In this study, Juscelino Tovar wanted to take the results a step further and look at what happens when these products are eaten as a natural part of one’s everyday diet over an extended period.

People may not want to eat barley and legumes every day, and neither is this Juscelino Tovar’s intention.

“We have to eat a varied diet, because different foods complement one another. However, we need to learn more about the long-term effects of recognised healthy products so that we have a wider choice. For example, I would also like to study linseed, oats and algae, which have produced good results in short-term studies”, says Juscelino Tovar, adding that the healthy substances don’t always have to be eaten in their ‘original state’, as they can also be repackaged.

“You could have a drink made from legumes, or bread made from bean flour. These sorts of products would have to be developed by the food industry.”

But what about wind? Many people find that they suffer bloating after eating beans. Juscelino Tovar explains that once the bacterial flora has had time to grow, any problems disappear. Previous studies have supported this.

“We also asked the participants about this. If they experienced any problems, these disappeared after a week.”

The findings have been published in the British Journal of Nutrition and were presented at a public seminar in Lund on Tuesday, 3 June.

Study: The study involved 46 women aged 50–73 with a BMI of between 25 and 33, healthy but slightly overweight and therefore in the risk zone for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. The study was carried out over 12 weeks and was divided into three stages. Over four weeks the participants ate a menu based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations, followed by a four-week ‘wash out period’ during which the participants ate their usual diet, and finally another menu based on the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations but containing 85g of brown beans and/or chick peas, 60g boiled, whole or chopped barley kernels and 200g of bread with a high proportion of whole barley kernels each day. The reference and test diets had the same energy amounts and the menus were designed in collaboration with a dietician. The researchers took blood tests during the control and test diets and measured LDL cholesterol, glucose, insulin and total risk factors for cardiovascular disease in accordance with Framingham’s model “Cardiovascular disease 10-year risk”. Each participant acted as her own reference.

Published: 2014





Aim: The researchers at the Antidiabetic Food Centre, who include Juscelino Tovar, aim to generate new knowledge on preventive anti-inflammatory food concepts that can facilitate weight regulation, improve cognitive performance and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The findings could then lay the foundation for new healthy food concepts.

Funding: The research was funded as part of Vinnova’s Vinn Excellence Centre. The Antidiabetic Food Centre is a research consortium involving Lund University, Region Skåne and the food industry. For more information, see

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