Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death globally. Legumes (pulses) are known as nutritional powerhouses touted for keeping heart healthy and reducing the rate of cancer.  Now, recent research shows one more reason to add pulses to your diet — they significantly reduce blood pressure — in just four weeks.

The study from the British Journal of Nutrition looked at spontaneously hypertensive rats and compared the differences in diet with those on a single pulse diet to those on a mixed pulse diet or a pulse-free control diet for 4 weeks. Six diets were assigned: a bean diet (white navy, black, pinto and red kidney); a pea diet (green and yellow); a lentil diet (red and green); a chickpea diet; a mixed pulse diet (combo of beans peas, lentils and chickpeas) or a pulse-free diet. In the end, lentils came out on top. Although all the pulse diets showed a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL-C levels, only lentils significantly reduced the rise in blood pressure and large-artery remodeling.

While the rats dedicated 30% of their diet to lentils — something hard for an average person to do — it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from simply increasing your current consumption. Try adding lentils to soups or salads, or hiding them in pasta sauces and burritos. You can even blend them into pancakes, muffins and desserts! Make sure to alternate between the various types of lentils to get the essential nutrients from all of them. For a new, delicious dish try them in this month’s Dole’s featured recipe: Carmelized Pear, Roasted Tomato and Lentil Salad.

Bonus: Japanese researchers found that three 25-minute walks a week could be enough to make medication unnecessary for some hypertension sufferers. Watch our video featuring anti-aging expert Dr. Michael Roizen to learn more about managing blood pressure.

Published November 1, 2014