Beans means … lower cholesterol and a reduced risk of heart disease, according to researchers.

Just one daily serving of pulses, such as haricot beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas, can significantly lower levels of harmful cholesterol, a study has shown.

Even so, most people in the Western world would need to increase their bean consumption greatly to see any benefit.

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Scientists analysed data on 1037 people who took part in 26 diet and health studies that looked at the effect of pulses on cholesterol.

They found that consuming one serving (three-quarters of a cup) of non-oil seed pulses a day led to a 5% reduction in levels of "bad" cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein.

Pooling together results of different studies in this way, known as meta-analysis, can uncover otherwise hidden trends. Dr John Sievenpiper, a member of the Canadian and American research team from St Michael's Hospital, Toronto, said: "The reduction of 5% in our meta-analysis suggests a potential risk reduction of 5% in major vascular events."

Most health guidelines recommend consuming pulses along with other vegetables and fruits as part of a balanced diet.

But despite the popularity of baked beans - haricot beans in a tomato sauce - and peas, consumption of pulses in the West is low.

"We have a lot of room in our diets for increasing our pulse intake to derive the cardiovascular benefits," said Dr Sievenpiper.