The benefits are even greater for men than women.
A study of more than 1,000 people showed a 5pc reduction in the bad cholesterol for those who ate a serving of three quarters of a cup of legumes each day.
High cholesterol levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease, yet they can be modified through diet and other lifestyle choices.
The legumes for the study included foods like beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas.
The drop in cholesterol “suggests a potential risk reduction of 5pc in major vascular events” said Dr John Sievenpiper of the St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto in Canada.
Researchers plan to look now at the effects of pulses and beans on other factors like body weight, blood pressure and glucose control.
The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.