FSU College of Health and Human Sciences team receives grant to study diet for healthy aging

Assistant Professor of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology Ravinder Nagpal received a USDA grant to look at how legume consumption affects gut health.

A new Florida State University project is looking at how starches found in beans and other legumes might improve gut health and foster healthier aging.

The research, spearheaded by Assistant Professor of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology Ravinder Nagpal, is funded by a $242,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The investigation looks at how resistant starches found in dietary pulses might improve microbial diversity as individuals age. Pulses are the dry, edible seeds of legumes and include common foods such as chickpeas, lentils and dry beans.

“The study will be the first one to determine the role of dietary resistant starches, particularly from beans and pulses, on aging microbiome and will help advance our understanding of the importance of the diet-gut-microbiome interaction for healthy aging and aging-related gut health,” Nagpal said.

The grant is part of the USDA Pulse Crop Health Initiative, which promotes research related to the consumption of beans and pulses and how incorporating them into American diets could solve critical health problems.

The project builds on Nagpal’s previous research that showed as people age the diversity of microbiota in the gut biome decreases and the barrier of the intestine becomes more permeable. These factors can cause systemic inflammation and cognitive decline.

Resistant starch is important in a diet because it provides a food source for the beneficial bacteria found in the lower digestive system.

Most of the dietary starch we eat is digested in the upper gut, whereas a fraction (resistant starch) survives, passing through to the large bowel. There, the bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids, which support digestive health, decrease inflammation, and can reduce the risk of metabolic disorders like obesity, type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers.

“Compared to other parts of the world, the U.S. does not consume pulses as much; however, they are inexpensive, can be stored safely for a long period of time, and can be prepared in a variety of different ways,” Nagpal said. “The benefits of resistant starches might give yet another reason for Americans to consider adding pulses and beans into their diet more often.”

Assistant Professor of Nutrition & Integrative Physiology Prashant Singh, who is a co-investigator on the grant, said that the project incorporates knowledge from a variety of specialties, including gut ecology, aging, food microbiology and starch research.

“The USDA grant which we received is a team effort,” Singh said. “This research project will explore a simple solution to promote healthy aging.”