Secrets to Centenarian Longevity: The power of this remarkable food

Can legumes, including beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas, contribute to our longevity?

According to Dan Buettner, an author and entrepreneur who has extensively studied Blue Zones – regions across the world where people live long and healthy lives well into their 100s – legumes and beans play a significant role in the daily diet of these communities. This observation has remained consistent across all the Blue Zones that he has visited [1].

Blue Zones refresher

In the Blue Zones, people prioritize lifestyle and surroundings over medicine. They lead active lives, participating in physical activities like gardening, walking and daily tasks. Moreover, they live in close communities that encourage social connections, giving them a feeling of belonging and direction.

Plant-based diets

Blue Zones, such as Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California, and Sardinia in Italy, share common characteristics, including a plant-based diet, which scientists believe contributes to the residents’ longevity. In Sardinia, where one of the first groups of centenarians was studied, garbanzo and fava beans, also known as chickpeas, are the legumes of choice.

The Melis family of Perdasdefogu in Sardinia, considered the “longest-living family in the world,” consumes a minestrone made with garbanzo beans at least twice a day, accompanied by sourdough bread and a small glass of red wine [2, 3, 4, 5]

Are beans a superfood?

Legumes, including beans, offer many nutrients such as copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, zinc, lysine (an essential amino acid), protein and fiber [6].

Buettner said each type of bean has a different nutritional profile, so eating various beans may be best. Aduki, or the red mung bean, has more fiber than many other varieties, while fava beans contain the antioxidant lutein.

Buettner added that combining beans with whole grains provides all the amino acids necessary for a complete and nutritious protein, similar to meat.

Exactly why beans?

Beans: A powerhouse for your health and pocket

Studies point to the health benefits of beans, backing up what people in Blue Zones have long known, Buettner said. The bean’s soluble fiber can cut cholesterol and help prevent type 2 diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar [7].

A 2001 study found that eating beans four times a week reduced heart disease by 22% [8]. A 2004 study found people lived approximately eight more years for every 20-gram intake of legumes – that’s about an ounce [9].

Incorporating beans into your diet can aid in weight loss. A review of a study conducted in 2016 revealed that individuals who consumed up to 9 ounces of beans per day for six weeks lost additional three-quarters of a pound compared to those who did not consume beans.

Not only do beans and their counterparts offer many health benefits, but they are also cost-effective to buy and can be cultivated in various soil types at home. This makes them an ideal source of sustenance for economically challenged communities, as they can help to promote longevity, according to Buettner.

Prioritizing your family’s health

Buettner pointed out that many American families struggle to provide their loved ones with healthy food. Although organic and fresh produce may be expensive, he recommends that families prioritize beans and whole grains to create nutritious meals. These options can still help them achieve their health goals without breaking the bank.

Although beans benefit our health, dealing with the uncomfortable and sometimes loud and smelly aftermath can be challenging. To avoid gas, Buettner suggests starting with a small amount of a couple of tablespoons of beans each day.

To increase your intake, start with four tablespoons and gradually build up to a cup over two weeks. “Now you’re feeding the good bacteria in your gut and your microbiome is ready for it,” Buettner told CNN [10].

[1] https://www.bluezones.com/
[2] https://danbuettner.com/
[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10476308/
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15489066/
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/08/if-you-talk-you-live-well-the-remote-sardinian-village-famed-for-longevity
[6] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/1100394/nutrients
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7400945/
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11718588/
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15228991/
[10] https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/29/health/beans-longevity-blue-zone-wellness/index.html

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