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Eat beans for a longer life

Few of us would regard the humble bean as an exotic superfood, but studies of the eating habits of populations that live the longest in the world could persuade us otherwise. Here’s why.

One small thing: Purée a can of beans for a healthy, nutritious dip to serve with vegetable crudités or crackers.

When we think about why some people live longer that others, good genes and luck probably come to mind. But you might be surprised to learn that beans could be the secret to longevity.

Why do people live longer?

Years ago, a group of scientists from Australia, Sweden, Indonesia and Japan researched five groups of elderly people who lived past 70 years of age and older in nations that were known for longevity – Japan, Sweden and Greece. They were observed for seven years and their food choices were tracked. The one thing all of them had in common? A high intake of legumes and beans.

National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner also did research on longevity and discovered what he called the “Blue Zones”, areas in Japan, Sardinia, Costa Rica, Greece and California where people lived up to the age of 100 and older. There were a number of factors that contributed to their longevity, an important one being diet.

According to Buettner’s research, the staple of these centenarians’ diets was beans, with meat being eaten in moderation. Adding just one cup of beans per day to your diet can add up to four years to your life, Buettner concluded.

Why are beans good for you?

Beans are not just tasty, affordable and versatile, they’re also rich in fibre and protein, are low in fat, and contain the essential minerals folate, potassium and iron.

In addition, beans are great for weight loss, they reduce cholesterol and help manage diabetes. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, beans are an essential source of protein to include in your diet. And for the meat eaters out there, beans can be a welcome substitute to reduce your meat intake during the week.

How to include more beans in your diet
  • Experiment with different beans, such as black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas and butterbeans, until you find a texture and taste you enjoy.
  • Add a cup of beans to salads. Black beans are a good choice.
  • Purée beans to make a filling, nutritious dip for vegetable crudités and crackers.
  • Add beans to stir-fries, casseroles and pasta sauces for more texture and nutrition.
Notes for the cook:
  • Dried beans may be more affordable than canned varieties. Follow the cooking instructions on the packet carefully for best results.
  • Drain and rinse canned beans thoroughly before using, as this will reduce the sodium content.

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