Written by Sally Beare
Feature image credit: My Fit Station
There are certain places in the world where people live exceptionally long, disease-free lives. I have met a 104-year-old woman who said she relaxed by hacking down the jungle with her machete, a 91-year-old who told me ‘I am strong, like a blade of grass’, a 102-year-old man who had only visited the doctor once in his life, and other sprightly ‘youthful old’ in their eighties, nineties and hundreds.
All of the ‘longevity hot spots’ where these people live share several specific dietary and lifestyle habits which marry up beautifully with everything modern research tells us about what we need to enjoy vibrant health and to stay younger for longer. You may already have guessed correctly that one of these is eating organic fresh vegetables daily and that another is taking plenty of exercise.
A third factor common to each of these idylls of health and happiness is that beans and pulses are eaten daily.
In Nicoya, Costa Rica, it’s black beans with tortillas two or even three times daily. In Barbagia, Sardinia, it’s bean soup for the evening meal in a bone broth. In Campodimele, Italy it’s the prized local cicerchie beans, in Okinawa, Japan it’s soy beans fermented into miso and tempeh, and in Bama, China it’s mung beans and tofu from soy beans.
Coincidence? Almost certainly not when you look at the wonderful health-giving properties of beans. Here are some of them:
- Beans are rich in protein: beans are an abundant source of vegetarian protein whilst being low in saturated fat and high in fibre.
- Beans keep you younger: beans contain antioxidant flavonoids which boost immunity and help protect cells from the ravages of ageing.
- Beans for brains and beauty: beans contain essential fatty acids which are crucial for nervous system function (including brain health) and also keep hair, skin and nails strong and flexible. Essential fatty acids are also required for immunity, hormone balance and cell membrane structure.
- Beans for micro-nutrients: beans are rich in minerals and trace elements such as zinc, iron and calcium.
- Beans make us full of beans 🙂 beans are high in B vitamins which boost energy levels and metabolism.
- Beans balance hormones: beans contain phytoestrogens which can balance hormones and may help prevent breast cancer.
- Beans keep our gut clean: beans are a great source of insoluble fibre which keeps our colons clean, lowers cholesterol, and gets our stools moving along.
- Beans keep us lean: beans keep us full and help balance blood sugar, which slows the rate at which we age and aids weight loss.
‘Beans, beans, the musical fruit – the more you eat, the more you toot’
Some people find that eating beans gives them wind. This is partly because beans and legumes contain sugars, called oligosaccharides, which are broken down by bacteria in our intestines and converted to gases. For some, beans can also irritate the digestive tract, since they have evolved to survive the digestion process – and so live to germinate another day – by inhibiting our ability to break them down. The good news is that we can outwit them by soaking them (12-18 hours in warm water containing lemon juice works well), cooking them until soft, cooking them in a pressure cooker, sprouting them, and fermenting them. Tinned beans, incidentally, come in water but have not been pre-soaked before cooking. It’s also a good idea to mash them (as with refried beans) and/or to chew them really well. Mung beans and black beans are two of the more digestible varieties. *
How to use beans
Beans are wonderfully versatile and easy to use. Throw them in salads to add protein, blend them up with olive oil and garlic in dips, add them to soups and casseroles, use them in South American dishes, on the side, or in healthy bakes. Here is a longevity hot spot, black bean tortillas recipe.
* If you find that beans give you digestive discomfort even after using these methods, please consult an expert practitioner.
About the author:
Sally Beare, dip BCNH, CNHC is a nutritional therapist, anti-ageing lecturer, and the author of The Live-Longer Diet (Piatkus, UK, 2003), 50 Secrets of the World’s Longest-Living People (Marlowe & Co, US, 2006), and The Stacking Plan (Peach, UK, 2015).
She’s travelled the globe in her quest to find the diet and lifestyle ‘secrets’ of the world’s healthiest populations and has lectured on the subject of anti-aging. She currently coaches people through her Stacking Plan in person and by email and telephone. She’s also the nutrition columnist for Juno parenting magazine. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter to keep up to date with her insights.