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Can eating beans and other legumes extend your lifespan?

In a word: Yes.

In fact, legumes have been found to be the most important predictor of survival in older people across cultures and ethnicities.

See, beans and other legumes are packed with tons of fiber, as well as plenty of iron and protein. They are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients, and they are low in calories. Plus, studies have found them to lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Beans, beans the magical fruit, indeed.

Creamy cannellini, hearty garbanzos, sweet adzuki, tender pintos, snappy edamame, golden lentils, chewy tempeh, and so many more—legumes are one of the most powerful, nutrient-dense plant foods around, and are considered cornerstones of longevity diets across the world according to Dan Buettner author of The Blue Zones.

Legumes or Beans? What’s the Difference?

A legume is the overall category name of a particular type of plants, while beans, lentils, and peas are subcategories of legumes.

  • Beans belong to the legume family of plants.
  • All beans are legumes, but not the other way around.
  • Peas, peanuts, and lentils are also legumes.

What to Do With Legumes?

Many people avoid beans because they just don’t know what to do with them. Sound like you? Keep reading!

There are so many delicious and nutritious meals that you can make with beans and other legumes, such as:

  • Toss beans, tempeh, and/or lentils, and diced veggies (such as celery, shallots, red peppers) with a healthy vinaigrette for a quick and hearty salad.
  • Blend cooked beans or lentils with tomatoes, onions, and your favorite seasonings to create a yummy soup.
  • Add some lentils to your pasta sauce to make a hearty “bolognese” type dish. Yum.
  • Just top a green salad with 1/2 cup of your favorite bean, pea, lentil, or tempeh.
  • Purée beans with a bit of tahini, lemon, a garlic clove, miso, and your favorite seasonings. Voilà! A quick hummus dip or sandwich spread.
  • Include 1/2 cup of beans or lentils with your other favorite toppings next time you make stuffed baked potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • Add 1/4 cup puréed beans to your favorite pancake, waffle, muffin, or cake recipe. You’ll be surprised at how moist and springy baked goods are when baked with beans. (Black bean brownie anyone?)
Legumes for LongevityNote: Lentils are lens-shaped legumes, they cook quickly and don’t need to be pre-soaked.

 

Worried About The Gassiness Of Beans?

Don’t be. Most people don’t experience more flatulence from eating beans, and if you do, it won’t take more than 2 to 3 weeks for your body to get used to it.

Gas comes from swallowing air (chewing gum, eating too fast, using a straw, talking while eating, smoking, etc.), and normal fermentation in the bowel. That being said, the main cause of excessive gas is the bacterial fermentation of undigested sugars. In fact, dairy products are the leading cause of flatulence, which is due to the poor digestion of the milk sugar lactose.

Here are some tips to reduce the chances of gas:
  1. Be sure to wash and clean the beans first.
  2. Soak dried beans in water with baking soda (¼ tsp/gallon) for 8-12 hours before cooking. (Hint: cut a bean in half; if the center is still opaque, keep soaking.)
  3. After soaking, rinse, fill pot with fresh water, bring to a boil, then skim off the foam.
  4. To aid digestion, add cinnamon, cloves, and garlic to the water when cooking from scratch.
  5. Cover and simmer for the suggested time.

Don’t have time to cook beans from scratch? No worries. Use canned beans! They are convenient, just as healthy, and some people find them even easier to digest! (Though be sure to avoid canned beans with added salt or preservatives. If the cans have salt rinse thoroughly.)

Still not entirely convinced? Lentils, chickpeas and other legumes are so powerful that they help regulate your blood sugar levels in what is known as the “second meal effect.” This is due to the abundance of prebiotics contained in legumes that provide a feast for our friendly gut flora. Our gut flora then rewards us with compounds such as propionate, which relaxes our stomach and slows down the rate at which sugars are absorbed into our system.

I highly recommend consuming legumes on a daily basis — you don’t want to be missing out on this!

Lentil next time,