A guiding light for many aspiring healthy eaters is the world’s Blue Zones, the small, outlier regions on the planet where people live much longer than expected lifespans. I’m talking about far-flung places like the Barbagia region of Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica; and Okinawa, Japan, where women live the longest lifespans in the known world.
According to a new CNBC article by Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, longevity researcher, and author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, there are several general dieting rules that basically all of these healthy people adhere to. They eat a ton of whole foods, for instance. They also eat lots of plants (upwards of 90%), plenty of olive oil, not too much meat or fish, and rarely any sugar. They consume plenty of water. But there’s a surprising food they also eat daily that you’re likely not getting enough of: beans.
“Beans reign supreme in Blue Zones and are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world: black beans in Nicoya; lentils, garbanzo, and white beans in the Mediterranean; and soybeans in Okinawa,” writes Buettner. “Most centenarians eat at least four times as many beans as Americans do on average—at least a half cup per day. And so should you. Why? Beans are packed with more nutrients per gram than any other food on Earth.”
He notes that beans are comprised of 77% carbs (complex carbs—the good kind), 21% protein, and they’re ultra-rich in fiber. “They’ll likely push less healthy foods out of your diet,” he says. If you bolster your diet with beans, he suggests that you’ll gain better control of your weight, as well. And as it pertains to your lifespan: A study published in The Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health found that upping your intake of beans by 20 grams can lower your risk of death by 6%.
According to U.S. Dietary Guidelines, we should all be eating roughly a half-cup of beans per day. But it’s likely that many of us aren’t getting enough.
All beans aren’t created equal, however. Health experts say that the color of the beans will tell you everything you need to know about their nutritional value, and the darker the bean, the better. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that black beans, for instance, contain more than 40 times the antioxidants as their white counterparts. For some of the types of beans that you should add to your diet, here are a few bean options to start easing ASAP. (And for more expert-backed weight loss advice, don’t miss this list of Simple Ways You Can Start Losing Weight Immediately, According to Science.)
Lentils are a good source of fiber and protein, so adding them to salads or soup recipes will keep you full long after your meal. “Studies have found that consuming lentils may regulate blood sugar levels and improve gut health,” Rania Batayneh, MPH, owner of Essential Nutrition For You and author of The One One One Diet: The Simple 1:1:1 Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss, previously told Eat This, Not That. “Lentils are great in soups or salads, but you can also add bulk and fiber to classically meaty dishes like meatballs and meatloaf.”
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Put simply, black beans are a top source of carbs for weight loss. One half-cup of black beans provides eight grams of fiber and seven grams of protein, making it the perfect addition to your salads, omelets, and more.
Pinto beans are delicious in everything from chili to burritos, and their nutritional profile is great, too. One half-cup of pinto beans provides six grams of protein, 7.94 grams of fiber, and 1.8 milligrams of iron, another nutrient many people don’t get enough of.
You can do a lot more with chickpeas than make homemade hummus—just check out these 20 Healthy Chickpea Recipes. One half-cup of canned chickpeas contains 10 grams of protein, five grams of fiber, and 310 milligrams of potassium, roughly 9% of your recommended daily amount.
Delicious in chilis and bean salads, these white beans boast 9.65 grams of protein and 6.4 grams of fiber per half-cup serving.
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