What Are Magic Beans?
Chances are you’ve heard of the Blue Zones — the mystical-sounding places where a shockingly high proportion of residents live to be 100 years old. While researchers have uncovered several secrets to their longevity, perhaps the most-remarkable factor is that these longest-living people get 90 to 100 percent of their diets from plant foods. And chief among those? Beans.
“People in the Blue Zones eat an average of one cup of beans per day,” says Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and author of The Blue Zones Solution. “And that level of consumption is associated with four extra years of life expectancy.” Apparently, if you’re looking for a truly effective anti-aging supplement, you don’t need to look any further than your kitchen pantry in order to whip up a potentially life-extending lentil soup, bean dip or salad.
So what is it about beans that gives them such amazing anti-aging powers? First off, there’s the fiber. Although the exact amount varies slightly by type of bean, you can expect to get somewhere around 15 grams of fiber in a cup of beans. Fiber is essential for the health of your digestive system, improves satiety (which means you stay fuller on fewer calories), lowers cholesterol, improves blood sugar regulation (which may help prevent diabetes), and helps reduce blood pressure and inflammation. Beans are also a rich source of protein and vital nutrients — such as B vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron.
It also turns out that despite beans’ reputation for creating gastric discomfort, eating them can actually do good things for your gut. “When you eat beans, it favors the growth of a type of gut bacteria that acts as an anti-inflammatory,” says Buettner, “while the bacteria that flourish when you eat more meat is a known contributor to inflammation.” And about that gas: Soaking your beans for 12 to 24 hours (then rinsing them and cooking in fresh water) can help eliminate much of the problem-causing oligosaccharides that make beans hard to digest.
Ready for a fiber boost? Here are a few bean-based recipes to try at home:
Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.