Beans and Blue ZonesAlmost all of the people in the Blue Zone eat beans every day. What does this mean? If you haven’t heard of the Blue Zone diet, it’s what the “world’s healthiest people” eat. They live in five regions in Europe, Latin America, Asia, and surprisingly, the U.S. People in the Blue Zones have the highest concentration of centenarians — people who live to 100 — in the world. So, what do these people do differently? In order to qualify as a Blue Zone community, its residents must generally not be affected by obesity, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses. After researchers studied and interviewed centenarians in blue zones, they found them to have these things in common:
- They drank alcohol moderately, but regularly — up to 2 glasses a day;
- They ate their smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or early evening;
- They stopped eating once they felt about 80% full;
- And they ate mostly plants, especially beans.
Bean health benefitsMany Blue Zone centenarians eat about a cup a day of fava beans, chickpeas, lentils, or other legumes. That’s because they help lower blood sugar and blood pressure, lower our heart rate, and decrease our risk of heart disease and diabetes. The high fiber content of beans also may improve our gut health and lower our risk of colorectal cancer. 1 Simply said, beans have a ton of health benefits. They’re a top source of plant protein while remaining low in fat and are loaded with fiber, iron, calcium, folate, B vitamins, zinc, potassium, and phosphorus. Additionally, they’re one of the only plant foods that provide a significant amount of the amino acid lysine, in addition to a wide range of antioxidants. Although low in calories, beans help you feel full and provide a steady source of energy for your body. 2 3 Let’s quickly break down a few of the specific areas where beans are beneficial to our health and may help us even live longer.
DiabetesPlant-based diets, including healthy servings of legumes, have been shown to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes. Because of their low glycemic index, beans can improve glycemic and lipid control for people who already have diabetes. 4
Cardiovascular diseaseRegular consumption of beans can help lower cholesterol and help us manage our blood pressure. In one study, 113 obese subjects replaced refined carbohydrate foods with two servings of legumes and four servings of whole grains daily for 18 months and saw reduced blood pressure, triglycerides, weight, and waist circumference. 5
Weight lossBecause the fiber in beans helps us feel full, it can aid in weight loss. According to data from the National Health and Examination Study, people who eat beans have higher intakes of dietary fiber, potassium, iron, and copper. Their improved nutrient intakes could also be why bean eaters have lower body weights and smaller waists. 6
CancerAlthough the above benefits are stronger than the link between bean intake and reduced cancer risks, some studies have shown a possible decrease in pancreatic cancer and a lower risk of colorectal polyps. 7 8 Beans’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help reduce oxidative stress, which we know leads to cancer. 9
Beans and fiberBeans are a great source of fiber, which helps regulate our bowel movements. Fiber is good for our digestive system in other ways — it may even help prevent certain types of digestive cancers. People who have a healthy intake of fiber are at a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and gastrointestinal disease. Unfortunately, most Americans only consume about half their daily fiber needs. 10 Women should consume 25 g of fiber per day, while men should consume between 30 to 38 grams. Beans are one of the highest sources of dietary available, with navy beans topping the list just under high-fiber cereals. 11 A half-cup of beans provides 5.2-7.8 g of fiber compared to the same serving of whole grains, which provides just 1.7-4 g of fiber. A half-cup of beans also contains up to 2.4 g of soluble fiber, which can reduce LDL cholesterol. 12
Beans by typeThere are a lot of beans out there, but we’ll just go into the specific health benefits and nutritional data of a few key ones.
Bean nutritional breakdown
|Type||Calories (1 cup)||Protein||Fiber||Folate|
|Adzuki beans||294||17.3 g||16.8 g||278 mcg|
|Black beans||227||15.2 g||15 g||256 mcg|
|Kidney beans||225||15.3 g||11.3 g||230 mcg|
|Lentils||230||17.9 g||15.6 g||358 mcg|