There’s a hilltop village in the south of Rome called Campodimele, and its inhabitants are among the world’s largest population of centenarians, those who have reached or passed the 100-year-old mark. A commonality among these long-lived seniors is a diet high in lentils, chickpeas, and white beans, heart-healthy legumes that an amazing health-giving reputation.
Then there’s the population of Okinawa Japan, made up of the highest percentage of centenarians on the planet. Their secret to longevity? A legume-based diet, as well—specifically, soy beans. Evidenced by these two remarkable communities, the link between legumes and lifespan is a noteworthy one, and worth investigating.
Look to Legumes to Predict Mortality
A groundbreaking longevity study published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition a few years back sheds light on legumes as a primary predictor of mortality. Scientists analyzed the health conditions and food choices of 785 of the longest-lived elderly people age 70 or older among 5 ethnicities: Japanese in Japan, Swedes in Sweden, Anglo-Celtic in Australia, and Greeks in Greece and Australia. They focused on 9 dietary choices:
- Monounsaturated fats
Out of each of these 9 food categories, legumes emerged as the strongest predictor of survival regardless of ethnicity or country of residence. Specifically, for every 20-gram increase in daily legume consumption, people experienced a 7-8% decrease in mortality hazard ratio, meaning those who increased legume intake had a lower hazard of death.
Nutritional Profile of Beans
Low in fat, free of sodium, and high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, complex carbohydrates, and phytonutrients, legumes are a satiating meat substitute. Just 1 cup of lentils delivers 18 grams of heart-healthy protein and 15 grams of cholesterol-reducing soluble fiber. And black or pinto beans feed your body even more fiber at approximately 16 grams a cup! Legumes are truly a fantastic source of vegetarian protein and a slow to burn, gluten-free carbohydrate energy source.
Adding Legumes to Your Diet
Numerous studies show that eating legumes at least 4 times a week can help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer. But how best to add the beans to your diet? Here are just a few suggestions, but it’s always fun to wear the chef’s hat and come up with some creative legume cuisines on your own!
- Toss legumes, like chickpeas, into your salads
- Cook up minestrone, split pea, black bean, or lentil soup
- Puree for bean dips, or to make hummus to spread on sandwiches as an alternative to dairy-based mayonnaise
- Sprinkle some beans onto your quinoa or wild rice dishes
- Add them to a tortilla for a bean burrito of your choice
- Cook up legumes and mix in with sautéed spinach or collard greens