Beans are the top food for living a long and happy life—here's why.

Lauren Wicks
February 12, 2020
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One of the biggest buzzwords in the health sphere right now is "blue zones," which is a term for the five regions across the globe where people live the longest, healthiest lives. Dan Buettner, a professional explorer for National Geographic, helped discover these five regions—Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece and Loma Linda, California—and described his findings in the best-selling book, The Blue Zones. We got the chance to chat with Dan about his discoveries while spending years studying the lifestyles of these five areas.

Turns out, one of the healthiest habits of the blue zones includes following a predominantly vegan diet. Buettner says people who live in these areas have similar diets that are rich in complex carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grains and beans. Whether it's soybeans in Okinawa or chickpeas in Sardinia, the healthiest people on the planet consume at least a ½ cup of legumes every day.

We've seen that eating a cup per day of beans probably is adding four years to their lives," Buettner previously told EatingWell. "Beans are emerging as the ultimate longevity food because of their protein, fiber and antioxidant content."

Health Benefits of Beans

Gut health has become another major buzzword in the nutrition world in the past few years, and beans are a great way to give your microbiome a boost. Our gut feeds on fiber, which beans have a lot of—chickpeas have 44% of your daily needs in a ½ cup serving! While you may experience some gas pains when you first begin upping your intake, this is actually a good sign. Beans are still partially intact when they reach the large intestine, so our gut bacteria can readily feed on them.

Beans are also a good source of iron, magnesium and folate. Iron is essential for keeping our energy levels up, and women are especially likely to be deficient. Magnesium is also an important nutrient, since it helps support our heart, bone and brain health and it is even thought to have a positive impact on sleep and stress. Folate is essential for prenatal health, but we all need it to process vitamin B12 and stimulate cell regeneration.

Beans Also Make Our Planet Healthier

Beans are an excellent source of plant protein, with black beans packing 12 grams per cup. As the vegan, vegetarian and now flexitarian movements are on the rise to help battle our nation's obesity and climate crises, beans are finally getting some of the attention they deserve. Beans have become a go-to for making burgers, soups, tacos and other classic dishes healthier for our hearts and the planet. They even make pasta out of beans now!

While eliminating meat entirely may seem too daunting for you, research shows that simply swapping out beef for beans once a week can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The impact is equivalent to taking 16 million cars off the road every year.

The Bottom Line

It's important to note that buying up your grocery store's entire stock of canned beans isn't a direct road to living a long, disease-free life. While beans are full of essential nutrients, there's only so much they can do if our other lifestyle behaviors are unhealthy. Following a diet that is rich in whole foods, engaging in regular exercise, drinking in moderation, getting enough sleep and seeking out ways to reduce stress are all important components of longevity.