Campodimele, Italy, a hilltop village south of Rome, has so many centenarians that it’s known in Europe as the “Village of Longevity.” Daily, its citizens enjoy a diet full of beans like lentils, chickpeas, and white beans.
How to live to 100
A few years ago, scientists identified five groups of long-lived elderly people (aged 70 and older) – Japanese in Japan, Swedes in Sweden, Anglo-Celtic people in Australia, and Greeks in both Greece and Australia – and observed them for the next seven years, tracking their health status and food choices among nine different categories: vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, cereals, dairy products, meat, fish, and monounsaturated fats. A total of 785 elderly people were followed.
The researchers found that legumes were the most important dietary predictor of survival among the elderly, “regardless of their ethnicity,” they wrote.* For every 20-gram increase in daily legume intake (20 grams is about three-quarters of an ounce), “there is a 7 to 8% reduction in mortality hazard ratio.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect food than beans. They are an excellent source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates. They’re very low in fat and virtually sodium-free. Plus, they’re filling.
And fiber? Even the lowest-fiber bean puts most other foods to shame. A cup of high-fiber beans, like pinto or black beans, tallies up 16 grams of fiber.You’d have to eat about eight slices of whole-wheat bread to get the same amount of fiber. And it’s primarily cholesterol-reducing soluble fiber, which makes beans an excellent heart-healthy alternative to meat.
Bean prep these days has gotten so much easier, thanks to the ready availability of cans of already-cooked beans, and you can find many “no salt added” varieties, which is really wonderful for keeping blood pressure under control. If all you can find is salted varieties, get rid of some of the salt by rinsing the beans through a colander.
Here are some simple tips for how to get more beans into your life (and how to live to 100):
- Toss a handful of beans into your salads (try the rich, buttery flavor of cannelini beans)
- Stir beans into your pasta sauces or soups. Make an easy, sensational bean soup by combining canned white beans, any vegetables you already have, low-sodium chicken stock, and chopped fresh Italian parsley. Season with no-salt-added Italian blend seasonings and 1 tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Fold beans, like black and pinto beans, into corn tortillas with salsa, shredded nonfat jalapeno cheese, and shredded lettuce.
- Puree beans for dips. For a zesty Mexican-style dip, combine pinto beans, chopped red onion, fresh cilantro leaves, and lime juice in a food processor and blend. Whip up your own delicious and inexpensive hummus dip in a processor with just five ingredients: two garlics, one can of no-salt-added garbanzo beans, three-quarter teaspoon sesame oil, two tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt, and two tablespoons fresh lemon juice.
* Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004; 13 (S): S126.