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Bring on the Beans!

By Jeff Novick, Director of Nutrition for the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa

Researchers find that legumes are the most important dietary predictor of survival among the elderly.

Longevity and legumes.

Long have scientists wondered if the two go hand in hand because many of the longest-living populations in the world are lovers of legumes (more commonly known as beans). The people of Okinawa, Japan, who have the highest percentage of centenarians on earth, eat a diet rich in soybean-based products like tofu. ¹ 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. ²

There is in fact something mighty about the lowly bean, affirms recently published research. ³ Scientists affiliated with the World Health Organization and International Union of Nutritional Sciences 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 and 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 grams increase in daily legume intake (20 grams is about three-quarters of an ounce), "there is a 7 to 8 percent reduction in mortality hazard ratio."

Newly published research has also found that a diet rich in beans and other fiber-filled foods is as effective as statin drugs in reducing the LDL "bad" cholesterol, the key risk factor for heart disease. &sup4;

"You'd be hard-pressed to find a more perfect food than beans," affirms Jeff Novick, MS, RD, LV/N, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center® & Spa in Aventura, Florida. "Beans 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.

You don't have to settle for the same old pintos or garbanzos, either. Nowadays there's a tremendous variety of beans in both markets and restaurants, like cranberry beans, black-eyed peas, pink beans, white beans, and fava beans.

So experiment. Have fun! Use them as "meaty" toppings for warm vegetable salads. Stir them into pasta sauces. Fold them into corn tortillas, snazzed up with a little salsa, shredded nonfat jalapeno cheese, and lettuce. Puree them for dips or sauces, like black bean sauce, for everything from tostadas to seafood. Combine with a jar of your favorite salsa, topped with nonfat plain yogurt, for a hearty side dish. Or just toss them into your soup pot in the last 10 minutes of cooking.

Don't want to bother with soaking and cooking your beans? Keep cans of already-cooked beans in the pantry. Always buy "no salt added" varieties, or rinse and drain them well. Bean apetit!

1 Bradley J. Wilcox, D. Craig Wilcox, Makoto Suzuki, The Okinawa Program, Three Rivers Press, 2002.
2 Sally Beare. Secrets of the World's Longest-Living People. Piatkus Books: 2003.
3 Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2004; 13 (S): S126.
4 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006; 83: 582.

About the Pritikin Longevity Center & Spa:

The Pritikin® Program is an all-encompassing lifestyle founded 50 years ago by Nathan Pritikin, who emphasized diets rich in fruits, whole grains, vegetables, seafood, and some nonfat dairy and lean meat. Today, guests can receive the full benefits of the Pritikin Program at the Pritikin Longevity Center® & Spa, a full service waterfront health resort located in Aventura, Florida where people attend sessions with Pritikin's health, nutrition and fitness experts. Based on years of scientific research, and validated in more than 100 clinical studies, Pritikin has had 90,000 people visit to lose weight, prevent health problems, and improve their health.


Nutrition Information

last update: June 2006

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