“People living a long time in the Blue Zones countries eat about a cup of beans a day. It probably yields them an extra four years of life expectancy and reduces inflammation which causes so many health problems as we age. Beans are high in protein and for every cup of cooked beans, you get between 25-35% of your protein intake per day.” [Dan Buettner, Blue Zones Researcher]
I first heard about the Blue Zones studies whilst sitting at the World Health Organization conference on healthy ageing in beautiful Melbourne in 2016. I had just presented my own research to the conference and was now free to cruise around listening to other presentations.
At the time, I was 15 kg heavier, my joints were sore, I wasn’t sleeping well and I had a lot of make-up on to cover the dark rings around my eyes. I was continually on some form of diet and was immersed in the fitness industry culture of doing lots of higher intensity exercise and eating meals full of protein and animal fats.
Dr John Beard, Ph.D., is an Australian Physician and Director of Ageing and Life Course with the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. At the time of the conference, WHO had identified ageing as one of its priority areas of work, and Dr Beard was presenting his findings on the World Report on Ageing and Health, which had just been released.
When he presented the numerous charts, statistic and indices of ageing ‘problems’ as only research scientists can, I noticed that in every single slide he was referring to both men and women who were 50 years and older. It was the very first time, that I thought to place myself in ‘ageing research’.
As the session continued, he spoke about the Blue Zones research, a term coined by National Geographic Researcher, Dan Buettner, who had travelled the world exploring the lifestyle themes of the world’s longest living people. He found that in 5 countries around the world, there were populations living healthy, long lives – Buettner named these countries, Blue Zones countries. I talk a lot about the nutritional aspects of women living in these countries in my 12 week programmes.
Dr Beard spoke about the ‘turn to plants’ in many of these countries as well as social and environmental influences on the habits of long-living people. When he showed the Okinawa Graph about foods that comprise the diet of Okinawan people, I saw that the mainstay of the diet was sweet potato and beans. Two foods which I did not include in my daily diet at the time.
That afternoon when the sessions ended I wandered towards the CBD in Melbourne. I walked along Little Bourke Street and passed a small café serving baked hot potatoes and sweet potatoes. I went in and for the first time for a very long time, I ordered a baked sweet potato stuffed with beans and salad. I then took it down to the mall and sat on a bench to ‘people-watch’ and ate the meal. It changed my life. I felt full and satisfied and wasn’t hungry for hours afterwards. I didn’t feel like ‘snacking’.
In my past-life (before my research), I would only have beans about once a week – usually on top of mince nachos, but these days, I make more of an effort. I bake a sweet potato for a late lunch or early dinner and add beans, avocado and chopped tomatoes on top and yes, the nachos are now bean-based as well.
I now buy Black Beans and Adzuki beans. After watching a programme by UK chef, Jamie Oliver, I discovered that these beans are the second most important legume in Japan after soybean. They are high in fibre, protein, trace minerals and folate, which is needed for our ageing nervous system, and most importantly, according to the men interviewed on the programme, Adzuki beans produce less gas (although I cannot verify this!).
If you are sensitive to beans, then conside having them in soup. This fabulous Black Bean Soup recipe was given to me by a chef in Canada when I was skiing over there prior to the world going crazy and international travel being interrupted. If you aren’t using canned beans, then don’t forget that soaking and cooking them for longer helps with the digestion of beans too. All good to know. So, in a shout-out to all my lovely Canadian ladies, here is my Black Bean Soup recipe and a small video I made about the powerful benefits of beans as we navigate our changing liver and cardiovascular health during menopause.