Beans are a common food in Blue Zones, where people live the longest, healthiest lives.
Packed with fiber and protein, beans can be a cheap, accessible superfood.
Enjoy the longevity benefits of eating beans with recipes like chili, hummus, and pasta sauce.
Forget exotic superfoods — one of the best ingredients for living a longer life may already be in your pantry.
Beans are a major ingredient in the diets of people who live in Blue Zones, areas of the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives.
People who routinely live to age 100 in regions of America, Japan, Italy, Greece, and Costa Rica all make beans a part of their daily eating habits, according to author Dan Buettner. He pioneered research on Blue Zones, and recommends eating at least a half a cup per day of beans.
"I believe the only superfood there is in the world is beans," Buettner told Insider's Hilary Brueck.
If that's not convincing enough, the humble bean is a unique nutritional powerhouse that's cheap and easy to prepare, according to Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian and the author of "Read It Before You Eat It — Taking You from Label to Table."
"Beans are the most underrated food in the supermarket," she told Insider. "My house always has a variety of beans because if I can't think of something to make for dinner, I can throw together a bean dish and know that it has protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. There aren't many other foods like that."
To add a boost of protein and fiber to meals, Taub-Dix recommends recipes like chili, hummus, and squash soup. And by sneaking some beans into foods you already enjoy such as salads, sauces, and pasta, even the pickiest eaters can get health benefits.
Swap in bean-based pasta for more fiber and protein
A simple way to eat more beans in your diet right now, even if you don't like them, is to replace regular pasta in any dish with a store-bought chickpea or lentil version, according to Taub-Dix.
"It boosts the protein and fiber, and it's a gentle way to start eating more beans," she said.
Fiber is an important nutrient for digestive health, and the majority of us don't get enough of it in our diet, Taub-Dix said.
There is a misconception, however, that eating beans will always cause gastrointestinal side effects, she said. While eating too much fiber too quickly can cause stomach trouble, it can help to hydrated and increase your fiber intake gradually over time, Taub-Dix said
Make your own hummus for a healthy snack that saves on grocery bills
Hummus is a healthy, versatile food that can be spread on sandwiches, used as a dip for veggies, or even as a condiment for a main course, Taub-Dix said.
You can make it yourself by combining heart-healthy olive oil, chickpeas, garlic, and tahini (a sesame paste) in a blender or food processor
Homemade hummus is cheaper than store-bought, and it's just one way that using beans can help you save money on groceries. Beans also help reduce food waste, since they have a long shelf life.
If you're concerned about prep time, skip the dried beans and opt for canned beans, which are just as healthy and much more convenient, Taub-Dix said.
You can even cut down on salt in canned beans by giving them a quick rinse before cooking, she said.
Bean recipes like chili are filling, nutritious, and easy to make
Taub-Dix said the recipe originally came from her son, highlighting the importance of cooking as a family, which is another major factor in a healthy lifestyle.
"Blue Zones are all about raising your kids in the kitchen," she said. "It's not just about their diet, it has so much to do with connecting with friends and family."
Kid-friendly recipes can get help even picky eaters enjoy beans
To help convince children to eat more beans, choosing a variety of types like bright kidney beans and dark black beans can make the meal more engaging, according to Taub-Dix.
"We think about flavor, but when cooking with family, color and shapes are a big deal," she said.
Chickpeas can be appealing for eaters who may be put off by the mushy texture of some beans, since they hold their shape well and can even be roasted for some crunchiness.
"Beans can be fun to eat. Toss chickpeas in different spices and let kids explore with them," Taub-Dix said.
Beans can even feature in special-occasion meals like a holiday split-pea and squash soup
Despite being inexpensive, beans can still taste good enough to serve at a dinner party. For a healthy meal with beans and veggies that's fancy enough for company, Taub-Dix shared a recipe for split pea butternut squash soup, which is a resounding hit at her annual family gatherings.
"Every holiday, my family expects me to make it and I always have to make extra pots so people can take some home," she said.
The soup is vegan, and Taub-Dix said beans are a great way to explore the health benefits of eating more plant foods, which are staples in Blue Zones.
"They're not plant-based because it's hot in the headlines, it's because that's what they grew themselves," she said.
Read the original article on Insider