Eat Beans to Live Longer

Eat Beans to Live Longer
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Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart; the more you eat, the…longer you live? Legumes may be the most important predictor of survival in older people from around the globe. Researchers from different institutions looked at five different cohorts in Japan, Sweden, Greece, and Australia. Of all the food factors they looked at, only one was associated with a longer lifespan across the board: legume intake. Whether it was the Japanese eating their soy, the Swedes eating their brown beans and peas, or those in the Mediterranean eating lentils, chickpeas, and white beans, legume intake was associated with an increased lifespan. In fact, it was the only result that was plausible, consistent, and statistically significant from the data across all the populations combined. We’re talking an 8% reduction in risk of death for every 20 gram increase in daily legume intake. That’s just two tablespoons worth! So if a can of beans is 250 grams, and we get 8% lower mortality for every 20 grams, if we eat a can a day can we live forever?

If, however, one wants to decrease their lifespan, studies suggest eating a bean-free diet may increase our risk of death.

Having arrived at the one dietary fountain of youth, why aren’t people clamoring for beans? Fear of flatulence. So is that the choice we’re left with: Breaking wind or breaking down? Passing gas or passing on? Turns out that people’s concerns about excessive flatulence from eating beans may be exaggerated.

A recent study, profiled in my video Increased Lifespan from Beans, involved adding a half-cup of beans every day to people’s diets for months to see what would happen.  The vast majority of people experienced no symptoms at all. However, a few percent did report increased flatulence, so some individuals may be affected. But most aren’t. Even among those that were affected, 70% or more of the participants felt that flatulence dissipated—no pun intended—by the second or third week of bean consumption.  So we’ve just got to stick with it.

And a small percentage reported increased flatulence on the control diet without any beans. People have preconceived notions about beans such that just the expectation of flatulence from eating beans may influence their perceptions of having gas. Researchers didn’t actually measure farts in this study, they just asked participants how much gas they had. We know from previous studies that if someone eats a product that’s labeled to have something that may cause intestinal distress, it causes more intestinal distress—whether it actually contains that ingredient or not!

So people thinking beans are going to cause gas may just be more likely to notice the gas they normally have. Either way it tends to go away. After a few weeks of daily bean consumption, people perceive that flatulence occurrence returns to normal levels.

In another study, researchers added more than a half a cup of kidney beans to people’s daily diets, and the research subjects reported that the discomfort they initially felt within the first day or two quickly disappeared. We’ve just got to stick with it.

The bottom line is that an increasing body of research supports the benefits of a plant-based diet, and legumes specifically, in the reduction of chronic disease risks. In some people, increased bean consumption may result in more flatulence initially, but it will decrease over time if we just keep it up. Doctors should recommend a bean-filled, plant-based diet to their patients, as the nutritional attributes of beans far outweigh the potential for transitory discomfort. The long-term health benefits of bean consumption are great.

Eating beans in the long term may make our term on earth even longer.

I’ve previously covered intestinal gas in one of my more amusing blog posts, Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air.

More on the benefits of beans in:

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Image Credit: Tony Alter / Flickr

  • Matheo

    Again, very informative and fun to read. How come lentils are mentioned so rarely in your videos and articles? There are so many videos on beans, but lentils are hardly mentioned at all. Why is that? Are beans just that much healthier? What is the major difference between beans and lentils anyway? I’m just a little confused and clearing the mist for me would be much apprechiated.

    Anyway, thanks for the article. It makes my daily legumes taste even better!

    • Alex

      The distinction, for the purposes here, is semantic. Lentils and beans are all legumes, and offer very similar benefits.

  • Susan

    we eat beans every day it does bother us at all we love them.

  • Coacervate

    I’ve noticed that, although beans are a bit gassy, mine don’t smell. Tends to make me feel a bit superior. I probably got switched in the hospital with a dukes baby. Toot-toot for now…

  • Shar Hakimzadeh

    Is there a correlation between high levels of Carbon Dioxide in blood and intake of legumes? My recent test showed total Carbon Dioxide of 29, the normal is between 19-28.

    • ReluctantVegan

      I have also had high carbon dioxide level in my blood since switching to a vegan diet. (My diet as a vegan is much higher in legumes and other plants than before switching). Anyone else?

  • laconic

    More about gas than living longer. I’ve never personally noticed beans to be a gasser, but I’ve heard the taco bell jokes my whole life. I think any time you mix incompatible food types or eat things that your gut isn’t used to digesting you’re going to get some disruptive results.

  • Dr. S

    Dr. G,
    Have you seen any studies that show how beans influence gut microbiota?

  • KarinMarijke

    To prevent flatulence, soak the bean for 48 hours before cooking them. If you want you can rinse them in between. If not, you’ll see a layer of foam appearing on top – that’s the saponine that in fact causing the flatulence. So soak for a long period of time, rinse thoroughly, and cook in clean water. Works for me.

    • Celia Rosell

      I’ll do that. Thanks.

  • josepi

    Dr. Greger, I recently experience a water fast at True North. While I had great results, my sugar addiction came back and I have gained half of the weight back. Well enough is enough, I am training for a bikini competition for July 2015 starting at ground zero and all of these trainers are protein protein protein, supplement, supplement, supplement. I want to train plant based with out all the protein powders and weird supplementation (BCAA’s et all) Am I misinformed or are they? The training isn’t as rigorous as people think: 3-5 45 minute weight training episodes a week a 3 20 minute cardio a week. I eat beans and I eat varied (when i am not being an addict) I take a B12 and D3 and that is it. I would love to see a blog post or some sort of information on this! Jody

    • Thea

      josepi: re: ” I want to train plant based with out all the protein powders and weird supplementation…”
      I think you are more right than they are. Check out the following page about protein. Even though it is long-ish, it is worth your time to assure yourself of your protein needs. Also note that there is a section on athletes.
      http://michaelbluejay.com/veg/protein.html

      As for supplements, check out Dr. Greger’s overall nutrition recommendations:
      http://nutritionfacts.org/2011/09/12/dr-gregers-2011-optimum-nutrition-recommendations/
      Dr. Greger is careful to only recommend fairly well studied supplements because we have so many examples of other supplements causing harm.

      I think your diet sounds excellent. That said, here are some other resources that may be helpful to you be an athlete an stick to your vegan diet:

      http://www.greatveganathletes.com/
      http://www.plantbuilt.com/

      When Robert Cheeke started VeganBodybuilding.com in 2002, being the only vegan athlete he knew of, he may not have imagined that the website would quickly grow to have thousands of members. Robert says, “We’re discovering new vegan athletes all the time, from professional and elite levels… to weekend warriors and everyone in between.”
      For More Info:
      http://www.veganbodybuilding.com/

      Here’s a book. I can’t speak to it personally. Someone else recommended it: Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life by Brendan Brazier. His book is exclusively about vegan sports nutrition and contains a variety of great tasting recipes along with a 12-week daily meal plan.

      Hope that helps.