The intake of legumes—beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils—may be the single most important dietary predictor of a long lifespan, but what about concerns about intestinal gas?
Legumes may be the most important predictor of survival in older people from around the globe. They 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, only for legume intake was the result 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 like two tablespoons worth! So if a can of beans is 250 grams and you get 8% lower mortality for every 20 grams, maybe if you eat a can a day you'll live forever? Let's find out!
If you want to increase your lifespan, eat beans. If, however, you're suicidal and want to decrease your lifespan, “A Bean-Free Diet May Increase the Risk of Death.”
So having arrived at the one dietary fountain of youth, what's the #1 reason people aren't clamoring for them? 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.
Add a half-cup of beans every day to people's diets for months and what happens? What's the number one symptom? Nothing. The vast majority of people experienced no symptoms at all, though a few percent did report increased flatulence, so it may occur in some individuals but not all people are affected. Even among those that were, 70% or more of the participants who experienced flatulence felt that it dissipated—no pun intended—by the second or third week of bean consumption, so we’ve just got to stick with it.
And you know 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. They didn't actually measure farts in this study, they just ask people what their perception of the amount of gas they had was, and we know from previous studies that you give someone a product labeled to contain something that may cause intestinal distress, it causes more intestinal distress whether it actually contains that ingredient or not. " In other words… just thinking they were eating it caused digestive distress, or the perception of it, to a proportion of persons.
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 this other study where they added more than a half a cup of kidney beans to people's daily diets the research subjects reported that the discomfort they initially felt within the first day or two of adding beans quickly disappeared, so again stick with it.
Bottom line—no pun in tended: An increasing body of research and the latest Dietary Guidelines supports the benefits of a plant-based diet, and legumes specifically, in the reduction of chronic disease risks. In some people it may result in more flatulence initially, however, doctors should emphasize that it will decrease over time if we just keep it up and the nutritional attributes of beans in the diet outweighs the potential for transitory discomfort. The long-term health benefits of bean consumption are great. And indeed eating beans in the long term may make your term—on earth--even longer.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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I’ve previously covered intestinal gas in one of my more amusing blog posts, Beans and Gas: Clearing the Air.
The paleo folks often rail against legumes and grains, but how do they account for the fact that epidemiological studies clearly show legumes and whole grains are among the healthiest choices?
More on bean benefits (beanifits?) in videos such as:
What about soybeans and breast cancer? Stay tuned for my next video, BRCA Breast Cancer Genes and Soy.
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