Just can’t get enough beans. Here’s why.
Have you ever wondered if there’s a natural way to lower your high blood pressure, guard against Alzheimer's, lose weight, and feel better? Well as it turns out there is. Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, founder of NutritionFacts.org, and author of the instant New York Times bestseller “How Not to Die” celebrates evidence-based nutrition to add years to our life and life to our years.
I know that the news today can be overwhelming, even just mentioning the word facts can trigger all sorts of reactions. I’m Dr. Michael Greger and I happen to really like facts. So, I’ve devoted my life to learning all there is to know about the latest nutrition research, so that you and your family can lead healthier, more productive lives.
Today’s show is, you guessed it, full of beans! I’m a huge fan of anything leguminous, so I’ve teamed up with Curiosity Stream Chef Rich Landau and public health nutritionist Tracye McQuirter to discuss the health benefits and preparation of beans.
I wanted to eat really good food, the kind of good flavors that I was used to, and so I taught myself to cook and to get those meaty, smoky, delicious, soulful flavors into my cooking.
The intake of legumes is probably the most important dietary predictor of survival in older persons around the world.
We should include nuts in our diet just as we should include beans. They’re loaded with fiber, they’re loaded with antioxidants, they’re loaded with phytonutrients, packed with protein.
It’s not all or nothing, it’s not black or white. Any movement we can make along this spectrum towards eating healthier can accrue significant benefits.
Research has shown a surprising link between the amount of animal protein most Americans currently consume and the rise of many chronic diseases.
Two long-term Harvard University studies found that eating more red meat, in particular, was linked to greater risks of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.
One of the most landmarked studies done published in Cell Metabolism followed thousands of men and women for 18 years and found that those who ate the most protein had 75% increased risk of dying prematurely, fourfold increase risk of dying specifically from cancer, but not all protein–specifically animal protein. What we think is going on is that the consumption of animal protein, meat, egg white, and dairy protein, increases levels of something called IGF-1 in our body, which is a cancer-promoting growth hormone involved in the acquisition and progression of malignant human tumors. So, that may explain why some of the largest studies on diet and health in history found that the incidence of all cancers combined was significantly lower among those eating more plant-based diets.
Despite the proven advantages of plant-based diets, eliminating commonly-consumed forms of proteins, such as cheese, meat, and milk, can be a challenge. Fortunately, one of the most potent sources of protein: sprouts from beneath the ground!
For thousands of years, cultures around the world have relied on legumes, a class of vegetables that includes beans, lentils, and peas, as a major source for protein and other vital nutrients.
Legumes, beans, count as both the protein group and the vegetable group, so they’re packed with protein, iron, zinc, things that you’d expect from other protein-rich foods like meat, but also are packed with things you typically only find in the vegetable kingdom like fiber, folate, and potassium. So, you get the best of both worlds when you eat beans while enjoying something that’s naturally low in saturated fat and sodium, and no cholesterol.
One recent study found that eating just a cup of beans, chickpeas, or lentils each day for three months could slow a person’s resting heart rate as much as spending 250 hours on a treadmill, a major factor in reducing the risk of dying prematurely.
The intake of legumes, which are beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils, is probably the most important dietary predictor of survival in older persons around the world. Eight percent decrease in premature death risk for each daily ounce intake.
If you look at the so-called Blue Zone areas, the areas around the world with the greatest longevity, most people that live over a hundred, the one thing that all those areas share is legumes! Actually, they eat bean-rich diets, and so we’re talking about the Okinawan Japanese, who are getting soy beans in the diet, or a Blue Zone in Loma Linda, California, they’re all eating beans as an important component of their diet.
People see beans as boring and nobody wants to talk about encouraging people to eat beans, but they’re so healthy, and they’re so versatile, so inexpensive. The top beans that I recommend are black beans. The darker, the more nutrients they pack. So you want to have black beans on a regular basis, and you can have that as a black bean burger, you can have that in a burrito, in a wrap. Make a large batch, four to six cups of beans on a Sunday, just put ’em on your counter, plug it in, cook it, and then eat off of that for the rest of the week. You can make two to three different types of beans on a Sunday.
Beans provide a feeling of satisfaction and fullness that rivals many animal-based foods. This has been explained as the lentil effect, or the second-meal effect. The high fiber content of legumes prevents them from being digested as quickly as meat, keeping you satisfied longer, and their low sugar content prevents insulin from spiking in your bloodstream and making you hungry.
Legumes, in general, like beans or lentils, are one of the lowest glycemic index foods out there. So, for example, if you eat beans for supper, the blood sugar spike you get for breakfast the next morning, even if you don’t eat any beans in the morning, is lower than if you hadn’t been eating beans the night before. It turns out that there are prebiotics in beans. There are compounds in beans like fiber and resistant starch that our good gut bacteria eat, and so we eat a bean burrito at night, by the next morning, our gut bacteria are eating that same bean burrito and producing these compounds, these so-called short-chain fatty acid compounds that then are absorbed back into the system and have these wonderful beneficial effects.
Chef Rich Landau is part of a revolution to move beans and other plant-based foods to the center of our plate through more creative cooking. His goal at his award-winning vegan restaurant, Vedge, is to create alternatives to the mouth-watering animal-based dishes he loved as a child.
We really think a lot about what goes on the plate here. I find that most vegan dishes, when you go to mainstream restaurants, they’re very lean, they’re very high note. There’s lots of flowers and colorful oils, and little bits of herbs and little leaves, and that’s great, if you want to actually just taste like the garden, but the two things we think of the most when we’re cooking, is this filling, and is this really, really satisfying? The second they start saying, I’m doing something good for my body and the environment, we’ve lost it, because then they’re kind of justifying to themselves why they should be eating this. They’re eating this food because it’s delicious, because it has these layers of flavor that you’re only used to getting from a meat-based meal. You’re getting it from all vegetables because we cook them that way.
The heart of their approach is to search for plant-based alternatives that are both delicious and satisfying. Beans are one of the most versatile sources of protein and fiber on the planet. Today, they’re featured in a wide range of succulent dishes from around the world that are helping to redefine healthy eating.
I wanted to eat really good food, the kind of good flavors that I was used to and so I taught myself to cook and to get those meaty, smoky, delicious, soulful flavors into my cooking. As I got older, I really started getting into this, and I decided, well, maybe there’s a market for this out there, maybe, you know, if you go to a health food store, it’s kind of healthy and hippie, and there’s kind of this preconceived notion that all vegetarian food is health food, and it’s bland, and it’s this hippie rabbit food diet. I thought that was a shame that anyone ever thought that way. Food is food, and delicious food is delicious food, no matter what’s in it.
Beans are one of my favorite foods. This is one of these cross-cultural phenomena that beans exist in every culture in so many beautiful ways, and there’s so much you can do with them.
One of my favorite dishes in the world is actually made from yellow lentils, which in Indian cooking is called dal, and it’s called a mulligatawny soup. This is all about the texture of the lentils and the layering of the spices. You start with garlic, onion, and ginger, just the way any great global dish starts. A little bit of neutral oil, we use sunflower oil, and you start cooking your onions and your garlic and your ginger in the oil, and you end up with this kind of paste at the bottom that’s full of all the flavor that’s gonna build the foundation of your dish. Then, you add your vegetable stock. Now, your stock is full of all these aromatics, the curry spices, the ginger, the garlic, all combining together. Now, you’ve built your foundation with the curry, now it’s time to cook the lentils, just until they break down, until they become really creamy, and without adding that much extra fat at all, you have this really rich-tasting soup because the lentils have unlocked all their starch and broken down into the soup. And it’s a great study in textures and flavors to make this soup because you’ve used such little fat and only one layer of seasoning and ended up with something so incredibly aromatic and something so rich, that you would never believe that there wasn’t 15 hours of labor into it. It’s so simple.
Nuts are another rich and satisfying source of healthy, plant-based protein. They’ve been a staple in the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years, but only recently have scientists started to quantify their many surprising health benefits.
The famous PREDIMED study found that adding just a small palmful of nuts to one’s daily diet for a few years can cut one’s stroke risk in half. A simple ounce of nuts, a palm full of nuts a day, is not just associated with better health but have been proven to improve health outcomes.
Nuts are relatively high in calories and fat compared to most plant-based foods. But recent studies have shown that routinely consuming them could actually reduce your risk of gaining weight or becoming obese. They found that nut eaters actually tend to be slimmer, smaller waist, lower body mass index, than people who don’t eat nuts, and so they started doing interventional trials where they actually add nuts to their diet. You just give people, say here, eat these, handful of nuts, add them to whatever else you’re eating, and never once did we get the expected weight gain from all those extra calories.
Nuts are a potent source of vital nutrients in a plant-based diet. Specific nuts appear to protect against DNA damage, suppress inflammation and cancer, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Just a few servings a week may even help us extend our lifespan.
We should include nuts in our diet, just as we should include beans. They’re loaded with fiber, they’re loaded with antioxidants, they’re loaded with phytonutrients, packed with protein. Some you may find harder to digest than others, so find what you like, what works best for you, and you can soak them. The harder nuts, almonds, you can soak them overnight to make them softer, you can add them to your smoothies, you can soften them by throwing them in your food, in your stir fries. Anything that you would add an animal-based protein to, you can use nuts in the same way.
When I look at a dish, I am thinking: how can I make this healthier? And you can always make anything healthier by adding greens, by adding beans, put nuts or seeds on your salad. The fat in the nuts and seeds actually helps the absorption of the carotenoid phytonutrients found in all the greens, so you actually maximize your absorption of all the nutrition in a salad if you have a whole food source of fat.
Legumes, nuts, and seeds are important components of the human diet. Providing our bodies with protein and many other vital nutrients needed to survive. They are a highly flexible and satisfying alternative to animal products, which have been linked to a wide range of serious health risks and are a critical step in the right direction for anyone considering a healthier, plant-based lifestyle.
You don’t have to go completely 100% plant-based right away, most people can’t do that. But, start where you are and try to do what you can at least once a week, move that up to two or three times a week, and then try to do it at least once a day, and then go from there.
I encourage people to think of this healthy eating transition as kind of a free sample, just give a try for a few weeks, and then see how you feel. With the hope that by the end, after three weeks, you’ll feel so much better, then you have the internal motivation. It’s not someone saying eat your greens, it’s wow, I feel so much better, you couldn’t pay me to go back and eat the way I did before! But, it’s not all or nothing, it’s not black or white. Any movement we can make along this spectrum towards eating healthier can accrue significant benefits.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images or studies mentioned here, please go to the Nutrition Facts podcast landing page. There, you’ll find all the detailed information you need – plus links to all the sources we cite for each of these topics.
Be sure to check out my How Not to Die Cookbook, beautifully designed, with more than 100 recipes for delicious and nutritious meals, snacks and beverages. All proceeds I receive from the sale of my books go to charity.
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Everything on the website is free. There’s no ads, no corporate sponsorship. It’s strictly non-commercial. I’m not selling anything. I just put it up there as a public service, as a labor of love—as a tribute to my grandmother – whose own life was saved with evidence-based nutrition.
Thanks for listening to Nutrition Facts. I’m Dr. Michael Greger.
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