Are your eating habits out of control or not very healthy? Maybe you’re looking to find ways to shore up or develop good habits that will give your body and mind the nutrition they need. Why not start with one of the healthiest food groups that just so happens to be tied to increased longevity? I’m talking about beans and pulses but don’t worry that you’ll be tooting your way through this weekly challenge or doubled over with gas pains! Instead you’ll learn how to properly incorporate these life-giving whole foods into your diet for more energy and vitality.
Take the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge. You’ll get new ideas and habits that will stay with you for life while providing yourself with better health – and possibly extra years of existence! Who doesn’t love that?
What is the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge?
For seven days commit to having at least a serving of beans or pulses every day. Nutrition guidelines call for 2 pounds a week or roughly 2 cans worth. That breaks down into a manageable 1/2 a cup or so a day. You’ll be skipping processed versions for the whole food versions. Processed foods will hurt your health and drain you energy – we don’t want that!
Beans are a versatile food ingredient. It may surprise you that endless delicious recipes exist for eating them in soups, dips, as appetizers and at breakfast, lunch, dinner and even as desserts! You’ll have plenty of tasty options to choose from this week.
Why Focus on Beans?
Studies cite bean intake as the most important predictor of survival in older people from around the globe. Meanwhile, eating a bean-free diet might actually increase our risks for death and disease. Yikes! So what’s so special about the legume and how much should we be eating to gain its health benefits? And maybe most importantly, how can we make them yummy and, um, less gassy?
Read on for these important details.
The Mighty Bean
An increasing body of research supports the benefits of a plant-based diet, and legumes specifically, in the reduction of chronic disease risks. Studies have found that eating one serving a day (half a cup) of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils can significantly reduce “bad cholesterol” and therefore the risk of cardiovascular disease. That same serving provides roughly 20% of your daily fiber requirement and a high fiber diet has been linked to massive reductions in risk for stroke, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health risks.
Weight control. Beans and pulses like lentils also have a low glycemic index, meaning they break down slowly and don’t spike our blood sugar and cause hunger, which helps us stay full longer and keep our waistlines trimmer. In fact, researchers have found that bean eaters weigh, on average, 7 pounds less and have slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts – yet they consume 199 calories more per day if they were adults and an incredible 335 calories more if they were teenagers. With their fiber and water content – two ingredients that make you feel fuller, faster – adding beans to your diet helps cut calories without feeling deprived.
Nutrition-packed. Beans also contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals. For instance, many beans, including white beans and black beans, contain 10% of your daily recommended intake of iron, 10% of potassium, and around 6% of calcium. These beans also contain hefty thiamine, folate, phosphorus, manganese, zinc and magnesium levels. Edamame, a soy bean and one of Japan’s favorite beans, is a superfood but actually so are most beans.
Antioxidant-loaded. Beans are also high in a class of phytochemicals known as antioxidants, which incapacitate cell-damaging free radicals in the body. Free radicals have been implicated in everything from cancer and aging to neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers measured the antioxidant capacities of more than 100 common foods. Three types of beans made the top four: small red beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans. And three others – black beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas – achieved top-40 status.
Linked to longer lifespans. In a remarkable three-year study, researchers from different institutions looked at five different cohorts in Japan, Sweden, Greece, and Australia. Of all the food factors they looked at, only legume intake was associated with a longer lifespan across the board. 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. For every 20 gram increase in daily legume intake (just two tablespoons worth of beans), researchers saw an 8% reduction in risk of death.
So we should definitely be eating more beans!
Breaking Bad Habits
In order to build and sustain our health, we need to not only eat what’s healthy for us, but eliminate or at least strictly limit intake of what’s hurting us or providing empty calories. Right now as a culture we could be doing better on all fronts.
Currently, the standard American diet is roughly 62% processed foods, 26% meat, and only 12% good, body and mind nourishing foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, tubers and legumes. As reported in Newsweek, over 50% of the American diet consists of ultra-processed foods that can be bought at 7-Eleven. 42% of our calories come from low quality carbohydrates (1). This way of eating is horribly unhealthy and we see its consequences in high rates of obesity, diabetes, cancer, stroke, autoimmune disorders, and chronic kidney disease, among others.
We are actively destroying our health with the foods we eat – whether bombarding it with foods and drinks that harm our bodies or by not giving our bodies the nutrition we need to repair and maintain ourselves in optimum health. Our unbalanced food choices also have dire consequences for our beneficial bacteria which do so much for our gut and digestive health but which also work hand in hand with our immune health. When we wreck our beneficial bacteria colonies, we set ourselves up for a dysfunctional immune system and autoimmune issues.
Processed foods, high in salt and sugar, are destroying our beneficial bacteria. After all, salt and sugar are preservatives – which prevent spoilage of food by killing bacteria. When we ingest salt and sugar in the large amounts we currently consume today, they kill off our good bacteria as the preservatives travel through our digestive tracts. Additionally, we’re eating more processed foods at the expense of healthier foods that would feed and support our gut biome.
On top of this, eating processed foods deprives us of vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes, antioxidants and so much more that build and repair our bodies and keep them and our minds working in good condition. Processed foods and diets high in sugar and refined carbs also are linked to diabetes, metabolic disorders, cancer, autoimmune problems and other diseases afflicting modern society.
Pivoting our eating habits away from processed foods and to whole foods can only help reverse our terrible modern disease trends. If the standard American diet is your diet, definitely do the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge!
In reclaiming our health and waistlines, the place to start is with diet. That means a two-pronged attack of cutting down our over-consumption of processed foods which actively destroy our health while at the same time consuming mostly whole foods which will build, maintain and repair our bodies in maximum health.
This is the true definition of eating healthy.
What are Whole foods?
Whole foods are plant foods that are unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, and are free from additives or other artificial substances like preservatives, emulsifiers, conditioners and artificial or natural flavors before being consumed.
Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses, nuts, seeds, tubers, and whole grains. Everything else is not a whole food. See my article What are Whole Foods? to get a good understanding of whole foods. For the carnivores out there, I would add that fresh meat in the butcher and seafood sections of grocery stores can supplement a whole foods diet even though they are obviously not plant-based. Same with eggs and milk. The healthiest and most long-lived cultures in the world eat this sort of diet.
Why Whole Foods?
The benefits of whole foods are amazing:
- Cancer prevention
- Beating heart disease
- Lowering blood pressure
- Preventing and reversing diabetes
- Prevention of gallstones, kidney stones and osteoporosis
- Asthma prevention
- Better digestion
- Autoimmune disorder prevention
- Most sustainable diet for the planet
Now on to more about beans and how to enjoy them without added gas during the weekly challenge.
The Toot Song
Anytime I mention eating beans to most Americans, I get the toot song dance: either they sing this little ditty or they complain that they can’t eat beans due to gas. Two things on this that you might find surprising:
1. Studies done on bean consumption and gas found that gas levels actually didn’t rise in most cases. People just noticed the gas they already had since they were expecting gas as a byproduct of their bean eating. In other words, it’s usually all in our heads.
2. In the few cases where gas levels increased, within weeks the gas subsided as individuals adjusted to the new inclusion of beans into their diets. You have to remember that whenever we change our diets, our bodies have to adjust. We are chemical beings and what we eat or drink affects us. Take caffeine for example. When you try to quit caffeine, you feel the physical impact of withdrawal and may feel irritable or have headaches. Conversely, people who switch to caffeine also feel the side effects in jitteriness, alertness or even nausea. The same can happen with the introduction of any new food. Beans might initially cause gas but it will subside as you grow used to eating them. Here are simple ways to lessen or prevent discomfort when switching over to legumes.
Ease into it. If you’re worried about gas, start small. While research suggests half a cup daily at minimum, if you slowly add in beans to your diet over a couple of weeks rather than all at once you might find an easier transition. Start with a quarter cup, then up it to half a cup, then as much as you like.
Cans first. Canned beans are actually pre-cooked (and possibly overcooked) and pretty easy to digest because of this. Start there rather than preparing dried beans first thing and risk the digestive problems of eating undercooked beans. Dried beans are much healthier since canned versions usually come with sodium or calcium chloride (also a salt) and sometimes other preservatives we really don’t need. Nonetheless, cans are really convenient to cook with since they only require reheating rather than the hours of soaking and cooking for dried beans. If eating a bean salad, they don’t even need heating. Make sure to drain and rinse canned beans though no matter how you are going to use them.
Mix it up. People react differently to the same foods. In studies on bean consumption and gas, researchers found that people had differing reactions to various beans and changing the beans could help. Even so, gas levels declined for all bean types over a period of weeks.
Dried beans. For those who have the time and inclination, dried beans can’t be beat in terms of nutritional content. They just require a lot of soaking and cooking for ease of digestion. Studies recommend 12 hours of soaking in order to make them more digestible and produce the least gas. Canned beans are fairly inexpensive but dried beans even more so.
Now for ways to sneak these into your diet!
In the Kitchen for the 7 Day Challenge
During the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge, you’ll want avoid processed foods and instead eat whole food based meals, or at last whole food versions of beans.
While the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge does not require dropping the standard American diet or greatly changing your current way of eating, adopting a mostly whole foods diet during the challenge will reap greater health rewards. If you choose to try more whole foods during the challenge, avoid added sugars and processed foods. Focusing on whole foods should be the center of every meal, making up at least 70% of everything that goes into your mouth.
This will mean passing on processed foods – full of refined carbs, added sugar, salt, processed oils, and additives – which include most boxed meals and kits, frozen meals, heat and serve meals, and fast food. Try to limit your pasta and bread consumption as these are both processed foods. I realize that might be biting off more than you can chew for most people. However, making whole foods the stars of any meal and giving things like pasta or bread a limited supporting role will really help your health.
Why 7 Days?
One week isn’t a large commitment and is easy to plan. Plus you won’t feel overwhelmed by learning a ton of new recipes or feel like you’re completely giving up your eating lifestyle for good – though, hey, if you like the changes and the benefits, please continue!
Seven days are good for dipping your toes into a life of eating more healthily or starting down a whole foods diet. You will learn new recipes and eating patterns which can help you transition to eating healthier overall. And besides, who doesn’t enjoy a new challenge to get excited about?
Whenever we try something new or try to change habits, we should remind ourselves of a few things:
Firstly, we’ve been doing things a certain way for a while. When it comes to food, we’ve trained our bodies and minds to like what we’re already doing. When we try new foods, we may go into withdrawal from the removal of our usual foods. That and our gut biomes have adapted to our old eating habits and will undergo a shift when our foods change. Most people don’t realize this and think their body is reacting negatively to the new foods when really, it’s mostly withdrawal symptoms. If you’ve ever tried to give up coffee or colas for a week, you know what I’m taking about! The same is definitely true for sugar or refined carbs. Use this week to learn how addicted your body is to your current way of eating. You might find it eye-opening.
Secondly, we are creatures of habit. Don’t expect to like or love all the food recipes. If you’ve never tried something before, try it with an open mind. Think of this week as a way to experience new foods or find new recipes to incorporate into your meal rotation. See it as a fun exercise, not a drag, and you’ll have better results.
Thirdly, when we take on a food challenge, the experience is usually new. The recipes will take longer to organize and prep simply because you haven’t spent years making them. In time the ingredients and recipes become second nature and you can modify them as easily as your current meal rotations. Expect the learning curve rather than be upset by it. Most of the recipes included for the challenge are quick and easy for beginners.
Fourthly, food is culture. If your family and friends have never seen a whole food they didn’t hate, you may feel peer pressure over your new food selections or feel tempted to cheat and eat like normal. Remember that this is only a week-long challenge. If others tell you to cheat or give you grief, you can point out gently:
- Your health issues if you have any
- Any health issues in your family
- That you are trying to alleviate or prevent any health issues
- And that you could really use support since this isn’t easy
Many people if approached this way will be more considerate and helpful, especially if you tell them you don’t expect them to eat like you (some immediate family members will fear any food changes). Accept this and remember that you are the only person who can truly make the changes you want. Respect and love yourself enough to try what you’re wanting to do, no matter what others think.
All this said, we’re human and we get cravings. Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse during the challenge, just continue on with the next meal and be proud for what you do follow. Also, try not to make the challenge impossible by scheduling it around holidays. Only the most willful and possibly masochistic can survive holidays and their associated foods. On the flip side, if you’re trying to give up the excesses of the holidays, by all means, use this challenge as an excuse!
Now onto the nuts and bolts.
How It Works
The 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge is pretty straight-forward. You’ll be eating a daily serving (1/2 cup) or more of beans with a focus on real, whole ingredients for a week. To do that:
- Pick a week to do the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge.
- Make room in your pantry and in your mental space for the change.
- Plan out and organize your meals for the week for best results. Design them with your family or friends for added support and team-building if they’re willing.
- Make your grocery list.
- Buy the food.
- Prepare the meals yourself or for best results, with your family. Healthy food habits are teachable moments, as is food preparation. Children can’t learn healthy food habits if not exposed to them or taught the recipes. Cooking together means time together. Make cooking social.
- Eat and enjoy – the more the merrier!
7 Day Longevity Bean Suggestions
It’s easiest to enjoy the challenge and keep with it if you include healthy meals you already like. Love your homemade hummus and veggie dippers? Bust them out this week!
We tend to eat the same handful of foods so don’t feel like every single meal for the week must be new and original. That gets expensive and stressful fast because you have to buy a larger variety of food and learn too many new recipes you may not be at all familiar with. Also, why waste any leftovers?
Check out the recommended week-long plan and more general pantry list so you can take the challenge and run with it. Feel free to mix and match however you like to make this challenge your own!
Now onto the week’s meal plan!
Longevity Bean Ideas
Beans come an endless variety of flavors, colors, and textures. There are enough of these delicious little gems to satisfy every pallet. Here are some wonderful dish ideas, many of which are vegetarian or vegan:
- Black bean salsa
- Baked beans (British style)
- Burritos & burrito bowls
- Bean salads
Not only are these delicious and healthy, they’re chock full of energy so you won’t experience a food coma or that 3pm sugar crash from typical carb-loaded or sugar-heavy dishes.
Seven Day Longevity Bean Plan
Need a menu for the week? Check out the following suggested meal plan. Mix and match as you like. All are simple to make and easy to take to work.
Day 1 (Snack): Hummus with veggie dippers or whole grain crackers
Day 2 (Lunch): Bean salad (see Lunch Made Simple: Bean Salad Basics for ideas)
Day 3 (Dinner): Chick pea curry
Day 4 (Breakfast): Baked beans (British style) with scrambled eats and fruit
Day 5 (Dinner): 10 minute black bean tacos
Day 6 (Lunch): Lentil, feta, and tomato salad
Day 7 (Dinner): Italian white bean & sausage soup
If none of these ideas tickle your fancy, feel free to find ones that do! Check out Bon Appetit’s 81 Bean Recipes You’ll Be Making All Year Long. If you find their menu ideas lacking, so many other recipe resources exist on the internet that you’re bound to discover more than you could ever hope to make. One of my favorite sources is allrecipes.com.
In order to eat a whole foods diet, it’s helpful to know how to stock your pantry. This is a general list, so don’t think this is your shopping list for the healthy snack challenge. While a few items on this list are not whole foods, the vast majority are and these ingredients can make up a fantastic pantry for eating healthy and deliciously:
Nuts and seeds – walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin kernals etc.
Nut and seed butters like peanut butter, almond butter and tahini
Dried beans – lentils, black, white, navy, kidney, pinto, cannellini, split pea, black-eyed, chick pea, red, edamame, etc.
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Olive, sesame or coconut oil
White or apple vinegar
White cooking wine
Tilapia or cod fillets
Canned or fresh tuna, anchovies, mussels, oysters, clams
Canned white beans, chick peas, lentils, black beans
Fresh cuts of meats (be careful as even ground pork or ground turkey often now includes natural flavors – check the ingredients)
Fresh or canned diced tomatoes
Yellow squash, zucchini, butternut squash, acorn squash, etc.
Spinach, kale, greens
Nut milks – almond, walnut, cashew milk
Oat or soy milk
Rice, barley, buckwheat, oats, kasha
While fresh and from scratch is best, let’s face it, not everyone has the time or willingness. Here are time savers and substitutions:
- Instant or quick oatmeal and cream of wheat
- Canned beans and vegetables: drain and rinse them though
- Frozen vegetables and fruit
- Frozen fish fillets
- Canned diced tomatoes
- Deli fresh guacamole, salsa and hummus
A Week of Healthy Eating
And there you have it – everything you need to know to take the 7 Day Longevity Bean Challenge! Hopefully you will enjoy the foods and the benefits they quickly bring in terms of better health, energy levels, mental clarity, sleep and digestion, and a range of others. If you enjoy these foods and their benefits, why not permanently include these and other deliciously healthy meals in your routine?
Good luck with the challenge and happy eating!
Like this article? Share it so that others can learn these health secrets and start living their best lives now.