Historic Foodways Society of the Delaware Valley

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Spotlight on Food History

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Key to brain health may Amount to

A Hill of Beans!

 

 

By Tony Dearing

The Times of Trenton

 

 

Beans are the Rodney Dangerfield of the American Diet:

They get no respect.

 

In other cultures, beans offer an inexpensive and abundant source of protein, nutrients and better brain health, allowing people to enjoy lower rates of Alzheimer’s and other chronic disease.  As concerned as Americans are about the threat of dementia, beans could be one of our best defenses against it, if we could just bring ourselves to eat them more often.

 

“I hate using the word ‘superfood’ because that’s been overused, but beans really are one of the original superfoods because of the wonderful array of nutrients they provide,” says Deanna Segrave-Daly, a dietitian who co-authors the Teaspoon of Spice blog.  “They are a very unique food.”

 

“Look how popular hummus is, and hummus is chick peas,” Seagrave-Daly says.  If hummus proves the gateway food that helps America change its mind about beans, the health implications could be significant.  Adding just a serving or two of beans to your diet on a weekly basis can help keep your brain younger and potentially add years to your life, research shows.

 

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic fellow and best-selling author, has spent the past 13 years studying the world’s so-called Blue Zones, places where people live remarkably long lives and face much lower rates of Alzheimer’s.

 

At the Aspen Ideas Festival last year, Buettner gave a talk on the eating habits of Blue Zone communities.  “The cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is beans.  No matter where you go in the world, people living a long time, they’re eating about a cup of beans a day.  It probably yields them an extra four years of life expectancy.  Every 2 extra ounces of beans you add to your diet, you lower your mortality rate about 9 percent.”

 

Segrave-Daly doesn’t believe we should eat foods that taste yucky, no matter how good they are for us.  If you’re willing to give beans a try, she says one way to start is by gradually introducing them into dishes you already eat.  Adding them to your favorite soup, making a pot of chili with beans, tacos, etc.  Check out these recipes on her blog: teaspoonofspice.com:  sloppy joe tacos, pasta e fagioli with greens, easy Louisiana red beans and rice.

 

“They (beans) can be considered both a protein food and a vegetable,” Seagrave-Daly says.  “They are a good source of protein, but also iron and zinc, which you typically find more in animal protein, but they also have wonderful nutrients that mimic other vegetables, like fiber and folate, potassium and magnesium.”

 

In fact, if you look at all of the diets that are recommended for better brain health and hearth health—be it the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet or the MIND diet—every one of them encourages us to eat more legumes.  The MIND diet, for instance, calls for us to eat three or more servings of beans a week.

 

“We feel helpless about dementia,” she says.  “I know they’re working really hard to try to figure out what they can do in the medical field, but what can we do on our own while we wait for a cure someday?  I believe food can have a healing power for pretty much any disease we can get.”

 

This much is clear: as a defense against dementia, beans are no joke.  And there are ways to serve them that are also inviting.  “That’s my goal,” Segrave-Daly says, “that you end up eating them because you like them, so you’re not just protecting your brain, but enjoying them as well.”

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Page Update April 1, 2017

 

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