Since I eat a plant-based diet, I tend to think of beans as a convenient (and cheap) source of plant-powered protein. However, according to a recent “mega-study,” beans may be so much more than chip dip and 10-minute taco filling.
Legumes linked to lower colon cancer risk
In this paper, researchers looked at the results of 14 large studies that examined legume consumption in more than 1.9 million people. And what they found was that eating more legumes was linked to a ~10% decrease in colon cancer risk. That’s a big deal, because colon cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide—and rates are on the rise.
So, what counts as a legume? According to the study authors:
- Other podded plants (Anyone know what falls in this category?)
How legumes can combat colon cancer
While the results suggest that legumes protect against colon cancer, without strictly controlling people’s diets for a lifetime (not exactly ethical!), it’s impossible to actually prove it. However, the researchers named some very good reasons that legumes may help prevent colon cancer:
- Flavonoids: These compounds can put the brakes on cancer cell growth and help cells to mature normally
- Fiber: By making stool softer and larger, fiber both dilutes any cancer-causing chemicals in the colon and helps your body keep things moving along. Yes, fiber can help speed toxic turds right out of your body. (Oh yeah, I just went there.)
- Food for “good bacteria”: The fiber in legumes can help feed friendly flora in your gut, triggering them to produce chemicals that could help block the development of colon cancer.
- Vitamin B6: This B-vitamin may reduce risk of colon cancer.
- Health-promoting nutrients: These include vitamin E, vitamin B, protein, selenium, and lignans.
- Displacement of meat: It’s possible that people may be substituting beans for meat, and red and processed meats are linked to increased colon cancer risk
Eat beans, live longer?
Despite the protestations of paleo promoters, the good news about beans shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living like the World’s Healthiest People, has spent years researching the health habits of people living in “blue zones,” or communities where residents tend to live much longer than average. (Many to the ripe old age of 100!) As Buettner noted in a Today Show interview:
The cornerstone of every blue zone diet in the world is beans. If you’re eating a cup of beans a day, it’s probably adding about 2 years to your life expectancy.
So here’s to the musical fruit: May beans boost your lifespan—and your bottom line!
Want more ways to get healthy? Check out:
Zhu B, Sun Y, Qi L, Zhong R, Miao X. Dietary legume consumption reduces risk of colorectal cancer: evidence from a meta-analysis of cohort studies. Sci Rep. 2015 Mar 5;5:8797. doi: 10.1038/srep08797.