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Living Long, Living Well with Italian Heirloom Beans

According to Dan Buettner, who has been exploring the secrets of longevity for National Geographic in a continuing study known as Blue Zones, the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is the humble bean. One five-country study showed that beans were the only food that predicted a longer life—for each 20-gram serving (about two tablespoons) eaten a day, the chance of dying dropped by 8%. In particular heirloom beans, beans that come from seeds passed down through generations, preserved and regarded for their distinctive flavor, texture, appearance and incredible nutritional value. Among the favored pods are Italian heirloom beans.

Once the rustic stepchild of haute cuisine, Italian heirloom beans grew up as part of Italy's cucina povera (“poor kitchen”). Simple, rustic cooking based on the limited number of ingredients available, either what was grown or what one could afford to buy. But their humble roots hardly reflect the delicious dishes that would come from the farmhouse kitchens of the Italian countryside. Pasta, polenta and gnocchi are now Michelin starred dishes and the "bean eaters" of Tuscany once looked down on for their simple peasant cooking are now revered for their sustainability and generational use of one of the world's heartiest, protein-rich staples.

Considered to be a recognized longevity food low in fat, packed with fiber and dollar-for-dollar more protein than meat, beans are the cornerstone of every Blue Zone diet in the world where the world’s longest living cultures are supported by a lifestyle and culture that includes a plant-based diet that increases their chance of living a healthy, happy life. Places where people live the longest with the lowest rates of chronic disease. Cultural pockets that follow a traditional diet that emphasizes beans and legumes, vegetables, whole grains, extra-virgin olive oil, cheese and leafy greens. An article posted on the Blue Zone web site lists heirloom beans as one of the six heirloom foods that should be part of our daily diet.

If you're looking for an introduction into the world of heirloom beans, try Italy's borlotto. Sometimes referred to as cranberry beans because of their white with purple-red speckles, borlotti beans turn silky-smooth after cooking, with a meaty texture and starchy broth infused with its own nutty flavor. The health benefits of borlotti beans are staggering.

  • the borlotto bean contains all nine essential amino acids; one cup of borletti beans contains 17 grams of protein

  • borlotti beans are low on the glycemic index; on a scale of 0 to 250, borlotti beans have a glycemic index rating of 14

  • one cup of borlotti beans contains 92 percent of the daily recommended value of folate important; a vitamin critical in the regulation of specific amino acids that the nervous system requires

  • borlotti beans can help maintain a healthy blood pressure; having a high content of potassium and a low content of sodium

Living long with a sense of well-being depends on a variety of things. One may be a simple bean.

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