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Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit

Thu, 02/16/2023 - 09:56


Nutrition and longevity experts have for years identified places around the world where people live exceptionally long lives, so-called blue zones. While there are many factors at play in determining how long we live, what these super-geezers who live to be 100 or more may have in common is what they tend to eat — a diet heavy on beans, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes. A 74,000-person study last year published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that shifting food habits absolutely helps us live longer. More recent research showed that 60-year-olds who switched from a typical Western diet to more of a Mediterranean-style one could boost their life expectancies by up to nine years and even an 80-year-old could by between three and four years.

So what does this have to do with our own part of the world on eastern Long Island? Well, for one, the North and South Forks have been incubators for a new kind of community-based agriculture and, as a result, have helped contribute to healthful eating. Public and private efforts to preserve farmland and give a helping hand to new farmers have put more vegetables on our plates, as well as helped encourage us to move beyond the usual meat and potatoes. There is a cost benefit as well to eating better.

Diseases of the heart are the leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Nearly 700,000 people in the United States die each year from heart ailments, about one in every five deaths. Costs associated with heart disease are at least $300 billion a year in the U.S. and are estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2035. Local costs include emergency medical calls and loss of income for individuals and families. Plus, the drops in productivity combined with a diminished quality of life for those suffering from heart illness and the people close to them are immeasurable. But, thankfully, some of the solution is easily attainable.

Developing healthier eating habits does not necessarily mean making big changes overnight. Nutrition experts recommend making gradual improvements, such as eating a handful of nuts each day and at least a one-cup serving of beans, lentils, and peas. More whole grains — think brown rice instead of white — and choosing fish over meat whenever possible help too. Food waste in the United States, as well, may contribute the equivalent carbon dioxide output of more than 40 coal-fired electric plants. Reducing the environmental impact of food waste demands a multipronged approach. In East Hampton, a revived municipal composting effort is to begin this year.

Then there is the whole Earth benefit. Food production and transport are estimated to be responsible for around a third of greenhouse gases. Of that total, more than half comes from meat. Cutting back on the amount of beef we eat as a nation, about 55 pounds per person per year, is essential.

Much of the greenhouse gas methane comes from livestock, especially cattle, which are fed an increasing proportion of all grain produced by U.S. farmers. Cattle are one of the most significant contributors to water contamination and supply issues, soil degradation, and meat and byproduct processing-related pollution. And even the choice of what cuts of meat you consume counts. Steak accounts for by far the most emissions — about two and a half times as much carbon dioxide as a beef burger, which still outpaces all other non-beef foods.

There are plenty of reasons to eat better and get your food from sources closer to home. Helping protect our planet is one — making the most of our allotted time on it is another.

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