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Find out why beans really are magical — and use them in 2 recipes

Eating beans frequently has also been shown to help reduce cholesterol, protect brain health and provide energy that lasts.
/ Source: TODAY

Do you want to live to be 100-years-old? The answer probably depends on knowing how well you'd feel during those later years.

While there's no guarantee, we do know some common characteristics that the world's longest living people tend to share when it comes to having a much lower risk of disease and experiencing more healthy years of vibrant life.

Those longevity-boosting habits include enjoying an active lifestyle; stressing less and resting more; having a sense of belonging, whether it's being involved with family, with the community or through some form of spiritual belief system; surrounding yourself with positive people (I like to say, "Health is contagious, too!"); and eating well.

One way to eat well is to eat plenty of plants, including vegetables and fruits, grains, nuts — and one food that's often overlooked in a healthy diet: beans!

Learn why you should be eating more beans and check out these tips on how to incorporate them into your diet. Plus, we've got two easy, healthy bean recipes: bean soup and banana-walnut muffins with beans hidden inside.

Shutterstock / Magdalena Kucova

Why beans?

Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has shown that beans are a powerful player in helping promote a long, healthy life. They provide plant protein and complex carbohydrates in one package. Beans also offer fiber, a host of phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients), plus B vitamins that help provide energy, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and more.

Eating beans regularly may help regulate blood sugar and decrease your risk of diabetes, heart disease, digestive issues like constipation, certain digestive cancers and also help with weight management, according to research.

Eating beans frequently has also been shown to help reduce cholesterol, protect brain health and provide energy that lasts. Beans can make you feel full quicker and create a slower rise in blood sugar to stave off hunger. In other words, beans may help you achieve more years and more quality years.

How much?

How often and how many beans should you eat? Researchers have noted that healthy centenarians tend to consume beans on a daily or near daily basis. And numerous studies have shown various health benefits from eating beans three times a week or more. But the good news is that you can benefit at any point in your life.

Aim for about 1/2 cup of beans on most days. Feel free to use fresh, frozen, dried or canned beans, and don't forget about peanuts and soybeans, as well as other legumes like lentils.

10 simple ways to add more beans to your day

Morning, noon and night...beans go great in meals, snacks and even desserts!

1. Add beans to salads — garbanzos (chickpeas), kidney beans and white beans are great options!

2. Combine beans with grain dishes — rice and beans is a classic, but mix it up with other grains like quinoa or bulgur.

3. Spoon a layer of beans into tacos and burritos.

4. Include in soups, stews and chili, like my One-Pot Bountiful Bean Stew.

One-Pot Bountiful Bean Stew

5. Add them to pasta dishes like penne and vegetables or One-Pot Pasta Fagiole.

6. Puree and mix into sauces. For example, you can blend or mash cooked beans with a little water and puree with tomato for a hearty sauce in a lasagna.

7. Mix some beans into your salsas or enjoy bean dips like hummus with veggies or whole grain pita chips.

8. Try a bean burger or add beans to your burger meat to add fiber and moisture.

9. Make a grown-up PB&J with whole grain bread or pita, natural peanut butter and all-fruit preserves or even sliced fruit (banana, strawberries, peaches or mango all work well.)

10. Add beans to your baking! Puree beans with about a tablespoon of water and add black beans to brownies, or white beans to banana or zucchini bread and muffins.

With all these tasty and easy ways to try more beans, it's easy to incorporate them into your diet.

If you liked those healthy recipes with beans, you should also try these:

Black Bean Brownies