The High-Protein Plant-Based Meal To ‘Save the World,’ According to a Longevity Expert

Photo: Stocksy / Harald Walker
Paring down in-home dining to the basics doesn't necessarily require sacrificing nutrition. In fact, according to longevity expert and Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner, one of the healthiest meals you can make is also one of the simplest and least expensive: rice and beans. It also just so happens to be good for the planet in that it offers as much protein as four ounces of environmentally unfriendly beef.

Buettner describes this dish's star ingredient—beans—as the ultimate longevity-enhancer, noting that one cup per day may increase your life expectancy by an astounding four years. Pairing the rice and beans is no revelation; the combination is a staple of traditional cuisine throughout the world, from Brazil to West Africa.


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The nutrition profile of this traditional dish is somewhat revelatory, however. According to Buettner, it contains three grams of fiber, 64 percent of the daily recommended amount of folate (vitamin B9), 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of (sleep-and-mood enhancing) magnesium, 38 percent of the daily recommended amount of manganese, 28 percent of the daily recommended amount of thiamine, and 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of iron. And unlike its beefy equivalent, beans and rice contains absolutely zero saturated fat. Plus, you can technically use any type of rice, as it's a misconception that white (or non-brown) rice is unhealthy. You can even make a big batch at once to keep in vented storage containers ($22) for at least a few days to a week.

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And honestly, rice and beans is damn delicious, especially when paired with a sweet plantain, as Buettner recommends, that the boost to your longevity is just an added bonus. It's also satiating, thanks to all that aforementioned fiber, and speedy to make, both of which are attributes likely to come in handy as the pace of life picks back up. And at 5 percent the cost of beef, your wallet will thank you for it.

The environmental footprint of rice and beans, meanwhile, is just as appetizing. According to Buettner, the greenhouse gas emissions of a plate are a mere 1/20 that of a comparable plate of beef. Adding it into your diet, then, is a super simple way to return to eco consciousness after 12 months spent in survival mode (ugh, all those takeout containers!). After all, the climate crisis didn't pause for the pandemic, and while it may be a minute before you can orient your brain back toward a more existential-seeming emergency than the pandemic, consuming beans and rice is an easy and enjoyable way to ease back into saving the planet, one bite at a time.

For dessert, try this healthy recipe for black bean brownies:

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