Forget 'eat your veggies' — a Blue Zone expert says you should prioritize these 2 protein-rich foods to live a longer, healthier life

  • Fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and key nutrients like fiber.

  • But they can also be expensive and spoil fast.

  • A longevity expert says if you want to eat healthy for cheap, start with two other protein-rich foods.

We've all heard it: fruits and veggies. The key to better health, longevity, and a balanced diet.

"Five a day" is the recommendation in the UK. In the US, federal experts recommend filling half your daily plate with nutrient-packed whole fruits and a colorful variety of vegetables.

But most people aren't even getting close to that. Only about one in 10 Americans manages to meet these guidelines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cost seems to be at least part of the issue. The CDC says low-income people struggle the most to get their veggie prescriptions filled, with only about 6.8% managing to meet the daily dose.

But plenty of people around the world are already eating in a healthy, sustainable, longevity-forward way without really thinking about it. These people don't spend a fortune on fresh organic produce or worry about counting their veggies at the end of a long day. In fact, the cornerstone of many of their meals isn't fruits or vegetables at all: It's a few cheap, basic staples that will not spoil, even if left in the cupboard for months.

"You hear all the time, 'We've got to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into the inner city.' No! That's the wrong thing to do," Blue Zones' Dan Buettner, who's been studying the diet and lifestyle habits of long-living people around the world for two decades, said during a recent webinar for the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

Instead, Buettner encourages Americans to start with two simple, healthy pantry staples that just about everyone knows how to cook well.

A complete protein

bowl of beans and rice
Beans and rice is a great place to start.nata_vkusidey/Getty Images

"Start with beans and a grain," Buettner said.

This is a simple, cheap, and efficient way to deliver a complete protein — providing all nine of the essential amino acids our bodies can't make for themselves — to fuel the body for a day of thinking, moving, and functioning.

Plus, beans and whole grains have lots of fiber, which is great for both your gut and your waistline.

Buettner says the beautiful thing about this simple bean and grain equation is that we all probably know how to do it already. Unlike figuring out how to incorporate new types of produce into our diet, we don't need to learn the best way to slice zucchini or dress bib lettuce to get going with this strategy.

"Whether it's beans and corn tortillas, or beans and pasta, or beans and rice," he said, "They're shelf stable and almost any ethnicity in America knows exactly how to make a bean and a grain taste delicious."

Start with these recipes

A couple of Buettner's favorite bean- and whole-grain-forward meals from the Blue Zones include:

Italian minestrone soup

The bean: garbanzo, white, and pinto

The grain: whole grain pasta or sourdough bread on the side

dan buettner and his minestrone soup
Buettner always has a pot of minestrone soup simmering in his slow cooker. Dan Buettner / Getty Images

Costa Rican gallo pinto

The bean: black beans

The grain: brown rice

costa rica blue zone gallo pinto
Gallo pinto ("spotted rooster") is a traditional breakfast meal in Costa Rica made from leftover rice cooked with beans.Kevin Schafer / Getty Images

But it could just as easily be your own favorite twist on the basic equation. You could swap garbanzo for butter or fava beans. Or use bulgur or corn instead of brown rice. What's your favorite bean and whole grain combo and how long does it take you to make it?

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