Our origins, and the sustainable power of the bean

Written by Josh Ford

On June 9, 2020

The idea for Greener Beans was formed in March 2020. We knew we wanted to encourage more sustainable dietary habits, through simple and rewarding guidance. With the goal clear in our minds, like all super heroes worth their salt we needed a symbol. An emblem that spoke to our mission, and provided an appropriate role model for us all to follow. Having considered many candidates for our icon, there was one standout winner…. The humble bean.

I had first heard about the health benefits of beans some years ago, listening to a NPR podcast (National Public Radio) featuring the work of Dan Buettner and his study of global blue zones. These geographically isolated regions (including villages in Greece, Japan, and Costa Rica), were culturally diverse, but its communities all displayed clear strengths in health and longevity, with many more living to over 100. Buettner’s team studied these communities and identified common characteristics, providing top tips to follow for a longer, healthier life:

  • Eat until you are about 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
  • Eat your larger meals earlier in the day, having smaller portions in the evening.
  • Drink alcohol moderately but regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day.
  • And eat mostly plants, especially beans. Eat meat in small portions about 100gs, and limit to roughly five times a month.

 

 

Along with their link to blue zones, beans provide multiple health benefits to the table. High in vitamins and low in fat, beans are a great meat free protein source with their texture offering an alternative to mince in chilli, meat in stews, or provide bulk to salads. Even more nutritious and beneficial are sprouting beans. Used by ancient physicians due to their enhanced nutritional properties, sprouting beans can contain up to 3 times more vitamins than their dormant siblings. It wasn’t until we did our sustainability research that beans’ environmental properties truly became apparent.

During their growth phase, beans actively remove nitrogen from the air, enhancing the soil around them, helping other plants to grow, and providing farmers a natural way of improving soil health. This helps to reduce fertilizer runoff, which in turn helps reduce water pollution. Data published from a study led by Joseph Poore nd Thomas Nemecek (a favourite study of ours), shows a portion of beans to contain 26 times less carbon dioxide compared to beef. But when we factor in the methane cows give off, beans come out 50 times better, making beans one of the lowest emission sources of protein rich food.

 

 

With water shortages becoming more frequent in recent times, beans offer a more efficient protein source, requiring just 19 litres per gram, compared to 34 litres for chicken, and 112 litres for beef. In addition, the land globally needed to produce a comparable amount of protein to red meat can typically be 25 times less. Putting these comparable emissions, water, and land use are three of the key reasons the recently published Eat-Lancet sustainable diet advised plant based proteins such as beans to be consumed in favour of animal proteins by a ratio of 3 to 1.

Given all this, the sprouting bean seemed to earn its hero status of a low resource, low impact, high nutrient food source. The perfect symbol for our cause.

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