After twenty years of research into the dietary habits of individuals who are one hundred years old, I have identified the healthiest breakfast on the planet.

For the last two decades, I’ve made it my mission to learn everything I can about the diets of those who manage to live to be 100 years old or older.

I think I found the healthiest breakfast in the world in a little nook in Nicoya, Costa Rica.

At four in the morning, a dozen or so members of the Cooperativa Nicoya gather beneath a red-tiled roof. They heat cauldrons of hot beans over wood fires in clay ovens, combine maize flour with wood ash, and boil the beans.

A woman uses a piece of waxed paper to flatten a ball of dough about the size of a golf ball, and then she mechanically turns it into a patty that is precisely spherical. After being slapped onto a heated clay plate, it puffs up into a disk and then collapses into an ideal tortilla.

Over on the opposite side of the stove, three more people combine beans, red peppers, onions, and regional herbs. Before being combined with rice, the beans are cooked gently for around an hour until they reach the ideal tenderness.

How is this hearty cuisine that promotes longevity so good for you?

Chewy and flavored with nuts, these corn tortillas are a great way to get your daily dose of complex carbohydrates from whole grains without the glycemic load.

The cell walls of the maize are broken down by the wood ash, which releases the B vitamin niacin, which is involved in cell signaling and DNA repair, and allows the body to absorb the amino acids.

A Nicoyan centenarian spending time with his extended family.

Photo: David McLain
An elderly Nicoyan man enjoying quality time with his large family.

Similar to blueberries, black beans contain anthocyanins, which are antioxidants based on pigments. Not only are they abundant in folates like potassium and B vitamins, but they also cleanse the gut, decrease blood pressure, and regulate insulin.

The combination of beans and rice produces a complete protein, meaning it contains all the amino acids that humans need for proper nutrition.

Caffeine and antioxidant-rich beans from a native variety of “pea berry” beans make for a potent cup of coffee.

Incorporating vinegar, carrots, and fiery peppers into the chilero recipe adds probiotics and curcumin, a substance with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects, to the breakfast.

A sum of $4.23 was spent on the breakfast. A reasonable sum for the opportunity to learn Nicoya’s longevity secrets. Like the Nicoyans do, you can whip up a big pot of bean soup and eat it for days.

Nixtamal Tortillas

Nixtamal is corn dough mixed with wood ash to enhance the flavor and create the B vitamin niacin.

Photo: David McLain
Niacin, a B vitamin, is created in nixtamal, which is maize bread that has been combined with wood ash to improve its flavor.

Soaked corn with lime or wood ash and cooked to a half cooked state is called nixtamal. This breaks down the corn’s amino acid niacin, which assists digestion, lowers LDL cholesterol, and raises HDL cholesterol.

Corn is an excellent source of vitamin B and C as well as fiber and folate. You can find nixtamal corn flour in Latino or Mexican supermarket stores, on the ethnic food section, or even online.

Total cook time: 15 minutes

Makes: 5 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups masa harina (corn flour)
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups warm tap water, plus more as needed
  • Plastic wrap
  • Waxed paper, as needed

Steps:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk the masa harina and baking soda together.
  2. Add water and stir until a soft dough forms (if the mixture won’t form a soft ball of dough, add warm water in one tablespoon increments until it will).
  3. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for five minutes.
  4. On a clean, dry work surface, knead dough gently for one minute. Divide it into 16 equal balls, each about the size of a small plum.
  5. Roll out dough between pieces of waxed paper into 6-inch rounds.
  6. Set a griddle or cast iron skillet over high heat until smoking.
  7. Set dough on the griddle and cook for 30 seconds. Flip with kitchen tongs and cook until lightly toasted, with tiny bubbles in the tortilla, about 30 more seconds. Work in batches.
  8. Transfer to a clean kitchen towel and wrap gently. Serve warm.

A helpful hint: After they have cooled to room temperature, wrap any tortillas that aren’t going to be used in a kitchen towel and refrigerate them for up to a day. Place on a baking sheet and broil for 10 seconds, keeping four to six inches distance from the heat source.

Jose Guevara’s Gallo Pinto

This time-honored rice and beans recipe can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Photo: David McLain
Any meal of the day can benefit from this classic rice and beans dish.

Jose Guevara was 105 years old when I last saw him in Costa Rica in 2015. He made gallo pinto, a traditional Costa Rican dish of rice and beans, and he handed me the recipe.

The capacity to elevate an ordinary bean meal to a level of deliciousness that it may be consumed daily is a testament to the culinary brilliance of Costa Rican cuisine. Every meal of the day is accompanied with it for many Costa Ricans.

On most plates, you’ll see eggs and Salsa Lizano, a bottled sauce that’s mildly sweet and acidic and found at most restaurants.

Total cook time: 20 minutes

Makes: 3 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans (or one 8-ounce can black beans, drained)
  • 3 cups cooked long-grain white rice
  • Salt and pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced, for topping (optional)
  • Chilero hot sauce (optional garnish)
  • Chopped cilantro (optional garnish)

Steps:

  1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until it starts to soften, about four minutes.
  2. Add garlic and cook for another five to seven minutes, or until vegetables are browned.
  3. Add Worcestershire sauce and beans; turn heat to low and stir. Cook for two to three minutes more.
  4. Add rice and stir to combine. Cook and stir until rice and beans are evenly distributed and heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
  5. Top with sliced avocado, hot sauce and chopped cilantro, if desired.

Tender Bean, Potato and Onion Stew

Black beans are a Costa Rican staple that are high in antioxidants that are good for regulating insulin and lowering blood pressure.

Photo: David McLain
A common food in Costa Rica, black beans provide a lot of health benefits, including helping with insulin regulation and blood pressure.

Total cook time: 1 hour

Makes: 6 servings

Black beans are a staple in Nicoyan cuisine and for good reason: they are ten times more antioxidant than an orange serving and contain a lot of anthocyanins, which are flavonoids found in foods like red onions and blueberries.

The Costa Rican kitchen isn’t complete without these one-pot dishes. In addition to being inexpensive (less than $1 a serving), they are simple to prepare and packed with healthy veggies and spices. They are substantial enough to be a main course when accompanied by rice or corn tortillas.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried kidney beans, soaked overnight (or three 15-ounce cans, drained)
  • 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 chayote squash, diced
  • 1/2 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 3 red, orange, or yellow sweet peppers, seeded and diced
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped culantro coyote
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper (optional)

Steps:

  1. If using dried beans, drain the beans; discard the soaking water.
  2. Place beans in a large pot and add vegetable broth. Add water, as necessary, to cover beans. Bring broth to a boil; then immediately turn down to simmer. Cook for 25 minutes.
  3. Stir in the rest of ingredients; cook for about 25 more minutes, or until beans are tender, stirring occasionally to keep from burning.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste before serving. Enjoy alone or with tortillas or rice.

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