The Truth About Legumes

Cavemen didn’t eat beans. Right?

If you are familiar with the “Paleo Diet,” you are aware that legumes are certainly not on the menu. The reason for the exclusion of legumes is the simple fact that legumes contain phytic acid (which blocks the absorption of some minerals) and lectins (which damage the small intestine). Seems legit, right?

Well, what if I were to tell you that there are several foods that are embraced by the Paleo community that contain far more levels of one or both of these “harmful substances” than do legumes?

One perfect example is nuts. Many nuts contain greater levels of phytic acid than legumes, yet paleo followers gladly pop handfuls of almonds into their mouths without thinking twice. Why is this acceptable while enjoying a small serving of pinto beans in my burrito bowl is frowned upon?

One thing that is becoming increasingly obvious to me about the paleo diet is that the “spokes people” of the lifestyle (Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf, etc.) as well as many other followers will do whatever they can do back up the “story” of the paleo diet (not trying to point fingers! These people are wonderful and offer some great info, too!). You know, the whole “only eat what was available to our ancient ancestors before agriculture” story. This sounds great at first, but can be extremely harmful when science and current research that contradicts the diet is ignored, simply because it doesn’t follow the storyline.

A great article about legumes by Chris Kresser goes into more detail about whether or not legume consumption is beneficial or harmful. Here are a few key points I’ve chosen to highlight for you, just in case you don’t want to read the entire article:

To my knowledge there’s only one study demonstrating humans being harmed by consuming legumes. This is the study often used by Paleo advocates to “prove” that legumes are dangerous. However, what is often neglected is that this study described a case of food poisoning that occurred in hospital patients who ate legumes that hadn’t been cooked properly. Suggesting that we shouldn’t eat cooked legumes because raw legumes cause disease is like saying that we shouldn’t eat cooked chicken because we can get Salmonella from eating raw chicken…

In fact, cooking legumes for as little as 15 minutes or pressure-cooking them for 7.5 minutes almost completely inactivates the lectins they contain, leaving no residual lectin activity in properly cooked legumes.

The problem with telling people to avoid legumes because they contain phytic acid is that many other foods in the diet—including “Paleo-friendly” foods—contain substantially higher amounts of phytic acid than legumes. For example, a serving of trail mix, that beloved Paleo favorite, is likely to be much higher in phytic acid than a serving of lentils. Cacao beans (chocolate) have about the same amount of phytic acid as most beans. And spinach and swiss chard are higher in phytic acid than almost any legume, nut or seed!

-Chris Kresser

 

Kresser also mentions a few foods that are totally 100% “paleo” that contain higher levels of phytic acid than legumes: sesame seeds, Swiss chard, and spinach. Take what you want from the article, but I have decided that I will allow small amounts of legumes into my diet. The benefits of eating a small amount of legumes seem to outweigh any drawbacks for me personally, but you can take this information or leave it. I think that the phytic acid and lectin arguments are moot at this point.

I recently watched an interview with Abel James from The Fat Burning Man and Dr. Fuhrman who is a physician and proper nutrition advocate. The two discussed the dangers of following any specific diet and touched upon legumes, grains, and other dogmas of the paleo diet. It’s a great interview, and I suggest you watch it if you are at all interested in the subject! Here’s a link to the video.

What are your thoughts on legumes and the restrictions of the paleo diet? I’d love to hear your opinions 🙂