Legumes Aren’t Paleo; Here’s Why It Does and Doesn’t Matter
I am a big supporter of the Paleo diet as a framework. It has literally helped millions of people create a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. In case you weren’t aware, or have been living in a cave for the last 10 years (my attempt at irony), legumes aren’t a part of the Paleo diet.
However, legumes such as beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), lentils, peas, peanuts, and cashews, have nourished mankind for centuries. A combination of legumes, whole grains, a small amount of animal protein and good quality animal fat is the ideal frugal diet (no, I didn’t say McDonald’s). That being said, why aren’t legumes Paleo?
Soy is definitely out of the question.
Why are Legumes Not Paleo?
There are a few reasons Paleo doesn’t include legumes, and none of them are “because our ancestors didn’t eat beans,” but rather due to an elimination-diet mentality.
1. Autoimmune problems
Some legumes also contain considerable amounts of phytates — anti-nutrients which bind to minerals in the legumes, rendering them unavailable to our bodies. When our immune systems detect phytates, it considers them pathogens and will generate an autoimmune response (a form of inflammation) to remove the pathogen from the body.
2. Protease Inhibitors and Anti-Nutrients
Legumes contain substances called protease inhibitors as well as anti-nutrients, which can prevent you from getting enough nutrition from your foods. According to Loren Cordain, creator of the Paleo diet, these anti-nutrients, or phytates, prevent the proper absorption of B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper and calcium in the intestines.
3. Phytoestrogens (Soy)
It is becoming more and more common knowledge now that soy is not the best choice when it comes to food. Besides the fact that 93% of the soy harvested in the US are from genetically modified crops, soy also contains phytoestrogens. In your body, phytoestrogens from soy can either stimulate or interfere with the role of estrogens and are associated with a more painful and longer menstrual cycle in females, an increase in the risk of breast cancer, and lower sperm count in males.
Not all Legumes are Created Equal
First, let me start by pointing out that most grains and legumes available in supermarkets have been treated several times with pesticides and other sprays that inhibit mold and vermin. Therefore, it is absolutely worth buying those that are organically or biodynamically grown. Also, be wary of buying canned legumes. Most cans are lined with Bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been correlated to cancer, behavioral issues, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children (PDF).
With that being said, not all legumes are created equal, but proper preparations should be taken. Traditional societies whose cuisines are based on legumes prepare them with great care.
- Soak dry legumes for 24 hours, then rinse before cooking.
- Buy sprouted (or sprout your own)
- As the legumes cook, all foam that rises to the top of the cooking water is carefully skimmed off.
This ensures that the legumes are thoroughly digestible and all the nutrients they provide are more bioavailable.
The least problematic legume I have found is sprouted lentils. Sprouting neutralizes the phytic acid which means more vitamins and minerals can be absorbed by your body as they’re digested. Also, when you sprout lentils you’re actually beginning the germination process, which changes the composition of the lentils. Sprouting increases the amounts of vitamins and minerals in the lentils, especially vitamin C, B vitamins, and carotene. Sprouting also helps break down some of the sugars that create intestinal gas. Here’s a quick how-to on how to sprout lentils on your own.
Otherwise known as chickpeas, used in hummus, soups, and other ethnic dishes. Garbanzo beans are extremely versatile, and even can be made into a flour for making breads and tortillas. Even though legumes are known for their fiber, most people do not know how helpful the fiber in garbanzo beans can actually be for supporting digestive tract function. First is the issue of amount. Garbanzos contain about 12.5 grams of fiber per cup. That’s 50% of the Daily Value (DV). This can be a useful aid when weight loss or reducing cardiovascular disease risk is your goal.
Whole peas need to be soaked in cold water for at least eight hours before cooking, while split peas do not need this extra preparation. Dried peas feature isoflavones (notably daidzein). Isoflavones are phytonutrients that can act like weak estrogens in the body and whose dietary consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of certain health conditions, including breast and prostate cancer.
At the end of the day, there are drawbacks and there are benefits to making legumes a part of your regular diet. I personally include those listed above in my diet at least once per week. For those of you trying to eat healthy on a budget, legumes are for you. If you can afford to always eat animal protein and avocados, then by all means have at it. Just make sure, if you do decide to include legumes in your diet, to properly prepare them.