*When converting to the paleo lifestyle, one of the foods people tend to avoid are legumes. However, aren’t legumes considered a “health food” by the vegetarian/vegan community? Many articles on the internet talk about what an amazing food beans/legumes are, based upon their fiber content and supposedly high protein. Are legumes the worse thing you can eat? Probably not. However, we believe legumes are not a great choice to be consuming regularly, and we have compiled 5 reasons why.
First off, what are legumes?
Legumes are a class of vegetables that includes beans, peas, and lentils. Legumes are a plant of the pea family, usually containing a shell or pod, which splits into two valves within the seed.
Here is a list of some of the more common legumes:
- Black Beans
- Great Northern Beans
- Split Peas
- White Beans
- Kidney Beans
- Lima Beans
- Pigeon Peas
- Baked Beans
- Pinto Beans
- Lima Beans
- Chili Beans
What are the top 5 reasons to avoid legumes?
Legumes contain phytates, lectins and saponins that contribute to leaky gut and inflammatory/autoimmune conditions. Autoimmunity is prevalent in our culture today, and is on the rise. Phytates and lectins are plants natural “poison” protection against being eaten by insects (and us). Phytates and lectins bind to minerals you consume and prevent them from being assimilated in the body. Therefore, you get less nutrients from the foods you are consuming. Saponins are compounds in plants, that have the ability to bind to the intestinal walls and contribute to hyperpermeable gut. If you struggle with autoimmune conditions, these anti-nutrients contribute to what is known as “LEAKY GUT”, and can make these conditions much worse. When following an Autoimmune Protocol, it is important to avoid all legumes.
Many of the health benefits you find about legumes are actually the nutritional value of them in a raw state. However, you aren’t going to be crunching down and breaking your teeth on raw beans! Once they are cooked, the nutritional value goes way down. Especially because legumes need to be cooked for long periods in order to be digestible. Whatever nutrients remain, might not be absorbed by the body due to the phytates and lectins as mentioned above.
Legumes tend to be lower in fat, and higher in carbohydrates, which can keep many people on the “blood sugar rollercoaster” associated with a high carbohydrate diet. This can make it difficult for people to lose weight, or utilize healthy fats a primary source of fuel. There are many more nutrient dense sources of fuel that would make for better choices when filling your plate.
Legumes contain phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogen mimicking compounds found in plants, also known as plant estrogens. There are many varieties of phytoestrogens. For example, coumestans are found in split peas and lima beans, isoflavones are VERY profound in soy, and lignants are found in flax seed. However, ALL legumes contain various phytoestrogen compounds. Why is this a bad thing? Consuming too many estrogen mimicking compounds disrupts the endocrine system and creates hormone imbalances. This can lead to reproductive issues and other hormone related issues. Many people in our culture already struggle with disruption of hormones. This is due to all the estrogen mimicking compounds found in personal care products, as well as consuming the standard American diet of high omega 6 and low omega 3 foods. This leads to an imbalance in fatty acids and an imbalance in hormones. Consuming large amounts of legumes on top of this, is like adding more fuel to the fire.
Reason #5- Just on Peanuts!
Peanuts are sneaky little devils! Many people think peanuts are healthy and disassociate them from legumes. However, Peanuts are high in omega-6 fatty acids, that distorts the omega 3:6 ratio. High omega 6 consumption leads to inflammation in the body. Some experts link the mold on the shell of the peanuts to peanut allergies, some deny it. Regardless, peanuts are often contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin.
According to the FDA:
“Aflatoxins produce acute necrosis, cirrhosis, and carcinoma of the liver in a number of animal species; no animal species is resistant to the acute toxic effects of aflatoxins; hence it is logical to assume that humans may be similarly affected. A wide variation in LD50 values has been obtained in animal species tested with single doses of aflatoxins. For most species, the LD50 value ranges from 0.5 to 10 mg/kg body weight. Animal species respond differently in their susceptibility to the chronic and acute toxicity of aflatoxins. The toxicity can be influenced by environmental factors, exposure level, and duration of exposure, age, health, and nutritional status of diet. Aflatoxin B1 is a very potent carcinogen in many species, including nonhuman primates, birds, fish, and rodents. In each species, the liver is the primary target organ of acute injury. Metabolism plays a major role in determining the toxicity of aflatoxin B1; studies show that this aflatoxion requires metabolic activation to exert its carcinogenic effect, and these effects can be modified by induction or inhibition of the mixed function oxidase system.”
Peanuts are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops (unless purchased organic). There are alternative non legume based nut-butters such as almond butter or nut-free seed butter like sun-butter (made with sunflower seeds), that make for a better choices!
Are legumes the most horrible thing you can eat? Probably not. If you have healthy digestion and aren’t struggling with autoimmunity, they can be enjoyed in small amounts, on occasion. However, legumes should not be a primary source of fuel for your body. If you are struggling with AUTOIMMUNE CONDITIONS, legumes should be completely avoided.