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Within the Paleo Diet world I think there is no topic more controversial than- should we or should we not eat legumes? There are good and valid arguments on both sides.
First, we need to clarify what a legume is. Do you know what foods fall into this category? Legumes are any variety of beans: kidney beans, green beans, chickpeas, lentils, and so on.
In general, legumes are considered healthy, but they contradict some of the strict lifestyle practices of people who follow the Paleo diet. Yes, it is true that legumes are a source rich in fiber, have a good amount of plant-based proteins, and are nutritious due to their vitamin and mineral content; but it is also true that they contain the famous lectins, phytates, and other anti-nutrients.
So Are They Paleo Or Not?
If you are or have been in contact with someone who’s very strict with the Paleo diet, you will have heard that in no way are legumes part of the diet or were they part of our ancestors’ diet and that consuming them is toxic to our body. However, every day there is more and more evidence suggesting that there is not one single Paleolithic diet but rather a variety of them. Through these discoveries, we can continue to learn more about our species.
I will explain in more depth here the arguments and counter-arguments against legumes in the Paleo diet.
- Legumes were not part of our ancestors’ diets
In 2013, Dr. Stephan Guyenet published an article that showed that legumes were indeed part of our ancestors’ diet and this was proven as legume remains were found on the dental plates of Neanderthals. He even presented evidence of Australian Aborigines who also fed on the seeds and gum of Acacia trees, which are basically legumes.
- We should avoid consuming legumes as they contain lectins.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that bind to cell membranes and can stop growth, damage the walls of the intestine, and interfere with the proper functioning of the pancreas. Sounds bad right? But wait, not so fast! This happens when legumes are eaten raw however humans eat them cooked which almost completely neutralizes the lectins present.
Additionally, more than 53 different kinds of foods that are supposed to be Paleo-friendly also contain lectins. For example, carrots, pumpkin, cherries, raspberries, grapes, mushrooms, and even garlic. Clearly, this doesn’t mean that we are going to stop eating all these foods, it just means that they need to be prepared correctly.
- Legumes contain Phytic Acid:
Phytic acid is the phosphorus deposit present in grains, some vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Humans were not made to digest this substance because it prevents the absorption of important nutrients, thus contributing to a mineral deficiency.
This is true, but it is also true that we can tolerate small amounts of phytates and, like lectins, many foods contain them that are not legumes.– and are paleo – and have Phytic acid: almonds, pecans, spinach, and chard to name a few. The truth is that phytic acid only binds to some minerals and, in the case of legumes, the soaking process neutralizes almost everything.
Final Verdict: Is It Good To Eat Them?
I’ll be concrete and direct here: listen to your body.
The paleo diet is about maximizing the consumption of nutritious foods that provide us with more benefits. Although legumes have some important benefits as they are a good source of fiber and plant-based proteins, I don’t believe that they should substitute other more nutritious foods such as game meat, chicken, fish, and eggs. Besides, they’re easier to find and make.
So if your body can handle legumes well, or you really enjoy them and you have the time to prepare them days in advance, it’s fine, as long as you make sure to prepare them correctly (soak and cook them adequately) and don’t eat them very often.
What is your view on legumes? I would love to hear your thoughts on this article in the comments below!