Paleo Dont's: Beans and Legumes

When the vision of a healthy diet is conjured in ones head one of the first things that come up (after whole grains and vegetables) are beans.  Many people, especially in the vegetarian movement, believe that beans are a great source of nutrients and an all around healthy food.  It will come as a bit of a shock to someone from that mindset that the Paleo community is one hundred percent against the consumption of beans and legumes without exception.  Their reasons for this are because of what they consider to be a poorer nutrient to calorie ratio and chemicals in them that cause problems in people.

There is no question that beans and legumes are high in nutrients, but they are high in sugars as well.  Beans are considered a good source of protein on a vegetarian diet, yet the number of grams of protein per calorie of beans compared to meats is pretty low.  Lean poultry will have on the order of 20 grams per 100 calories, while lean meats and seafood will be more like 17 according to USDA.  Beans and legumes on the other hand average just 7.  This can delve into the whole debate about how much protein we actually need to be eating, which I honestly don’t want to get into at this point.  The fact is that from this one nutrient perspective, the density is higher in meat than in beans and legumes.

When it comes to other nutrients, like minerals, the story gets a little more complex.  In some cases beans and legumes have comparable, or in some cases far greater, concentrations of elements like iron and zinc than meats but there is some question to their bio-availability.  For those cases they are therefore basically a wash with meat products or slightly poorer in comparison.

The real thing that gets the goat of Paleo people though are the anti-nutrients that exist in beans.  Beans are actually naturally high in anti-nutrients and some toxins, like the chemical Phytohaemagglutnin (PHA) found in kidney beans.  In fact if you eat enough raw kidney beans you can actually get to the point of being poisoned by these chemicals which will lead to vomiting, diarrhea and severe abdominal pain.  PHA is just one of many classes of chemicals called lectins that you will find in beans.  At best these chemicals supposedly cause for the poor absorption of nutrients and cause “leaky gut” and at worse they create reactions like the ones listed for PHA.  Beans also have chemicals called saponins that are soap like chemicals that can supposedly disrupt the cellular functioning of the digest tract tissues.  The list then goes on from there.  For more information I highly encourage you to go to to the handy guide found at Loren Cordain’s website. 

If you went to the site and are now back you probably will agree with the Paleo sentiment that beans are downright dangerous products to have in our food system and the very idea of consuming even one morsel of said product would seem akin to committing suicide by eating a cyanide pill.  Regardless of how genuine they feel about what they write, I have to say that it seems a bit reactionary.  Humans have been eating beans, wild or domesticated, for countless millennia.  The earliest cultivation of these plants go back almost ten thousand years. Many native societies have had beans as one of their staple food products as well.  The Paleo claims aren’t that GMO beans or modern beans are the problems, but beans themselves, even beans that are traditional, are to blame.  If these plants were as toxic and humans were as poorly adapted to eating them as they claim then the societies that tried to base their nutrition on it would have died out quickly.  Usually rather than that happening the cultures adapt to avoid foods that are not working for them.

It is because of this fact that I have to take exception to the notion that bean consumption is by default detrimental to the health of any wood be consumer.  As with the principles I follow with the rest of this experiment, whether beans work for your body is something you are going to have to experiment.  I personally will be experimenting with no bean consumption for the next three months to see if the Paleo methodology works well for me or not, in general.  Anyone reading this should consider looking at if they are having any problems with their bodies and if any of that could be caused by beans.  If you are humming, then don’t let the rhetoric fool you.  If you aren’t, then give a try of a bean-free life and see what happens.