The Quick Answer
No, legumes are not paleo.
Why Are Legumes Not Paleo?
A lot of people are aware that bread and other refined carbs are hazardous for the body due to the high content of simple carbs and poor nutritional value they provide, so they don’t struggle to see the logic behind giving them up.
However, things get harder when it comes to eliminating legumes.
What Are Legumes?
Peanuts, lentils, beans, and peas are all legumes. Some commonly known legumes are soybeans, split peas, small white beans, red beans, pinto beans, field peas, chickpeas, cashews, Boston beans, black beans, Mexican black and red beans, lima beans, mung beans, and frijole negros.
Legumes aren’t entirely bad (especially if you’re comparing them to donuts, milkshakes and pizza. Yet there are plenty of reasons as to why the excessive intake of legumes should be discouraged. Here are ten reasons as to why legumes are not paleo.
1. Low nutritional value
Those in favor of legumes stress their high nutritional value, though legumes are only high in nutritional value when they’re raw. Once cooked, legumes lose most of their nutritional worth.
They are thought to be a good protein source but, while that is true, the quantity and quality of protein provided is still nowhere near as good as that provided by some animal sources.
Legumes do contain moderate quantities of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium but, unfortunately, when you consume legumes, most of these nutrients aren’t unabsorbed due to the elevated levels of phytate the legumes cause.
2. Presence of phytates
Phytates are an essential component of most legumes and grains. They prevent the optimal absorption of minerals from your diet. Phytates aren’t usually a big deal but if a significant portion of your calories come from legumes, your absorption of nutrients may be affected.
Phytates can also inhibit some enzymes that are important for digestion, like amylase and pepsin.
3. Presence of lectins in legumes
Plants produce lectins to protect themselves from predators. Clinical studies indicate that chronic exposure to lectins can result in gut inflammation and leaky gut. Gut inflammatory conditions can be invisible in the early stages, but may lead to complications in advanced cases, for example the inability to absorb minerals and vitamins, food allergies, and extra-intestinal manifestations of inflammation such as arthritis (2).
Heat deactivates lectins, so, once cooked, the lectins are not a huge issue. Nevertheless if you suffer from IBS or another autoimmune condition, you might want to avoid the legumes altogether (3).
4. Rich in protease inhibitors
Protease is an enzyme secreted by the human gut. It is responsible for breaking down proteins. The presence of a protease inhibitor can inhibit the normal functioning of protease. This can lead to the overproduction of certain enzymes, causing allergic reactions, chronic inflammation, and leaky gut.
5. Presence of carbs
Carbs aren’t exactly bad. However when it comes to individuals who have chronic diabetes, obesity, and other metabolic disorders, a high carbohydrate intake can be a concern.
Legumes supply moderate amounts of carbohydrates. You should certainly consider avoiding legumes if you want to lose weight or maintain your blood sugar levels.
6. Presence of phytoestrogen
Phytoestrogen mimics estrogen once it is inside your biological tissues by activating the estrogen receptors. However the signals it generates are rather weak and may lead to the overproduction of estrogen, disrupting the hormonal homeostatic environment completely.
Common side effects of long-term exposure to phytoestrogens are infertility, asthma, bladder cancer, disrupted reproduction, and a high risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease (5).
7. BPA in legume cans
BPA (also referred to as bisphenol A) is present in the lining of cans. It can contribute to abnormal development in children, and erectile dysfunction, miscarriage, breast cancer, prostate cancer, and heart diseases in adults.
8. Presence of protein and fiber
Legumes contain more fiber and protein than other plants. The fiber present in beans is usually soluble and so promotes a healthy gut. This is good for vegetarians but for everyone else, the argument that legumes are loaded with protein is pointless. Animal products tend to provide protein that’s just as good in terms of both quality and quantity.
9. Presence of saponins
Legumes are rich in saponins. Saponins have tendency to bind to the surface of the intestinal cells and enter the bloodstream along with bacteria and other hazardous irritants and chemicals. Saponins can lead to the destruction of red blood cell membranes.
10. Presence of FODMAPs
FODMAPs are carbohydrates that may be problematic for some people. Nearly all legumes possess galectin, a type of FODMAP.
Legumes Are Not Paleo
Legumes are not paleo, though they are better than grains and serve as a pretty good source of protein for vegetarians.
However they aren’t great. With better protein sources available, why eat legumes? What would you rather aim for: non-specific nutritional benefits or an increase in your risk of developing serious digestive problems?
If you really want to eat legumes, eat them the traditional way, i.e. by sprouting and soaking them. Fermenting, sprouting, and soaking help to eliminate (or at least reduce the amount of) lectins and phytates. Fermentation also enables bacterial growth, which is good for the gut.
How To Know What Is And Isn’t Paleo
Check out is Paleo.io, the mobile app that answers the question, “is __ paleo?”. Paleo.io comes with the most comprehensive paleo diet food list out there, so no matter which food you’re confused about, you’ll always be able to find out whether or not it’s paleo.
- Graham, P. H., & Vance, C. P. (2003). Legumes: importance and constraints to greater use. Plant physiology, 131(3), 872-877.
- Luo, Y., & Xie, W. (2013). Relative contribution of phytates, fibers and tannins to low iron< IT> in vitro</IT> solubility in faba bean (< IT> Vicia faba</IT> L.) flour and legume fractions. British Food Journal, 115(7), 975-986.
- Luo, Y. W., Xie, W. H., Jin, X. X., Wang, Q., & He, Y. J. (2014). Effects of germination on iron, zinc, calcium, manganese, and copper availability from cereals and legumes. CyTA-Journal of Food, 12(1), 22-26.
- Qayyum, M. M. N., Butt, M. S., Anjum, F. M., & Nawaz, H. (2012). Composition analysis of some selected legumes for protein isolates recovery. The Journal of Animal and Plant Sciences, 22, 1156-1162.
- Konar, N. (2013). Non-isoflavone phytoestrogenic compound contents of various legumes. European Food Research and Technology, 236(3), 523-530.
Photo credit: cookbookman17