Beans, beautiful beans! And lentils! And peanuts! How I love thee!
Oh wait, legumes aren’t Paleo? Well, I just won’t eat them anymore…
I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with the Paleo experts on this one. I just don’t understand why legumes are vilified and avoided. So, I did a little research. Here’s a brilliant statement found on a paleo forum:
Beans are a no-go on Paleo because it’s a food that has to be processed before it can be rendered edible. You can’t eat beans raw off of the stalk because they’re toxic (a defense mechanism that prevented birds from chowing on them). They need to be soaked & cooked, and cavemen didn’t start doing that until the Neolithic period.
I have multiple issues with this statement. 1) I don’t think the need for a food to be “processed” before it’s eaten should be a qualifier. Meat, one of the Paleo mainstays, needs a bit of processing before you can eat it. 2) I refuse to eat or not eat a food based on an evolutionary millions-of-years worldview. I eat Paleo (-ish) because it most closely aligns with GAPS but allows more freedom, NOT because I actually believe in cavemen/Paleolithic era nonsense.
The only part of the above quote that I can agree with is the defense mechanism built into legumes. But I wonder if calling them toxic might be taking it a bit far. More research into the topic yielded this:
It’s confusing to me that grains and legumes (all beans – black, pinto, soy, peanuts, etc.) would be so pleasing to us, since they’re basically poisonous, having heavily contributed to the current, overwhelming predominance of heart disease, digestive disorders and obesity rates in this country. There are a lot of reasons for this – grains and legumes contain a sordid collection of “anti-nutrients”. Some of them strip away your minerals and some cause intestinal damage and immune problems.
This “sordid collection of anti-nutrients” is made up of lectins, phytates, and saponins.
Here are some points to consider before determining whether legumes are indeed toxic.
1. Legumes aren’t the only foods with anti-nutrients. Grains, nuts, and seeds also contain lectins and phytates, in similar or greater quantities than legumes. Yet the Paleo community embraces nuts and seeds, using them extensively in baking and snacking. They say things like, “Nuts should be used sparingly” and “ideally, nuts and seeds should be soaked”. But in reality, most Paleo eaters do not do those things. What makes those unsoaked nuts healthier than my soaked beans??
2. Phytates are removed by soaking in water. Overnight or 24 hour soaking, removes phytates, especially if an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice is added. This process works on legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains.
3. Lectins can be removed (or at least greatly minimized). Pressure cooking destroys lectins! It has the same effect on phytates. Read all the technical details here
4. It appears saponins may actually have health benefits. In fact, every article I read on the topic promoted saponins as a very beneficial substance for the body.
5. Historical significance of legumes. Many people groups around the world eat legumes every day! In India, it is in the form of dal, a lentil or bean based dish. Beans are a central ingredient in Central American cuisine. Mediterranean food has multiple uses for legumes, including one of my favorites, hummus! Almost every culture uses legumes as a staple food. Which begs the question, if they are so toxic, why is everyone in the world eating them every day?
6. Select legumes are allowed on GAPS. That includes navy beans, all lentils, and peanuts. The only ones that are not allowed are excluded because of starch content, not any other reason!
All things considered, I’m going to continue eating beans, lentils, and peanuts. Especially now that I have discovered pressure cooking. But I will save that for another post!