The Legume Debate

Should you include legumes in your diet?

Apr 13, 2014 · 3 min read

All foods have both benefits and consequences. For most foods, it’s clear when the benefits outweigh the consequences (and vice versa). However, there are food groups that like to hang out in the grey area. Legumes are one of those food groups. Let’s dig a bit deeper and help you make an informed decision about whether or not you should include legumes in your diet.

Goals of this post

  1. Learn to identify legumes.
  2. Understand the benefits.
  3. Know the drawbacks.
  4. Learn more about soy, peanuts, green beans and peas.
  5. Understand why we allow legumes in the CleanStart Food Rules.

What are Legumes?

Legumes are a botanical family of plants that include dozens of varieties of beans, lentils, garbanzos, peas, soybeans, green beans, and peanuts. The part of the legume that we eat is actually the seed of the plant.

The Good

  • Source of protein.
  • Source of several minerals, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and vitamin B6.
  • Legumes generally contain enough soluble fiber, so they won’t spike your blood sugar.

The Bad

  • Not that much protein: The protein in legumes is nowhere near as dense (or complete) as the protein found in meat, seafood, or eggs.
  • Not that much fiber or micronutrients: When compared to vegetables and fruit, legumes pale in comparison in both micronutrient density and fiber.
  • Some contain phytates: Phytates are anti-nutrients which bind to minerals in the legumes, rendering them unavailable to our bodies. This means that some of the minerals technically present in legumes aren’t able to be accessed by our bodies — rendering legumes less micronutrient-dense than nutrition data might suggest. (Ancient cultures figured out that rinsing, prolonged soaking, cooking, and fermenting legumes reduces the anti-nutrient content)
  • Legumes give you gas: Short-chain carbohydrates (sugars) found in legumes aren’t properly digested and absorbed in the digestive tract. They can act as food for bacteria living in the intestines. These bacteria then “ferment” these carbohydrates, which can create unpleasant symptoms like gas and bloating, and potentially contribute to gut dysbiosis — an inherently inflammatory condition.

Hold the Soy and Peanuts
Enjoy the Peas and Green Beans

Soybeans contain compounds called isoflavones, which are types of phytoestrogens (phyto meaning “plant,” estrogen as in that female sex hormone). These phytoestrogens are recognized in our bodies (male and female) as a female reproductive hormone. While phytoestrogens may be beneficial for a very specific population (such as premenopausal women), the effects on other populations are largely unknown and potentially risky.

Peanuts contain a protein called lectin. While lectins in other legumes are largely destroyed in the cooking process, peanut lectins are not destroyed by heat, and are resistant to digestion. This means they arrive in your gut largely intact, and can fool your gut lining into letting them into the bloodstream. Once inside the body, these peanut lectins provoke an immune response, promoting systemic inflammation.

Peas and Green Beans
Peas and green beans have been bred to be digestible, palatable, and easily cooked before maturation. Enjoy them in moderation. Pea lectin (pisum sativum agglutinin) is “much less toxic” than other lectins, according to renowned legume opponent Dr. Loren Cordain’s research. Also, the phytate content of peas and green beans, which isn’t that high to begin with, is greatly reduced by simple cooking.

Stay away from dried beans: beans that are allowed to dry on the vine until they rattle in their pods.

Should you consume legumes?

You might notice that “The Cons” list is a bit longer. In reality, legumes are not the worst thing you can eat. 90% of the benefits of CleanStart come from cutting out sources of cheap carbohydrates and processed food while eating more proteins and healthy fats. We don’t endorse legumes, but for some people consuming legumes in moderation won’t stand in the way of your health or weight loss results.

However, if you’re someone who experiences gas and bloating after eating legumes, stick to peas and green beans—or drop legumes altogether. There are plenty delicious alternatives for that sweet, savory, and starchy goodness like carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash.


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