The exclusion of legumes from the paleo/primal diet seems to upset people more than that of grains. Legumes are just seen as so damn healthy, what with their associations with vegetarians and hippies and more enlightened/primitive tribes. In comparison to meat, it was the poor man’s option and that seems to be part of it to – why would you eat legumes if you could afford meat unless it was for health reasons? Me personally, I like legumes. The idea of not being able to have a delicious bowl of tarka dhal for the rest of my life is awful. But I recognise that legumes are not as healthy as thought compared to many fruits and vegetables, nor do they contain as much fibre as most people think.
Lectins are proteins found in animals (including you) and plants – they’re everywhere, especially in grains, legumes (especially soy), nuts and seeds. They have many protective functions in the human body – everything from recognizing pathogens to controlling protein levels in the blood. Their function in plants is thought to be protective, too, to the plant, that is.
Lectins are found in the seeds of plants and they’re thought to have something to do with the survival of the seed. The way they’re believed to protect the seed is that they can cause considerable intestinal distress (diarrhea, nausea, bloating, vomiting, even death) to those who eat the seeds, in hopes of deterring the predator from coming back for more.
Phytates actually bind to the magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron in your intestines and take them OUT of our bodies. We do not want that to happen. Cordain and others believe that this alone is greatly contributing to the worldwide epidemic of iron-deficiency anemia. It could be part of the reason many people are deficient in magnesium as well, which can contribute to everything from muscle cramping to PMS. And zinc? Well, it’s just SUPER important to our immune systems and for our reproductive abilities, so we wouldn’t want to lose any of that. And the fact that phytates are chelating calcium out of our bodies means that we have less access to that bone-building and nerve-transmitting mineral we’re all so fond of.
So legumes aren’t optimal. But should we expect any one food to be? Weighing up the pros and cons of eating legumes, there are enough cons to think they shouldn’t be a daily occurrence unless one has gone the vegetarian/vegan path and has no alternative to get the protein intake up. So how to deal with the dangers:
Process your beans: soak them to reduce the lectins. Drain. Boil them to reduce the phytates, drain them. Slow cook until they are delicious.
Unfortunately for those of us who want to speed the issue up and just use tinned beans – the jury is till out on the dangers of BPA