There’s a lot of conflicting information as to whether or not beans are healthy…
And certainly, when you think of junk food, beans probably aren’t the first name that comes to your mind.
Perhaps flour and sugar will, but beans?
They are supposed to be healthy, right?
Among mainstream nutritionists, they’re widely accepted as a great source of protein, fiber, and other nutrients.
Beans are often touted as a healthy food–supposedly even better than animal products in your diet.
But the opinions on beans within the Paleo community are murky and deeply divided. A consensus might be elusive to reach, but there are medical facts to consider.
Some thought leaders argue that beans and other legumes are unhealthy and shouldn’t have a place in your diet…
Yet others don’t see a problem with having them every now and then, as long as they’re prepared properly.
Then, there are plenty of people who say that beans fall into the same “gray area” as wine, dark chocolate, and dairy products.
As some Paleo thought leaders point out, beans certainly aren’t the worst thing you could put on your plate.
Their nutritional profile varies, depending on the specific type of beans…
One cup of boiled black beans contains:
- 227 calories
- 15 grams of protein
- 41 grams of carbohydrates
- 15 grams of dietary fiber, and…
- A decent amount of nutrients e.g. folate, magnesium, and manganese.
These numbers are noteworthy…
Beans are substantially more nutritious than indulging something like flour or sugar. Again, they’re inexpensive.
But meat and fresh produce are a lot better for you.
Beans load less nutrients than foods like meat, eggs, vegetables, and seafood…
And you can get a lot more nutritional value for your buck if you go for high quality animal products and produce instead.
By sticking to the most nutrient-dense foods, you can consume the same amount of calories as beans, but with much fewer carbohydrates and more nutrients.
And nutrient-density isn’t the only thing to consider…
One of the most common arguments against beans is that they contain various “anti-nutrients” that can actually harm your body.
These anti-nutrients help protect the beans from being eaten by predators, such as insects, rodents, birds, and other pests.
They also keep the beans’ reproductive system intact.
The trouble is when these anti-nutrients get into your body…even though they usually don’t cause issues when eaten in moderate amounts.
But if you’re eating beans regularly, you might end up with side effects such as inflammation, leaky gut, and autoimmune disorders.
The Most Common Anti-Nutrients Found in Beans
- Phytates–also known as phytic acids, these anti-nutrients bind to minerals in your food, preventing your body from absorbing them. So when you eat them in high doses, you might end up with mineral deficiencies.
Phytates mess with your digestion and prevent the absorption of minerals, besides interfering with the enzymes your body uses to digest food, including pepsin, which helps break down proteins in your gut.
Again, the danger is in the dose. A small amount of phytic acid every now and then will not hurt you…and you’ll actually find more of it in nuts, which is a Paleo-approved food…
But you’ll run into problems if you make phytate-rich foods your dietary staple.
- Lectins–these are a form of protein found in beans and various other foods, and they can bind to cell membranes and cause serious problems.
They can damage your intestinal wall and make their way into your bloodstream. The tiny holes they leave behind create even more issues later on, as toxins and bacteria in your gut lining–your body’s defense against harmful substances–break through and interact with your immune system…
And if that happens regularly, it can lead to chronic inflammation, digestive problems (leaky gut), and autoimmune conditions.
Lectins damage intestinal walls, making it easy for toxins and bacteria to interact with your immune system. You can, however, take comfort in that cooking beans removes a good amount of the lectins.
The specific amount depends on the type of beans and people tolerate them differently.
- Saponins–this anti-nutrient is found in almost every legume and can punch holes in membranes that line the exterior of cells.
Like lectins, saponins can damage the cells that line your intestines and get into your bloodstream. This damage makes your intestines more permeable, opening the door for other toxins and bacteria to get into your bloodstream.
Too many saponins may lead to chronic inflammation, digestive problems, and ultimately, autoimmune conditions.
Notably, some people can eat beans occasionally without experiencing any negative effects, while for others, it can lead to serious digestive issues, including bloating and heartburn.
Why is this so?
Beans are fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols (FODMAP), meaning they contain a specific type of carbohydrate that’s hard for a lot of people to handle.
But it’s not all doom and gloom…
Preparing your beans in certain ways can remove anti-nutrients and make them less harmful.
How to Remove Anti-nutrients from Beans
- Soaking–putting beans in water for a few hours can help reduce, or eliminate their phytic acid content.
One study found that soaking for 18 hours at room temperature i.e. 70 degrees fahrenheit for 3 hours eliminated between 30-70% of the phytic acid content, depending on the type of legume.
Soaking can also help decrease lectin content.
- Sprouting–this process has the biggest impact on phytates. The typical reduction ranges from 25-75%, with a lot depending on the legume type.
One study found that sprouting black-eyed beans resulted in a 75% decrease in phytic acid.
Sprouting only has a tiny effect on reducing saponins, if any at all.
A 1996 study found that sprouting both chickpeas and lentils for six days resulted in “no significant changes” in saponin content.
- Fermenting–this takes longer than other preparation methods, but helps to significantly degrade phytate and lectin content.
One study found that fermenting kidney beans reduced their phytates by 85%, with a 77% reduction for soybeans and 69% decrease for mung beans.
Fermenting beans not only reduces anti-nutrients, it also increases the amount of good nutrients.
A 2014 study found that fermentation of mung beans for 72 hours could decrease their saponin content, but increase other nutrients.
- Heating–this method removes lectin.
One study found that cooking beans for as little as 15 minutes almost completely removed the lectin content.
However, it’s important to point out that heating doesn’t effectively reduce saponins.
One study found that 85-100% of the original saponin levels remained even after boiling legumes for 2 hours.
Are there Substitutes for Beans?
Eating beans every once in a while probably will not hurt you–as long as they’re prepared to remove most of the anti-nutrients.
The big exceptions are if you’re dealing with any other serious digestive conditions, or if eating beans causes you gas, bloating, or heartburn.
Listen to your body and give it what it needs. Ditch the beans if they’re causing you trouble…
After all, there is no compelling reasons why you must eat beans. You can find alternative nutrients elsewhere in a balanced Paleo diet–like animal products and vegetables.
You’re not likely to find beans that have been thoroughly prepared at restaurants. So it’s not worth ordering them.
Instead, try swapping beans with the Paleo-friendly foods below:
- Sweet potatoes
- Butternut Squash
If, however, beans don’t give you any problems, you can indulge them in moderation every once in a while, so you don’t crowd out more nutrient-dense choices.
By and large, beans will probably remain a hot-button topic in the Paleo fraternity for a while.
They’re not junk food as long as they’re prepared properly and eaten in moderation.
If you’ve digestive problems, you can indulge animal protein and produce, with fruits and nuts thrown in for good measure.
Remember, at the end of the day, it’s really your choice…
Go for what you like provided it’s healthy.
I strongly believe this article will help you decide from a point of authoritative knowledge, whether or not to indulge beans…
And you’d do a great deal of good to share it within your circles to empower others do the same.
Thank you for your precious time well-spent here.
Dare you not tune off…