To bean or not to bean, that is the question


Legumes are generally on the ‘no-go’ list for Paleo and Primal.  Though Mark Sisson doesn’t seem to be against them entirely, he makes a rather salient point (in this post): “The bioavailability of minerals in legumes is compromised by the body’s difficulty in digesting them … if you’re going to include legumes in your diet, preparation is everything. Diligent and tailored soaking processes are necessary for the proper digestion and nutrient absorption of legumes.”

Lesson of the week

Make sure you properly soak legumes (or ferment or sprout) prior to cooking/eating. This was something Tim Ferriss noted in The 4 Hour Body but didn’t really elaborate on (that I could see).

First of all … what is a legume ? 

Answer, thanks to Wikipedia: “Well-known legumes include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, lentils, lupins, mesquite, carob, soy, and peanuts.”

Soy beans are a no-go both on Primal/Paleo and Slow-carb/4 Hour Body.  The main reasons why can be found here.  Fermented soy products like tempeh, nato and miso are the exception, according to Mark Sisson.  See here for why fermented foods are highly recommended by both Sisson and Ferriss, although I’m not 100% sure whether Tim recommends consuming fermented soy on slow-carb days.  I’ve no doubt they’re ok on binge days as anything goes, but given that legumes are an integral part of the slow-carb/4 Hour Body diet, I don’t see why fermented soy beans wouldn’t be okay, though it would depend on what else is mixed in with them.  Miso for example wont be slow-carb compliant in most instances as it usually contains rice or barley or even sugar.  Always read the label carefully.

Peanuts are not on the allowed list for Paleo/Primal due to aflatoxins and lectins (see more on lectins below).  Slow-carb does allow pretty much everything on your binge day, and from what Mark Sisson has posted here, the world wont end if you eat peanut butter, but maybe keep it to a minimum.  I actually prefer sunflower seed butter (aka Sunbutter) nowadays anyway.  A great recipe for that can be found here.  You will need a good blender/food processor.  I’ve almost killed mine trying to make nut butters due to the time it takes to get the nut meal to go oily.  Dear Santa, please bring me a Thermomix.

Why is soaking/fermenting/sprouting legumes so important before eating?  

Again, thanks to Wikipedia “The toxic compound phytohaemagglutinin, a lectin, is present in many common bean varieties.

Phytohaemagglutinin “is found in the highest concentrations in uncooked red kidney beans and white kidney beans (also known as cannellini), and it is also found in lower quantities in many other types of green beans and other common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris), as well as broad beans (Vicia faba) such as fava beans.” Source Wikipedia (of course!)

Lentils contain less lectin than beans, however they do have a relatively high phytate content.  Phytates act as an anti-nutrient, prohibiting the uptake of minerals such as zinc, iron and calcium (see Living with Phytic Acid, Weston A Price Foundation).

Soaking, sprouting and fermenting legumes helps to reduce the levels of lectins and phytates.  The Weston A Price foundation website has a lot of helpful information and the post Living with Phytic Acid advises the following: “The best way of reducing phytates in beans is sprouting for several days, followed by cooking. An eighteen-hour fermentation of beans without a starter at 95 degrees F resulted in 50 percent phytate reduction.52 Lentils fermented for 96 hours at 108 degrees F resulted in 70-75 percent phytate destruction.53 Lentils soaked for 12 hours, germinated 3-4 days and then soured will likely completely eliminate phytates. Soaking beans at moderate temperatures, such as for 12 hours at 78 degrees F results in an 8-20 percent reduction in phytates.54  When legumes comprise a large portion of the diet, one needs to go to extra steps to make beans healthy to eat. Beans should usually have hull and bran removed. Adding a phytase-rich medium to beans would help eliminate the phytic acid in beans. Adding yeast, or effective microorganisms, or kombu seaweed may greatly enhance the predigestive process of the beans.  At a minimum, beans should be soaked for twelve hours, drained and rinsed several times before cooking, for a total of thirty-six hours. Cooking with a handful of green weed leaves, such as dandelion or chickweed, can improve mineral assimilation.”

Soooo…. there’s good reason why the Paleo/Primal world is quite anti-legume, however, given proper preparation (you can find more details on that here) they can be a good food source and one that’s integral to the slow-carb/4 Hour Body diet.  I actually like legumes and since starting on The 4 Hour Body diet have realised that I’ve really missed eating them in the last 12 months.  Eating them 3 meals a day is not something I’d ordinarily do though (I’m sure Mark Sisson would be horrified) however I’ll continue as per Tim Ferriss’ advice, for at least another 3.5 weeks. I will need to make a lot more effort to ensure my legumes are properly soaked, or investigate the preparation of tinned beans and lentils (any ideas how long they’re soaked for commercially??).   If I don’t put on fat (note I say fat, not weight) i.e. gain centimetres, then I’ll keep them in my diet, although I am now somewhat freaked out about eating them 3x a day for health reasons.

I also need to double check that when making my new fav Cinnamon Coconut Hot Choc recipe that I use cocoa that’s been properly processed (cocoa powder comes from cacao seeds which are not a legume but are high in phytic acid, like many other seeds).  That said, 1-2 tsp a day shouldn’t be too much of a problem – it’s a lot harder to consume 100g of cacao than it is to consume 100g of lentils!  See the comparative table below – sourced from Living with Phytic Acid, Weston A Price Foundation.