Legumes didn’t become a basic human food resource till after agriculture took hold, but that’s not the only reason they are missing from the Paleo diet.
Those who adhere to a strict Paleo diet will not be seen eating green beans, chickpeas, lentils, snow peas, soybeans or other legumes. They are not considered Paleo friendly, and there are some good reasons why.
To begin, legumes contain phytates, such as phytic acid, which binds to nutrients in food—especially iron, zinc, manganese and, to a lesser extent calcium—and prevents them from being absorbed by the body. Not only does that make any meal that includes legumes far less nutritional, it also means the undigested nutrients can cause inflammation, bloating, indigestion and gas.
Although the Paleo diet includes nuts, which also contain phytic acid, the phytate levels are so low that they have little effect on absorption of nutrients. And unlike peas and beans, which some diets treat as staples, nuts are not consumed in large quantities so there is no significant decrease in nutrient intake.
In fact, in small amounts, phytic acid has some health benefits, serving as an antioxidant. It’s for this reason that almonds, walnuts, pecans and other true nuts are accepted in the Paleo diet, while peanuts—which despite the name are actually a legume—are not.
Additionally, legumes belong to a class of foods known as FODMAPS, which means they contain galaca-oligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that can cause a great number of digestive problems. Anyone who has Irritable Bowel Syndrome or similar types of digestive issues must avoid such foods—something cavemen did instinctively.
Legumes also have a high Lectin content. Lectins are a type of protein that is found in most foods and especially grains. Lectins are not always problematic but those who suffer from digestive issues or have autoimmune problems should avoid lectins, or at least reduce their intake, to avoid making such conditions worse.
One other concern relates to the high carbohydrate content of legumes. The Paleo diet tends to be low in carbs. Although many vegetarians turn to legumes as a source of protein, only about one-third of the calories come from protein and the balance is carbs.
On the Paleo diet, there are many better protein options. No caveman ever ate tofu or hummus, drank soy milk or snacked on edamame, and neither should we.
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