Mainely Tipping Points Essay 43: November 16, 2012
Paleo Diet, Part III: What’s Wrong With Legumes?
To recap from Parts I and II, Paleo Diet advocates argue that humans are genetically wired to eat meat, foraged vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Paleo peoples, they argue, did not eat grains, legumes, or dairy and were superbly healthy.
But, what’s wrong with beans and peanuts, also known as legumes?
Rob Wolf, in “The Paleo Solution,” puts it simply: “dairy and legumes have problems similar to grains: gut irritating proteins, antinutrients…protease inhibitors, and inflammation.” Antinutrients, like phytates, bind to metal ions, like magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, and copper, which make them unavailable for absorption by our bodies. Protease inhibitors prevent the breakdown of proteins which means your body cannot “effectively digest the protein in your meal” (98-99, 93). In other words, antinutrients and protease inhibitors cause malabsorption and disease.
Nora T. Gedgaudas, C.N.S., C.N.T., in “Grains: Are They Really a Health Food?: Adverse Effects of Gluten Grains” (“Well Being Journal,” May/June 2012), notes that “legumes typically contain 60 percent starch and only relatively small amounts of incomplete protein, and they also contain potent protease inhibitors, which can damage one’s ability to properly digest and use dietary protein and can also potentially damage the pancreas over time, when one is overly dependent on them as a source of calories.” (Gedgaudas’ web site is http://www.primalbody-primalmind.com.)
William Davis, MD, in “Wheat Belly,” notes that the carbohydrate in legumes contains amylopectin C, which is the least digestible of the amylopectins—which leads to the chant “Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart, the more you eat ‘em, the more you…”. Yet, the reality of the indigestible matter is not so funny: “undigested amylopectin makes its way to the colon, whereupon the symbiotic bacteria happily dwelling there feast on the undigested starches and generate gases such as nitrogen and hydrogen, making the sugars unavailable for you to digest” (33).
Davis goes on to note that amylopectin B is “the form found in bananas and potatoes and, while more digestible than bean amylopectin C, still resists digestion to some degree. Remember that wheat has amylopectin A, which is the most digestible form of the amlopectins and, thus, can raise blood sugars more than eating a sugar-sweetened soda or a sugary candy bar. The lesson here is that “not all complex carbohydrates are created equal….” And Davis cautions that as the carbohydrate load of legumes “can be excessive if consumed in large quantities,” it’s best to limit servings to about a ½ cup size (33, 213).
Wolf is less compromising when it comes to combining plant-based foods, like beans and rice, to obtain essential amino acids—which we must eat as we cannot make them on our own. The eight essential amino acids are “plentiful in animal sources and lacking to various degrees in plant sources.” Wolf notes that “many agricultural societies found that certain combinations (like beans and rice) can prevent protein malnutrition.” But, relying on the work of anthropologists who have compared them, Wolf notes that “most vegetarian societies…are less healthy than hunter-gathers and pastoralists.” That’s because “plant sources of protein, even when combined to provide all the essential amino acids, are far too heavy in carbohydrate, irritate the gut, and steal vitamins and minerals from the body via anti-nutrients.” Wolfs’ final assessment: “Beans and rice, nuts and seeds, are what I call “Third World proteins.’ They will keep you alive, they will not allow you to thrive” (208-209).
Wolf cautions that unless you are lean and healthy, don’t eat fruit. He adds, further, that “there is no nutrient in fruit that is not available in veggies, and fruit may have too many carbs for you” (214)
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride expanded on the 1950s Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) of Dr. Sidney Valentine Haas and created the “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” (GAPS) diet. (That history is in my Mainely Tipping Points Essay 31 on my blog: https://louisaenright.wordpress.com.) Haas recognized the connections between diet and disease, especially in the debilitating digestive disorders, and put patients on a diet that eliminated dairy, grains, legumes, and starchy vegetables, like potatoes. (Dairy is slowly added back after healing has started, beginning with cultured forms, like yogurt. But, some patients are not able to tolerate dairy permanently.) Haas’s SCD diet emphasized bone broths, meat stews that included animal fat, vegetables, and some fruits. The results were, and are, amazing.
Dr. Campbell-McBride was one of many now, like Wolf and Davis, who made the further connection that too many starchy carbohydrates foment conditions in the gut that allow out-of-control yeasts to degrade the gut lining—which allows food particles to escape into the blood stream and trigger autoimmune reactions. Campbell-McBride is one of the first to realize that these out-of-control yeast populations produce toxins that affect the brain and create problematic behavior. Conditions like autism, for instance, might not really be autism, but effects of inappropriate diet and malfunctioning body systems.
Sally Fallon Morell and Mary G. Enig, Ph. D. of The Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) hold a place in their 1999 “Nourishing Traditions,” for most legumes—if properly soaked and cooked so that phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors are destroyed and difficult-to-digest complex sugars are made more digestible and if legumes are cooked and eaten with at least small amounts of animal protein and animal fat.
Morell and Enig write that soybeans, however, should only be eaten sparingly and only after fermentation into miso, tempeh, and natto because the chemical package in soy is so powerful and so dangerous (495-496). A commercial method has never been fully developed that renders soy completely safe. But, more on soy in Mainely Tipping Points 44 . (Note that tofu is not a fermented soy food.)
Morell and Enig are careful to caution that “vegetable protein alone cannot sustain healthy life because it does not contain enough of all of the amino acids that are essential.” Indeed, “most all plants lack methionine, one of the essential amino acids” (495-496). Further, both Morell and Enig have made clear repeatedly in the WAPF journal “Wise Traditions” that the current government support for plant-based diets is dangerous and unscientific.
In the end, what Paleo diet advocates are asking is why, in the first place eat foods with such high carbohydrate loads, inferior protein, and so many dangerous chemicals —especially when a diet of meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds supplies nutrients in dense, safe, satisfying forms.
This Paleo question is especially good to contemplate if one is overweight and experiencing the attendant health issues that accompany that condition and are trying to make changes. Or, if one has ongoing digestive disorders which really must be addressed.