I just started my first “Whole Foods Diet for Life” Group (so exciting!) and a question came up very early on that I think is a pretty common question, so I decided to answer it here! I’ll keep doing the same as their questions (and maybe even their challenges) arise.
Today: about beans……
You know the old saying about beans (also called “legumes” in the nutrition world), “…They’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you <flatulate>…”.
Most people are quite surprised to learn that fairly commonly, legumes are not consider part of a nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. In some cases, legumes are considered a “gray area food” (we’ll get to that!).
At first glance, I realize not eating beans really makes no sense. I mean, they’re plants after all! And don’t we want to concentrate our food choices around plants?
Well, yes. But…
Here’s the problem with legumes (and this is true of all plant foods to some degree but with lots a variables), they contain anti-nutrients. In the interest of sparing you the crossed-eyed, don’t-be-a-complete-geek face (if you want that face, you can go here), let’s just say that there are several types of anti-nutrients and their purpose is to protect the plant so that it can propagate even if eaten. In humans, it mostly means that some (and sometimes “a lot”) of the nutrients in the plant are not available for absorption because the food goes undigested (typically resulting in flatulence!). In other words, the nutrient value of the food to humans is less than the full potential of the food when extracted in a lab. They’re just not as nutrient dense as their nutritional profile :(. Nor are they as nutrient dense as many other whole foods.
As is true for almost anything you wish to educate yourself about, there is much conflicting information available on the subject. I typically follow the thinking of several very well respected thought & opinion leaders but even amongst them, I’m not able to find a common opinion on the subject of legumes and anti-nutrients (or pretty much anything for that matter – even “The Man” agrees & addresses legumes here too).
Some thought leaders even go as far as to say that anti-nutrients are “harmful” to our intestinal integrity. Oh, no bueno!
Yet nearly all traditional cultures have legumes as a pretty prominent staple in their diets. You can see all the shades of gray on the topic emerging. And honestly, it is quite possibly minutia, the splitting of hairs. Who has time for that??
Here’s the deal about traditional cultures, they’re not eating beans “the American way”! Traditional cultures know & understand their foods and properly prepare legumes by soak, sprouting, and sometimes souring them before cooking them and this has an effect (although the degree to which it is effective is also debatable – you see the trend?) on the anti-nutrients.
As to whether or not to eat legumes, it’s up to you! My personal experience was that my gut health was not good enough to tolerate beans very well when I first began my journey to health. So I bid them farewell for the time being. As my gut health has improved and I’ve learned how to more properly prepare them, I occasionally eat them in small quantities.
Another strike against legumes: they’re also primarily carbohydrates (they have protein in them but they typically don’t give that up to you!) which is potentially only problematic if you have metabolic disease (even if it’s not diagnosed).
Your take-home message? Life is gray!! This is why I tout personal accountability first. You are your own best boss!
I’m here to empower you to develop your own wellness compass. There is a great deal of information I have to share with you (most of it being your springboard to critical thinking about the foods you eat). But, with the exception of a very few “foods”, I’ll never be able to tell you exactly what to eat/not eat.
You can search the ends of the earth for a consensus on what is the perfect diet. The truth is: there is no perfect diet. Perfect changes from you to me to the next person. And perfect changes for each of us over time.
The long & the short is if you currently eat beans and your health is the best it can possible be, keep eating beans! If you’re health could be better and you’re looking for areas of improvement, consider eliminating beans for a time. Pay attention to how you feel. Reintroduce them. Pay attention to how you feel. You get it!
This goes for all foods even if they’re on the “Eat This” of “Don’t Eat This” list!
PS. There are a few “Never” foods that I feel are non-negotiable and I’ll blog about them too. But, again, there’s no consensus on these either. Maddening. I know…