Updated: Jun 24, 2019
Many 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". 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. 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.
Some thought leaders in the field of functional nutrition even go as far as to say that anti-nutrients are “harmful” to our intestinal integrity.
Yet nearly all traditional cultures have legumes as a pretty prominent staple in their diets back in the days before so much chronic disease began to creep into our human, westernized lives. The difference is that traditional cultures know & understand their foods and they properly prepare legumes by soak, sprouting, and sometimes souring them before cooking them and this has an effect on the anti-nutrients.
As to whether or not you should eat legumes, like all-things-diet, 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 return 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.
But also like grains, beans are primarily carbohydrates (they have protein in them but they typically don’t give that up to you!) with very little protein yield.
The long & the short is if you currently eat beans and your health is the best it can possibly 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!