LEGUMES – WHAT’S THE GOOD AND THE BAD ABOUT THIS HANDY STAPLE?

I’m a big believer in listening to your body and working out whether a food is good or bad depending on how your body responds. However, I also understand that some people are not as attuned to their bodies as they would like (come work with me, and you will be able to read your body in no time) so thought it would be useful to look at the pros and cons of this handy staple food.

Legumes include all those pulses such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, haricot beans, soybeans and peanuts. Basically they come from plants that produce a little pod with a seed in them (these seeds are the legumes). Whilst there are many nutritional benefits to eating legumes, I know that for me they don’t work and whilst I love the taste, they are very much an occasional food and my own personal goal is to eliminate them completely from my diet. I don’t use them at home, but still eat them occasionally when I am dining at someone’s home or dining out.

However, that’s my body. Legumes could be a good food for you because they are packed with fibre and protein. Depending on the legume, they also contain a lot of essential vitamins and minerals. One cup of cooked or sprouted lentils for example contain the following:

  • 40% of the RDA for iron
  • 22% of the RDA of potassium
  • 88% of the RDA for folate
  • 20% of the RDA for magnesium
  • 19 grams of protein
  • 17 grams of fibre
  • Also high in B1, B3, B5, B6, zinc, phosphorus and manganese

Legumes are high in both resistant starch and soluble fibre which help to fill you up and stop you feeling hunger. These fibres will pass through the intestine until they reach the colon where they will then feed the friendly bacteria. They also form into short-chain fatty acids which improve colon health. However, for people with a compromised gut, they can increase bloating and gas.

However, there are also negatives to be considered.  The reality is that many of the nutritional benefits of legumes disappear once they are cooked. Legumes are very high in carbohydrates and this will slow weight loss if your weight is a concern for you. They are high in phytates which can affect the absorption of essential minerals such as magnesium, calcium and zinc. This is particularly important for vegetarians to consider as legumes are often a staple in their diet. Many vegetarians turn to legumes as a protein source. However, due to the high phytic acids in legumes, it may mean that some vegetarians will suffer with mineral deficiencies. This can be avoided by washing and soaking legumes as well as by fermenting or sprouting them. I find that when I sprout my legumes, I don’t get any side effects.

It is also important to know that phytates make the absorption of certain enzymes difficult. It means that certain enzymes such as amylase and pepsin are not absorbed well and this will negatively impact on digestion. Legumes are high in lectins and the lectins make up approximately 10% of the total protein. Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrates. Lectins can impair digestion and upset the intestinal tract. This is particularly a problem with kidney beans which contain the lectin phytohemagglutunin which can be toxic when consumed in large amounts. Again, soaking the kidney beans and cooking them will break down the lectins. However, as I eat a predominately raw diet, I choose not to eat kidney beans as it is one legume that does need to be cooked so as not to compromise the digestive system.

Legumes are also high in saponins which are sometimes difficult for some people to digest and can affect the intestinal lining of the gut. For people who suffer from leaky gut syndrome, legumes are best avoided for this reason.  However, please note, that with the right nutritional advice, you can cure leaky gut syndrome and I have had great success with this with many clients.

The other major concern is that legumes, (and in particular soy beans) are very high in protease inhibitors. Proteases are important enzymes that help to break down the protein so that the body can absorb it. The protease inhibitors in legumes stop the proteases from doing their job and this then leads to chronic inflammation and leaky gut.

So should you eat legumes? Only you can make this choice but if you decide to, I would encourage you to avoid the canned variety as you do not know if they have been prepared properly to remove their phytic acids. Also, most canned products contain BPAs which are a carcinogen. If you must eat legumes, wash and soak them well and where possible, eat them in their natural sprouted form. I strongly suggest that legumes really does need to be an occasional food rather than an everyday food. Of course, if you are following a paleo lifestyle, you would avoid legumes altogether. Good luck in deciding what works for you!

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