Primitive Nutrition 24:
In Defense of Beans
Is there anything about Paleo that is more random and peculiar than its prohibition of legumes? Legumes are an incredibly nutritious, inexpensive and environmentally responsible food. When it comes to legumes, the Paleo people don't know beans.
If you are going to be pro-meat and anti-vegetarian, I guess then it’s just necessary to be anti-bean. Beans are nutritional equivalents to meat, so they appear threatening to the modern caveman.
Beans look pretty great in comparison to meat, even as a source of protein.
When you factor in cost, legumes look even better. Here you can see that 12 pounds of lentils costs only $33, and that's dry weight. That's a lot of lentils.
12 pounds of grass fed beef, however, is $103. I think I'll take the lentils and pocket the $70.
If we look at grass fed as dry weight, it really starts to get ugly. This is the price for only a quarter of a pound.
Really nice dry beans are about one twentieth the price. If you like to save money like me, this is too big a price difference to ignore. Legumes give me great nutrition and save me a lot of money. Thank you, beans.
As I've shown you already, we've been eating legumes for a long time so I am not impressed by the usual Paleo arguments against them.
This has not been a mistake. Humans have relied on beans because they are an incredibly valuable food that is under-appreciated by too many today.
Beans improve cardiovascular health, make weight control easier, and improve bone density.
They improve all aspects of diabetic control. I imagine the Paleo dieters would be posting a study like this everywhere if it were about meat instead of beans. But you will never see the fad diet promoters mention this one.
Just imagine a study like this where "bean" is replaced by "meat". Do you think they'd like it?
Beans are incredibly high in natural antioxidants.
The longest lived people in the world have eaten diets high in legumes.
And unlike with meat, eating beans is good for the planet.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
One of the worst greenhouse gases is nitrous oxide.
According to this study...
A vegetarian diet results in far less loss of nitrogen into the environment.
Legumes are a big reason why. They are nitrogen-fixers, pulling nitrogen from the air and fixing it to the soil where it is needed to grow food. Beans are an important part of the answer to our need for sustainable food production. No one should stigmatize them without a very great reason.
The reasons offered by the Paleo crowd to avoid beans are weak. Enzyme inhibitors and lectins have little effect after cooking. Once again, be a behaviorally modern human and employ some basic technology. Even cavemen knew how to cook. What’s more, the same factors that are put forth as antinutrients in beans can have important health-promoting benefits.
On page 91 of The Paleo Diet, Loren Cordain tries to blame beans for rheumatoid arthritis because of their lectins.
Here is the paper he published to make the same point.
Now if you are really concerned about lectins, you can read this helpful blog post on the subject. The blogger gives us a particularly nice little quote I included here.
If Cordain is right that beans cause rheumatoid arthritis, you might expect it would be easy to find epidemiological evidence of this since some countries eat so many beans. These would be poor countries. Unfortunately for Cordain, the parts of the world where bean consumption is highest have the lowest rates of rheumatoid arthritis.
According to draft report The CGIAR Standing Panel on Impact Assessment
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural ResearchFeb 2011
Look at per capita consumption of pulses and Niger really stands out. Shouldn't they be devastated with lectin-induced rheumatoid arthritis?
Well they aren't. In fact, the first documented cases ever of rheumatoid arthritis in Niger were reported in 2010.
Meat consumption, however, has the highest statistical relationship in the diet with rheumatoid arthritis. Cordain must be attempting some misdirection on this subject. Don’t fall for it.
Legumes have a counterpart to celiac disease. There is a condition called favism that causes fava beans to be dangerous to individuals with a genetic defect. Somewhat like celiac, the explanation for this genetic trait was a selective advantage in resisting malaria once upon a time.
Pythagorus was likely the most famous sufferer of favism. Beans eventually did kill him, but indirectly. Rather than cross a field of beans, he took his chances with pursuing soldiers, who proved to be even worse for his health.
Leaky gut is one of the dire health problems Paleo is supposed to help you avoid. Beans cause leaky gut, Cordain says.
Which in turn cause autoimmune diseases. He mentions type 1 diabetes, which really caught my attention. Can you guess where I’m going with this?
This study looked at the worldwide epidemiology of type 1 diabetes.
I'm zooming in here on on the top and bottom ends of their graph. Notice which countries have the most type 1 diabetes and which have the least. Which end of the graph do you think eats more beans and which less? This is just too easy.
I pulled out the data for some countries from a table in that paper. The top two have very low rates of type 1. The bottom two have much higher incidence rates. I'll show you a bit more on Okinawans in my Ancient and Out of Fashion video. I'll just say for now that they eat a lot of beans. Algeria also has low rates of type1.
Algerians love their chickpeas and lentils.
And they don't eat much meat.
At the high end for type 1 incidence are Germany and Australia.
The Germans don't eat very many legumes.
Australians eat hardly any at all.
But both eat a lot of meat. The Germans are the biggest meat consumers in the EU.
And the Australians are some of the biggest meat eaters in the world.
The strongest dietary associations with type 1 diabetes are foods of animal origin. So I must ask, does Cordain really care about type 1 diabetes? Or is he just trying to push a fad diet?
Here’s an extra comment about leaky gut. The vaunted omega-3 fatty acids, a favorite nutrient of the Paleo dieters, actually promote the dreaded intestinal permeability. This permeability seems to provoke an immune response in babies, which is a good thing. Their immune systems develop faster as a result. It seems once again that the Paleo people have oversimplified diet and human health.
There is one other perceived problem with beans I shouldn’t let pass. Some think if they eat beans it will cause their social grace to escape them. Well, that objection just doesn’t cut it. I hate to break it to them, but with this study, it looks like that excuse has just run out of gas. Either way, I think an occasional loss of dignity is a small price to pay for better health. After all, if you wind up with colon cancer, you won’t be able to blame it on the dog!
Enough of the abstract arguments. It's almost time to look at some of the fabled hunter gatherer role models for the Paleos. But first, an interlude.