Why I had to break up with beans, and it stinks

I love beans! Black beans, red beans, cannellini beans, refried beans, baked beans, bean soup, beans and rice, I’ll stop before I sound like Bubba from Forest Gump. I’ve always operated under the assumption that beans are good for you. Aren’t they good for your heart? Of course there’s a potentially embarrassing side effect from eating beans, but who cares! So, why on earth did I have to give up beans while doing Whole30?

This was taken straight from the Whole30 plan:

  • Do not eat legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. No peanut butter, either. This also includes all forms of soy – soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like lecithin).

Apparently, legumes, including chickpeas and my precious beans, contain phytic acid. Sounds like the name of a heavy metal band to me. Phytic acid binds with the nutrients in your system and prevents them from being absorbed. It doesn’t take away nutrients already in your body, but, since nutrients consumed with that scoop of black beans aren’t absorbed, my side dish isn’t as nutrient dense as  I thought it was. The point of eating Whole30 or Paleo is tho have a nutrient dense diet (by diet I mean a lifelong, intentional decision to eat healthy).

Nuts also have phytic acid to some degree. Why are those allowed? It comes down to amount. Since nuts aren’t a staple, (you’re not going to have a bowl of nut soup or nuts and rice), people don’t tend to get a lot of phytic acid in their diet as a result. Replacing meats with lentils or tofu put your body at a nutrient disadvantage, so it’s not recommended.

Another consideration is the fact that legumes are also FODMAPS. (I think I’ll start saying this when upset: Oh FODMAPS!) FODMAPS contain galaco-ligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that can cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people. I’m finding that I’m a lot more sensitive to certain foods in my forties than I ever was before, but I choose to ignore it.

What else can possibly be wrong with legumes? Ok, there’s actually nothing wrong with them, but I lived most of my life thinking they are some kind of diet superfood. They fill you up after all. Now I see that, while they are filling, they get most of their calorie content from carbohydrates. Only about 1/4 of the calorie count is a protein source. Since I lead more of a sedentary lifestyle than I did in my twenties, how am I going to burn up those calories? The answer is that I haven’t. Now I know that I have to limit my legume intake. No more humus and homemade pita chips as the entrée in my lunch. Goodbye bean soup. I. Am. Crying.

I might as well get out all the bad news in one post. Legumes also contain lectin. Lectins are proteins found in almost all kinds of foods, but not all lectins are problematic. Different people react to different lectins. According to information from http://paleoleap.com/beans-and-legumes/ “potentially toxic lectins are highest in grains, legumes, and dairy. In the body, lectins damage the intestinal wall, contributing to leaky gut, with all its associated digestive and autoimmune problems. While many lectins can be destroyed by proper preparation methods, most people find these cooking methods irritatingly laborious, and it’s almost certain that any beans or legumes you buy in a restaurant won’t be cooked this way. Thus, making beans and legumes a regular feature in your diet can significantly contribute to gut irritation and permeability.”

The worst part about my break-up with legumes is that they just don’t have a significant micronutrient content that makes up for any of the problems listed above, so I can’t rationalize them into being a healthy food. Now, that said, I believe that beans and I can be friends with benefits. I know not to make them a staple in my diet. If I choose to include them in a dish (after I’m done with Whole30), I will have to view them like onions, a little go a long way. Also, I’ll have to embrace preparation methods that reduce phytic acid content.

Soaking is a good first step. Paleo Leap has good information on other methods of preparation: “Sprouting is even better, and reduces phytic acid by 25 to 75 percent. The process of sprouting a batch of beans or legumes is actually fairly easy: all you really need to do is keep them moist and give them access to the air. Fermentation also greatly reduces the phytic acid of many different types of food – and it gives your gut flora a boost as a bonus. Note that the phytic acid in soy is particularly hard to reduce: this is another reason to avoid it if at all possible. After any soaking or fermentation, you still have to cook your legumes before you can eat them – this adds another layer of protection because heating most beans and legumes (with the exception of peanuts, which have lectins that survive the cooking process) will destroy most of the lectins in them. Since nobody eats raw beans or legumes, this significantly reduces the concern about their lectin content.”

Special cases: coffee beans, cocoa beans, and vanilla beans aren’t actually beans. Who knew?! Also, because green beans are usually eaten with pod and seeds (it’s the seeds that contain the bad stuff), they have a lower phytic acid content than if we ate the seeds alone (who does that?). Also, we tend not to use green beans a staple in our diet.

WHAT ABOUT PEANUTS? Oh peanuts! We love you, we hate you. Like other legumes, they contain phytic acid and lectins. Of course the lectins in peanuts just HAVE to be heat-resistant and difficult to destroy by cooking. The preparation methods mentioned above may help some. In addition, they contain aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins are produced by a mold that tends to grow on peanuts. This mold thrives on crops stored in warm, humid places, and is so difficult to eliminate that the FDA has declared it an “unavoidable contaminant.” The mold thrives on all peanuts, including those that are organically grown. This means that unless you pick your peanuts directly from the farm, you’re probably getting some aflatoxins with them. It also means they are in your peanut butter, no matter how natural it is. Some say that there is a link to long-term consumption to aflatoxins with risk for diseases like cancer, especially in countries where peanuts are a staple food. Also, since aflatoxins are a type of mold, people with mold sensitivities in particular, should avoid them. It makes sense that rates of peanut allergies are exponentially higher now than in the past thanks to the advent of peanuts as a diet staple, through the wonder of peanut butter. I don’t see us eliminating peanut butter entirely, but we will likely start using it sparingly as we will all other legumes.

I know soy beans are also legumes. They are cheap to grow and vegetarians love to tout them as healthy. They have lectins and phytic acid just like their legume cousins. They also have  phytoestrogens, which mimic estrogen in the body. They trick your body into thinking they are the real deal, but they don’t actually perform any of the vital functions that real estrogen does. This means your body thinks it has enough estrogen when it really doesn’t. This hormonal imbalance can affect men and women. I would remind everyone that these imbalances are usually associated with diets where soy is a staple. Differentiating things as staples versus having small or occasional amounts just makes sense to me since I doubt I’ll ever be able to control all the content my diet. There’s no need to panic.

Soy also contains trypsin inhibitors. These inhibitors interfere with protein digestion, and increase the body’s needs for several important micronutrients, including Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Soy protein powder  is a completely processed, artificial non-food that shouldn’t be part of anybody’s diet.

OK, so if soy is so terrible, how are people in Asia are so much healthier and longer-lived than Americans? Traditional Asian cuisine relies much more on fermented foods. Also, the soy products eaten as part of traditional meals are not industrially processed, and are served in addition to a very nutrient-rich diet.  Again, we come back to the concept that there are some food that we use as staples which were never meant to be staples. There is a big difference “between a small amount of fermented tofu in a big bowl of broth and a huge scoop of soy protein isolate in a protein shake full of food coloring and sugar.” -Paleo Leap

Soy lecithin is an ingredient in most brands of dark chocolate, a common Paleo indulgence. Soy lecithin is actually a byproduct of the production of soy oil, and it’s not any better than any other kind of soy. While the dose of soy lecithin is small enough that most people can tolerate it, it’s still not doing anyone any good. If possible, it would be better to find a brand of chocolate without it.

How will I survive without legumes? Well, I probably won’t. I’m not ready to kiss them goodbye forever. I just need some space. It’s not them, it’s me. I’m learning how to make some of my favorite recipes without beans. The other night I made Southwestern Chicken Soup. It’s so simple you won’t believe it.

1 pound of cooked chicken-white and/or dark meat (I use a rotisserie chicken most of the time and debone it)

1 16 oz jar of green salsa

32 oz container of chicken broth (I use low sodium)

1 tbsp minced garlic

salt to taste

pepper to taste

2-16 oz cans of Cannellini beans (obviously, I omitted the beans for Whole30)

Throw all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat thoroughly. I serve with tortilla chips and sour cream to my family but did not have any myself. I’m going to add avocado, any maybe potato, to mine next time.

Since it’s starting to feel like fall up here in the PNW, it’s the perfect time for some hearty soups and stews. Last night I made Chili Con Carne with Sweet Potatoes from Kathi at Laughing Spatula. I altered the recipe a bit. Instead of ground turkey, I used lean ground beef. Y’all, I’m from TX and we like beef. I think turkey is too bland in chili so I don’t use it. I cooked my sweet potatoes in the pressure cooker and then added them to the chili. I used diced tomatoes without chilies but found them to be a bit bitter. I’ll use Rotel next time. The first few bites made my whole being protest: This is NOT chili!!!! Although the flavor was very good, my whole being knows that chili should have beans in it. After the third bite, everything settled down and I was able to enjoy the flavor and texture. The sweet potato flavor was mild and it still felt like I was eating comfort food. This recipe will be in a regular rotation this fall and winter for sure. I can’t wait to play around with some more.



Bean appetit,



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s