To Bean Or Not To Bean, That Is The Question (Legumes, Lectins, and Human Health)

With apologies to Shakespeare.

These days, many people across the world are wondering if they should eat beans, or not.

Right now, this very minute, there are two powerful, but opposing, dietary trends speeding towards a potentially explosive head-on collision.

On the one side the paleolithic (or “Stone Age“) style of eating, a dietary/lifestyle system that eschews grains, legumes, sugar, and all processed foods in favor of quality meats, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, and healthful fats.  This is the anti-bean side.

Scanned beans.

On the other side is the fad-diet du jour, Tim Ferriss’s “slow-carb diet” as described in the bestselling The 4-Hour Body.  Ferriss unabashedly recommends legumes.  Indeed, he suggests eating beans or lentils with every meal (but forbids grains, fruit, and dairy products — except on the once-per-week “binge day,” during which all foods are allowed).

Ferriss must be acknowledged as a cultural force in his own right; he is a master marketer with legions of supportive blog readers (myself among them).  His efforts have propelled both of his books to the #1 spot of the New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list.  He has recently appeared on both The View and Dr. Oz pushing his slow-carb diet, sleep gadgets, and anatomically precise better-sex tips.

Especially among the California/Silicon Valley/San Francisco/young techy professional set, 4-Hour Body is extremely influential.  Just the other night at Ignite SF, a friend mentioned she was “going home to eat some beans.”  When Ferriss says eat beans, people eat beans.  Ferriss constitutes the current vanguard of the pro-bean side.

Before we evaluate the evidence for and against legumes, let’s see who all is taking sides:

Pro-bean Anti-bean
Tim Ferriss (4-Hour Body)
Dan Buettner (Blue Zone)
Andrew Weil (drweil.com)
Pythagoras (Ionian philosopher)
Loren Cordain (The Paleo Diet)
Robb Wolf (The Paleo Solution)

Each link goes to a discussion of the health advocate’s recommendation for or against legumes.

Other health gurus take a more nuanced stance.  Mark Sisson, from whom I take my own dietary cues, is generally against eating beans and legumes, but acknowledges possible health benefits from eating nattō (a fermented soybean paste with is extremely high in vitamin K2).  PāNu blogger Kurt Harris, M.D., another advocate of the paleolithic diet, suggests eliminating beans but gives it a low priority (#11) on his 12 steps to improving health.

The Evidence Against Beans

Contrary to conventional dietary wisdom, paleo diet advocates say you should NOT eat beans.  Why not?

1.  Beans are hard to digest (the musical fruit).
Beans that are not properly soaked, drained, boiled, drained-again, and slow-cooked can result in severe digestive stress.  Even under the best of circumstances, beans can you make fart more.

2.  Beans can aggravate auto-immune diseases.
All legumes (beans, but also tofu, soy-milk, peas, lentils, and peanuts) contain lectinsSome of these lectins are implicated in IBS, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, peptic ulcers, allergies, and Type 2 diabetes.

3.  Beans are high in starch and carbohydrates.
Beans are a starchy food, high in carbohydrates.  Eating significant amounts of beans may interfere with weight loss.

4. Beans contain estrogen mimics, which can be harmful to health.
Beans, especially soybeans but also fava beans and other beans, contain phytoestrogens — weak estrogen mimics that can interfere with hormone function.  Phytoestrogens evolved in plants as a defense mechanism, a way to disrupt the reproductive success of predators.  Red clover (a legume) has been shown to disrupt reproduction in animals.

Male infants and toddlers are probably the most vulnerable to the negative effects of a high legume diet, as is discussed in this article by Kaayla Daniel of the Weston Price Foundation.  From the article:

Every week I get agonized letters from parents who fed their sons soy infant formula and who report estrogenized boys who are flabby, lethargic, high strung and/or embarrassed by breasts and underdeveloped genitals.   These parents want to know, “What can we do now?”

Disturbing.  Do not feed your infant soy formula.

5. Beans can shrink your brain.
An even more heinous side-effect of eating soybean products frequently may be brain shrinkage.

Tofu turns your brain to jello.

I kid you not.  One study looked at autopsies of nearly 4000 Hawaiian men, and compared brain weight results with dietary habits.  The men who had eaten the most tofu and soy had smaller brain sizes and a higher chance (more than double) of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  The linked article mentions a possible mechanism; phytic acid in soybeans interferes with vitamin B12 absorption (which is independently associated with brain shrinkage and dementia).  In most beans, phytic acid can be greatly reduced by soaking, draining, and boiling, but soybeans retain high amounts even when cooked.

6. Lentils might make you fat.
Tim Ferriss recommends eating generous portions of legumes as a part of his “slow carb” weight loss diet.  In The 4-Hour Body he mentions lentils as being one of his favorite legumes.

But can lentils make you fat?  There is some evidence that the lentil lectin binds weakly to the insulin receptor, setting cells to “always on” for fat production.  That’s Peter J. D’Adamo’s hypothesis in Eat Right For Your Type.  Though many of D’Adamo’s ideas are speculative and not supported by the evidence, he should at least be credited with bringing lectins into the public consciousness.

7.  Many brands of canned beans have bisphenol A in the can lining.
People who eat beans don’t necessarily have the time or inclination to properly soak them, drain them, boil them, drain them again, and then slow-cook them.  Canned beans are the logical alternative to time-consuming preparation.

The problem with canned foods is that the plastic can linings often contain bisphenol A (BPA), a powerful endocrine disruptor.  BPA is strongly associated with heart disease, prostate cancer, breast cancer, miscarriage, erectile dysfunction, and abnormal reproductive development in children.  We should all be staying away from the stuff.  For most people, canned food, soda, and plastic bottles/cups are the main sources of BPA.

Trader Joe’s states that their canned beans are BPA-free (though their canned tomatoes and soups do contain BPA).  Eden Organic beans are also BPA-free.

Tim Ferriss's "freak to geek" snapshots from his (pro-bean) book The 4-Hour Body.

The Evidence in Support of Beans

1.  Beans are high in protein and fiber.
Not everyone enjoys a high-meat diet.  For people who prefer to not consume animal protein at every meal, beans provide a decent amount of protein.  Because they’re high in fiber, they’re also quite filling.

2.  Beans provide a steady source of glucose for energy.
Consuming high amounts of fructose (the sugar found in fruit, corn syrup, and agave nectar) is associated with gaining belly fat, poor insulin sensitivity, increased risk of heart disease, and higher LDL levels.  Table sugar is not exempt — sucrose is half glucose and half fructose.

Ferriss recommends eliminating fructose entirely (except on cheat days), and using legumes as a carbohydrate source.  The starch in beans breaks down into glucose.  Too much glucose can still make you fat, but the fat will be subcutaneous (under the skin) fat, which isn’t associated with disease as much as abdominal fat.

Ferriss claims his “slow-carb” diet has a high rate of compliance, and that one reason for this is the steady energy provided by legumes.  It’s true that switching too quickly to a low-carb diet can result in energy crashes; the body needs a few weeks to adjust to using different kinds of fuel (including dietary fat, stored body fat, glycogen, and even lactic acid).

However, most “carb withdrawal” has nothing to do with blood sugar levels.  Except in cases of diabetes, the body regulates blood sugar within a tight range, via insulin and glucagon.  Most “carb withdrawal” symptoms are in fact exorphin withdrawal symptoms.  Beans, which do not contain food opioids, will not protect you from the aches, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms some people get when giving up wheat and dairy.

3. Beans are high in folate and iron, and have appreciable amounts of magnesium, manganese, copper, selenium, molybdenum, and antioxidants.
Beans are not nutritionally empty.  Depending on the legume, beans can provide decent amounts of a few vitamins and many minerals.

Bento with beans -- how could something this cute be bad for you?

As for the anti-nutrients, phytic acid and lectins, most can be soaked/drained and cooked out.  If you don’t mind having a frothing bowl of beans on your counter (I do), then you can effectively remove most of the anti-nutrients.  Soaking is most effective for getting rid of phytic acid, and boiling is most effective for reducing lectin levels.  Do not slow-cook beans without boiling first.  Slow cooked kidney beans and red beans (often in the form of chili) lead to dozens of cases of lectin poisoning in the U.S. every year.

4.  Beans are associated with reduced risk of colon cancer.
If the evidence holds up, this is a pretty big win for beans.  Colorectal cancer is a relatively common, very serious disease (second only to lung cancer in lethality).

One clinical trial that looked at over 2,000 adults with precancerous colon polyps found that those people who ate more beans over a four year period had fewer “advanced” polyps and less cancer.  Those that increased fruit and vegetables in their diets, but not beans, did not enjoy the same protective effects.

If eating beans actually does reduce the chance of colorectal cancer, what’s the mechanism?  One theory is that the nondigestible carbs in beans are broken down (by gut flora) into the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which has anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.  Various phytonutrients in beans may act synergystically to prevent cancer in other ways.

One interesting possibility, for which there is strong evidence, is that a lectin in broad beans forces colon cancer cells to differentiate.  Could it be that not all lectins are bad?

Beans vs. Meat

I think some members of the “paleo community” are guilty of unsophisticated categorical thinking (meat is GOOD — grains & beans are BAD).  Instead of looking at the evidence regarding specific foods and the possible benefits of drawbacks of those foods (from all perspectives, including health effects, ease of preparation, taste and culinary possibilities), they eliminate entire food groups and exalt others.

Bacon bias -- wishing something to be health food does not make it so.

Take bacon, for example.  Love for bacon has reached fetishistic heights among paleo bloggers.  Mark Sisson and Kurt Harris are both on the pro-bacon bandwagon (otherwise, I agree with 90+% of what both these guys recommend).  This salt and nitrite-laden meat-product is delicious, but please don’t try to claim that it’s good for you.  Processed meats (including bacon) are implicated in colon cancer and other diseases.  While saturated fats are not to be feared, nitrites, and to a lesser extent salt, should be.

Unprocessed red meat may also slightly raise the chance of colon cancer, but the risks are less than those incurred by obesity or lack of exercise.  And before you smack me in the face with your copy of The China Study, please read this detailed critique by nutrition blogger Denise Minger.

Maybe the solution is to eat some beans with your bacon.

Beans vs. Fruit

Back to fructose for a minute — Ferriss’s book recommends cutting out all fruit.  While it makes sense to limit fructose, let’s consider how many blueberries a person would have to eat to get the same amount of fructose delivered by a regular 12oz can of Coke (36g carbs mostly from HFCS).  By my rough calculations, that’s about the same as two cups of blueberries.  Three whole grapefruit would also do it.  I really don’t see a good reason for not eating half a cup of blueberries or a half grapefruit with breakfast — it’s just not that much fructose, and both fruits are high in vitamins and other phytonutrients.  On the other hand, a large banana, or 12oz of orange juice, delivers about as much fructose as the can of soda.

For steady weight-loss, Ferriss may be on to something when he recommends beans over fruit.  But you’ll probably get the same benefits if you eat some beans and some less-sweet fruit (tart apples, berries, grapefruit, kiwis, etc.).

The Bottom Line — Who Should Eat Beans

The way I see it, there’s no reason to fear properly cooked beans.  There is also no reason to force yourself to eat them.

If you don’t like beans, but still want to avoid colon cancer (who doesn’t?), there are many ways to reduce risk.  Stay lean, exercise regularly, don’t eat processed and cured meats, keep your vitamin D levels high, and eat broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.  Raw sauerkraut may be especially beneficial.

Nobody should eat large amounts of soy, in any form, though tiny cubes of tofu in miso soup won’t hurt you.  Red beans and kidney beans are risky unless you know how they’ve been prepared.  Canned beans may come with an unwelcome dose of BPA.

Anybody who has Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, IBS, multiple sclerosis, or arthritis should avoid beans.  Lectins can tear up the intestinal lining, causing “leaky gut.” Leaky gut, in turn, leads to autoimmune problems.  In terms of lectins, dairy products, grains, peanuts and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers), are potentially as problematic as beans.

Beans and lentils aren’t an ideal fat-loss food unless you get lots of exercise, both because of starch content and possible lectin-insulin problems (at least with lentils).  But properly prepared (soaked, drained, boiled, and slow-cooked) beans are probably a better choice than bread or bananas.

For many people, one of the joys of the paleo diet is that they don’t have to eat beans (or oatmeal, or any of a long list of bland, boring foods).  Conventional wisdom (and Tim Ferriss), push beans as a kind of wonder food, but that’s just not the case.  You don’t have to eat beans to achieve vibrant health.  Many people, like this woman, respond very well to cutting out both grains and beans, but keeping some fruit in the diet (Mark Sisson’s “primal” diet).

Food Avoidance and The Great Carb Debate

I’m fascinated by how food affects health, but I also just enjoy eating.  I hope to never get cancer or heart disease, but chances are very good that something will kill me eventually (ideally it will be something exciting, like a genetically engineered dinosaur, or a falling disco ball, or lightning, or an orgy).  Dying from complications due to eating too many lectins, gluten, nitrites, or fructose does not strike me as a good way to go out, so I try to limit my intake of those substances.

I do eat beans once in awhile, usually canned pinto or black beans from Trader Joes, or white butter beans in a salad.  If I go out to Mexican food I’ll usually eat some meat and refried beans but skip the tortillas and rice.

Dr. Kurt Harris writes the popular PāNu blog.

I agree with Kurt Harris that consuming some carbs is easier on the body than consuming zero carbs or lots of carbs.  Going into ketosis now and then won’t hurt you, but long-term ketosis can deplete calcium and selenium, give you bad breath, cause a metallic taste in the mouth, and lead to mental dullness and sluggishness.  It’s easy to stay out of ketosis by consuming some carbs.  Wheat products, syrups, desserts, and sweet fruits are not ideal choices.  Vegetables, berries, properly cooked beans, and even dark chocolate are good choices.  Some rice is probably also fine for people who exercise a great deal.

I find the whole notion of avoiding carbohydrates altogether to be faintly ridiculous … somewhat akin to avoiding nitrogen or carbon.  Avoiding a specific class of chemicals, like lectins, makes more sense, but even then you may be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  Some lectins may be good for us.

On the whole, I agree with the premises of the paleolithic diet — we’ll be healthier if we eat high quality meats, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, and nuts than if we eat “neolithic” foods (processed foods, sugary desserts, grains and legumes, fruit juice, etc.).  What I’m skeptical of is the idea that observing any set of dietary rules strictly will make us healthier.  We did, after all, evolve to be adaptable creatures, with a robustly flexible digestive system.  We’re more like rats than we are like panda bears (who eat only bamboo), koala bears (who pretty much just eat eucalyptus), or lions (who just eat meat).

On the other hand, I’ve noticed that my enjoyment of food has only increased with a slightly more restrictive diet.  The less sugar and fruit I eat, the sweeter all food tastes.  Same thing goes for salt.  Our palate can quickly adjust to a new “normal.”  And since I’ve cut out grains for the most part, I eat a much wider variety of meats and vegetables, mostly cooked in pastured butter.  It all tastes damn good.  A more restrictive diet doesn’t necessarily correspond to less enjoyment of food.

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70 responses to “To Bean Or Not To Bean, That Is The Question (Legumes, Lectins, and Human Health)

  1. Hi JD,

    Another well researched and fairly argued post. I’ve been wondering about the dissonance between these two groups lately as well. My own thoughts on this are:

    1. Legumes can be eaten healthfully IF properly prepared (Weston A Price style)- soaking, fermenting, etc., but most people aren’t going to actually do this.

    2. Legumes are far less harmful than grains- basically the same reason Kurt Harris makes it one of the last steps.

    3. That using beans in the “slow carb” diet is a stepping stone on the way to an even more healthful ancestral diet.

    Overall, ditching grains and sugars and eating legumes is a huge improvement overall. If someone desires even greater health improvements after that, they can either spend some extra time and effort to soak and ferment their grains, or they can just stop eating them as a main food.

    On another note, have you read the Perfect Health Diet? I’ve found that this is the best nutrition book I have read in a long time, even better than the primal blueprint and the paleo solution which are both excellent. Highly recommended if you haven’t got to check it out yet.

    Best,

    Tyler

  2. Correction: I meant to say ‘soak and ferment legumes’, not ‘grains’ in the second to last paragraph.

  3. Tyler — I haven’t read the Perfect Health Diet — thanks for your comment and the recommendation.

  4. great article, very comprehensive thank you for posting.

  5. another great book to read is “Lights Out: Sleep Sugar and Survival”
    you may have already read it.

  6. Gonzalo Fernandez

    Excellent article. I’ve been paleo-dieting for 3 months, and doing Frank Suarez’ 3×1 diet before that. I’m so glad I got rid of legumes and flour finally. My personal version of the paleo-diet includes whey protein twice a day. Great results. I’ve been gaining muscular mass while maintaining my 21.5 BMI and slowly but steadily lowering my body fat, right now at 9.4%. Yes I also exercise, HIIT (tabata) on weekdays and running (6 miles or a bit less) twice on weekends.

    I got here while looking for evidence for my hypothesis that raw oats is not as bad as the rest of the grains. Didn’t find that evidence but really enjoyed this readings. You really made me laugh loud with your exciting causes of death examples.

    What do you think of raw oats? Not that they taste great and I am dying to chew them for hours, it’s just that I am very used to have a nuts mix with dry raw oats snack everyday and I have the feeling that this dose of oats is doing something good in my overall well-being. What do you think?

  7. Gonzalo — glad you enjoyed the post. Oats contain phytic acid, but probably not enough to worry about if you’re not eating other grains and beans. Any particular reason you’re eating them raw?

    Soaking oats before cooking may or may not remove phytic acid — the idea is to activate the phytase enzyme in the grain that would break down the phytic acid, but oats are low in phytase. There may not be a big phytic acid difference between raw and soaked/cooked oats.

    I’ve also read that the gluten in oats is less problematic (for those with celiac, IBS, or anyone gluten-sensitive) than gluten in wheat, barley, and rye.

    Sounds like whatever you’re doing is working for you. If it ain’t broke …

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  9. Hi,

    Thank you for your informative and largely balanced article, it is insightful and has made me consider some facts about my student diet where most of my protein currently comes from lentils, eggs, humus/gram flour and yoghurt and my main vegetables are carrots and tomatoes – and I thought I was pretty healthy.

    Recently, while looking for a method to speed cook brown rice, I came across a blog post with a delightfully scientific approach to measuring methods for reducing phytic acid in this grain, showing that the fermentation method employed by many ancient cultures was the only one that could reduce the largest amount and be done quickly using reserved water; this introduced me to phytic acid although, between that site saying it was okay if grain weren’t intended as a nutrient source and wikapedia citing that the collating effect might help prevent colon cancer, I’m still not sure too sure what to make of it and was just taking it as a factor for consideration in the old ‘moderation in all’ axiom. The brain fact is quite shocking, I assume their is previous correlation between deficiency in that vitamin and brain loss (as oppose to poor growth) for that conclusion to be drawn.

    Lately I have been trying to investigate real health issues more, since when I read about phytic acid it was also mentioned that the other reason grain were poor sources of nutrients was their soluble fibre content, something that was so disparate to what I had thought conventional wisdom. However as Douglas Adams said ‘space is big, really big, mindbogglingly …. believe how big it is’ and I’m afraid unfortunately that cyber space takes that as a challenge it’s striving to meet (even if 90% of it’s bmi is automatically generated adverts for genital enhancements). It is once of my grudgingly admitted flaw that I am perhaps a little too impressed at times by science and this may lead me to be a little less critical of anything that wears it’s guise, when of course I know that the truth of science is that nothing is every clear-cut and nothing outside of mathematics can ever be proven. Because of this on my small search for dietary enlightenment I have mostly eschewed dietary plans that might be fad and tried to focus on the cause and effect of certain nutritional properties and finding places where it is backed empirical studies. The difficulty of this might have left me a little jaded to complete diet plans as a whole and although I originally didn’t explore primal dieting because of cost concerns and the notion that meat is mainly best at getting a lot of nutrition in one go and my view of the discipline was not improve by one particular primal style blog I will resist the urge to rant about, I may consider looking into it again now.

    In response to above posts:

    Incidentally in relation to Tyler S’s correction, what are your views on quick fermentic other grains or making doughs from fermented batters.

    In regards to Gonzalo Fernandez’s question I too will offer what knowledge I do have.
    It is correct to say that the gluten in oats is tolerable for somepeople with an allergy to gluten, although most is not suitable for celiacs due to milling cross contamination.
    Oats have the heightest protein content (of the same types as legumes) of any major ceral grains (12%-24%), which may be helping your muscular mass, it is also thought that the bran may help reduce the risk of heat disease due to one type of soluble fibre, beta-glucans.

    It is unlikely that soaking oats will remove more than a small percentage of phytic acid, although I make this statement generalising from the article I mention before.

    I would agree, although I’m probably not qualified to, that if you’ve already made commitments to a health lifestyle then you could be doing much worse than having a dose of oats; I will however say that although before I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant (I’m a cereal racist) I did enjoy the texture of dry oats and cereal, the consensus however seems to be that this is bad for your digestion as the oats will absorb the liquid in your stomach, which I guess does make sense.

  10. As an ex slow carber and current paleo eater I have linked to this article more times than I can count. Just wanted to say thank you. And personally I never really liked beans and not eating them was easier than eating them.

    One comment, you didn’t compare them to roots and tuber like yams and sweet potatoes, which is what Robb always suggests people use as a carb source. Personally I find these a good substitute for beans.

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  13. abundantadam

    Great Information Above – Thank You for the in-depth overview. Many years ago I did the Paleo diet before it was known as the paleo diet…currently I am experimenting with the “slow carb diet” and 6 weeks in I have seen great results and an increase in energy. The legumes portion to me seems to need some balancing. I am wondering if I would like to keep some legumes in my diet and choose the BEST ones to keep on a moderate basis instead of eating them like the diet recommends, what would be my best choice by exclusion of the findings above??

    It seems as if I could for covenience go with the Eden Organics BPA free canned beans ( if so – are Pinto and Black Beans the best??) Also since these beans are already soaking in water and sea salt in the canned state for an extended (more than 24 hours) amount of time, are the anti-nutrients (phytic acid and lectins) soaked out and thus more bio-availability and digestibility for these beans without having to soak them overnight???

    I don’t mind soaking and letting set overnight, but I am looking for the most appropriate and convenient method if I want to keep some legumes in my diet at least for the time being.

  14. I don’t think there’s any benefit to soaking canned beans — like you say they’ve already been soaking — but probably best to discard the water/bean juice they’ve been soaking in.

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  16. I’ve been looking and looking – and can’t seem to find an answer. This may not be the best place to ask (although I’m glad I found it because it was very interesting) but I’m wondering about lectin quantities in different beans. All I’ve found is that red kidney beans are extra high in lectins. The reason I ask is that (I own a restaurant) we make falafel the traditional way, by soaking garbanzo beans overnight, then grinding them and adding seasonings and then frying the resulting patty. We have recently started doing this same method with black beans, and had considered other varieties, but I really do not want to poison anyone, myself included. I always try everything but I tend to have a fairly strong constitution and am generally unaffected by most food issues.

    Thanks for any information!

  17. Hey Chris — I don’t have a definitive answer to your question, but both soaking and high heat (frying) should get rid of some of the bean lectins. Have you tried your new recipe on a small sample size to see if anyone experiences any adverse effects?

    Different lectins have varying degrees of toxicity, so it’s not just a matter of amount. This article below suggests that black bean lectin, while not being incredibly toxic, may interfere with glucose absorption.

    http://www.ansci.cornell.edu/plants/toxicagents/lectins.html

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  23. What are your thoughts & opinions on “Wheat Belly” by William Davis MD and “Thrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health” by Brendan Brazier?

  24. Coffee beans I can’t do without. I don’t miss all the others, although I admit I might sound a little like a zelot when people ask me how I eat and explain that in addition to wheat I don’t eat legumes and, yes, that includes peas, and yes, peanuts are also on the list. As you said, there are so many other excellent choices, saying no to something that takes me a step away from my goals has no negative consequence.

    I have read and digested ;=) “Wheat Belly.” Basically, if you have made the decision to quit wheat, it won’t change what you do. It was nice to have some background on ancestral wheat (einkorn ) and how it compares to its modern day frankenstein counterpart. There are more than a few patient anecdotes, which some people have criticized, but the way I figure it, I am my own anecdote and I have found out through experimentation what works for me, so I am not so quick to dismiss their relevance. Dr. Davis is really taking a stand against wheat alone, which is probably the best place for someone to start as they wade into the concepts of healthful eating. It is a baby step in the right direction. I did find his data presentation compelling, but somewhat repetitive. He is pro bean, pro dairy, pro anything but wheat. He also doesn’t discriminate between grass fed meat and concentrated animal farming products, which I think was an oversight.

    In my opinion, following the advice in Wheat Belly alone would be like joining a Gold’s gym and only working out on the Nautilus machines. If you are looking to make some personal nutrition and fitness changes, get in like you mean it, read the Primal Blueprint and the Paleo Diet Solution, and get ready to feel fantastic.

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  27. I had big relief from inflammation and fatigue when I went gluten free a year ago.
    Then I added beans and lentils to get more fiber and bulk since I was no longer eating wheat products.
    Then the inflammation returned.
    I was convinced it was caused by gluten in the sauce of the canned beans but the company denied it.
    From trial and error food diary: it’s the beans and lentils that were causing inflammation.
    My opinion: don’t eat them.

  28. The glucose from whole wheat bread sure made my belly bigger.

  29. I just came from a great session with a trainer at the gym, he blew my mind by telling me beans were keeping me fat! I am glad to know some of the science behind it. I am getting into a fitness regime and want to lose about 30 pounds. More importantly, I want to learn how to stay healthy and age well. I just turned 49 and want to do what I can to avoid arthritis.
    First job; lose the weight. But what is a healthful way to eat forever? I understand that sugar is bad for your joints and wheat is just bad for you too. I wonder, if I am going to incorporate more meat protein into my diet according to my friend’s advice, would it be healthy to keep a few bean meals a week because of the heart benefits?

  30. I’ve been doing a lot of research on this Paleo lifestyle and anti-grain campaign, as I’ve always been interested in health. And I have to take issue with it.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Paleo on consuming plenty of vegetables, seeds, nuts, and avoiding processed foods. But I strongly believe that many humans should not get the bulk of their protein from meat. Our physical make-up (our intestines, our saliva, our teeth, our nails) are most similar to those of herbivores with opportunist carnivorous tenancies. We have very adaptable bodies, like this blog points out, and our bodies are made so that we can eat meat to survive, if we need to, just as the chimpanzee, which shares a high percentage of human DNA, does.

    I am a pro-bean person, and I’ll admit I have legumes about once a day (such as lentils, humus, beans, chick peas, or soy). I’m also a vegetarian, and so I eat these in combination with seeds, grains, or eggs to form a complete protein. Although the paleo diet may work for some people, I do not believe it’s the lifestyle for me. I’ve been a vegetarian and eating beans for over 8 years (in moderate combination with whole grains) and I never experience any digestion or inflammation problems. Perhaps people are built differently – perhaps my body has adapted to the diet I’ve chosen. But out of curiosity I have tried this “Paleo diet” for about a week, which was pretty much exactly how I already eat minus the meat consumption. My body felt the same – I did not feel better, there was no miracle anti-inflammation (not that I’ve ever had ANY to begin with), although I did notice one significant change. My body was SCREAMING for sweet, sweet humus, whole grain toast with peanut butter, and my so dearly beloved lentils.

    I am happiest and most energetic on my diet of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, healthy fats and moderate grains. I have a lean body with a BMI of 21, and no nutrient deficiencies. There is so much conflicting information on nutrition that it’s hard to believe what’s healthy. I’m going to have to listen to my body on this one as the deciding factor and keep doing what I’m doing.

    • Thanks for your comment Anne. I completely agree, given the many variables regarding our genetic and environmental differences, that direct empirical evidence should take precedence. If you are experiencing excellent health with a vegetarian diet, you should probably stick with it.

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  32. So there’s a whole continent of huge soy product consumers in Asia. Does that mean all of their brains are smaller. Before Japan and China adopted a “western” style of eating, their health profile was “healthier” minimum heart disease, minimum breast cancer, etc.

    • I think most traditional diets are generally balanced and healthier than most modern diets. Most traditional Asian diets are high in vegetables and thus high in folate, which would to some extent counterbalance the phytic acid in soy (which reduces folate absorption).

      Many sources of soy in the U.S. diet are from modern/manufactured/processed foods (soy hot dogs, soy milk) … much different than small cubes of tofu in miso soup (traditional diet).

  33. This was a very interesting read except when you mention (and even link to) Denise Minger’s horrible analysis of the China Study. Try to stop propagating this rubbish. I lost most of my interest in what you had to stay after this.

    Here is a link to Dr. Campbells’ thorough rebukement of Denise Minger and her attempt at proving more than 50 scientists peer-review publications incorrect with her English major degree and a little bit of univariate causality linkage: http://www.vegsource.com/news/2010/07/china-study-author-colin-campbell-slaps-down-critic-denise-minger.html

    • Thanks for your comment Tim. Minger isn’t the only one to question if the data from the China study actually supports Campbell’s general conclusions (eating plant=healthful, eating animals = not healthful). Here’s a post from the authors of The Perfect Health Diet that draws some interesting conclusions:

      http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?p=166

      And here’s Minger’s own rebuttal to Campbell’s rebuttal:

      http://rawfoodsos.com/2011/07/31/one-year-later-the-china-study-revisited-and-re-bashed/

      Minger’s post above includes a number of peer reviewed studies that draw much different conclusions from The China Study data (some co-authored by Campbell himself). Minger’s analysis may be flawed, but so is Campbell’s general conclusion that The China Study provides strong support that meat-eating is correlated with disease.

  34. Are beans good sources of vitamin K? According to this site: http://products.mercola.com/vitamin-k/ vitamin K is said to be a “forgotten vitamin.” But why is this so?

  35. Thanks, I really enjoyed this read. I loved the common sense non-fanatical way you have laid it out. The best bit is that you seem to have a sensible and slightly flexible view of diet. I like the paleo way but I simply class my diet as being what I can hunt, kill, find, steal or pick plus occasional others that grab my attention… beans now and then, ice cream a couple of times a year, that croissant I had in August, the beer last week with a buddy. Paleo life of diet and exercise as the backbone has led to me being in the best condition of my life at 43 and I love it.

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  37. Thanks for the very informative article and comments! Nothing here was mentioned regarding the pros/cons of sprouted beans, more specifically the lentil/adzuki/mung trio. Do you have any insight into the chemical alteration of sprouting the legumes? Thanks!

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  39. Thank you. A helpful analysis of the very question I was asking.

  40. The brain getting smaller research seems inconclusive to me and a bit suspicious. One study cannot really prove anything plus we don’t know what their full diet was. Many Asian countries have been eating soy for years and it isn’t fair to say they have smaller brains. Isn’t Alzheimer’s disease not that common in Asian countries when you compare to western countries?

    Also, eating beans makes me feel sharper and it feels like they are good for my brain.

  41. Wow, this post really turned on a light bulb for me. My 3 year old has been struggling with eczema since she was 7 months. We were told to cut out dairy and gluten and her eczema improved. But then a year later, the eczema came back. This time, many other foods had to be cut out but her eczema still would not go away completely. In the meantime, she started being sensitive to foods like stone fruit, apples, lentils, peas, pork, eggs, and many other things. But I could never figure out why she would vomit for hours after eating 1/2 a spoon of lentils or a few peas. Now I figured it out! It was those darn lectins. She was finally diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome 6 months ago and the lectins were wrecking her gut.Her eczema is finally under control and is 95% gone now. Thanks for the great article. All of your posts are well written.

  42. “We’re more like rats than we are like panda bears (who eat only bamboo), koala bears (who pretty much just eat eucalyptus), or lions (who just eat meat). You are brilliant. I’m brand new to blog reading, and once I figure out how, I will surely follow your wide variety of posts.

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