Are Legumes Paleo and Why it Might Not Matter | Chris Kresser

Are Legumes “Paleo”? And Does It Really Matter?

by Chris Kresser

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I recently went on the Dr. Oz show to discuss my book, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback as The Paleo Cure in December 2014). (If you missed it, you can watch the clips here.)

Dr. Oz did a segment on Paleo last year with Nell Stephenson and Dr. Loren Cordain, and it got great ratings. However, the feedback the show received from their viewers was that “The Paleo Diet” as presented by Nell and Dr. Cordain was too restrictive. The producers invited me on because I consider Paleo to be more of a template than a rigid prescription, and my approach doesn’t prohibit foods that aren’t typically considered to be “Paleo”—such as full-fat dairy, white potatoes, dark chocolate, and legumes.

Some people—particularly those not previously familiar with my work—were surprised to hear me tell Dr. Oz that I think eating a few servings of legumes a week is fine as long you tolerate them well. This directly contradicts Paleo dogma on legumes, which holds that we should strictly avoid them because 1) they aren’t part of our ancestral diet, and 2) they contain toxic anti-nutrients like lectin and phytic acid.

But are these arguments supported by the evidence? Let’s find out.

Legumes: More #Paleo than you might think!

Back in November of 2013, Dr. Stephan Guyenet posted an article outlining the evolutionary history of legume consumption. He demonstrates that, contrary to popular belief, legumes were part of our ancestral diet. Recent analysis of Neanderthal tooth plaque revealed that they consumed wild varieties of peas and fava beans. (1) Since early humans are thought to have eaten a more diverse diet than Neanderthals, it is safe to assume that our human ancestors also ate legumes.

Dr. Guyenet also points to several contemporary hunter-gatherer groups that consumed significant amounts of legumes, including the !Kung San of the Kalahari desert (who relied heavily on a legume called the tsin bean) and the Australian Aborigines (who extensively harvested the seeds and gum of Acacia trees, another legume).

This research suggests that legumes are, in fact, “Paleo”. But even if Paleolithic people didn’t eat legumes, is that reason enough to avoid them? If it is, then shouldn’t we also strictly avoid dark chocolate, coffee, green tea, and alcohol? What about the glut of breads, muffins, packaged snacks, desserts, and even candy (no, I’m not kidding) claiming to be “Paleo” that have recently become so popular? It should be obvious that our ancestors were not baking with nut flour, chowing down on truffles or drinking “Paleo” cocktails. Yet even the most die-hard, self-identified Paleo purists typically consume at least some of these foods and beverages, and don’t seem to see a contradiction in that. Why should legumes be any different?

As I’ve argued before, Paleo is best viewed as a template or a starting place,—not an inflexible, unchanging system based on (sometimes mistaken) beliefs about what our ancestors ate. Mark Sisson said something very similar in a recent blog post:

The anthropological record is a framework for further examination of nutritional science; it does not prescribe a diet.

A more important question to ask than whether a food is “Paleo” is how it impacts human health. Fortunately, in the case of legumes, we have a lot of modern research that can help us to answer that question.

Should we avoid legumes because of the anti-nutrients they contain?

Paleo dogma on legumes holds that we should avoid them because they contain toxic anti-nutrients called lectins and phytic acid (aka phytate). Let’s take a look at each of these compounds in legumes and see if this argument holds up.


Lectins are a type of protein that can bind to cell membranes. Studies have shown that lectins can impair growth, damage the lining of the small intestine, destroy skeletal muscle, and interfere with the function of the pancreas. Sounds serious, right?

Not so fast. There are several reasons that these results cannot be extrapolated to humans. First, the animals consumed very large amounts of lectins—much larger than a human would get from a varied diet which includes legumes. Second, the lectins were from raw legumes. Why is this significant? Because humans eat primarily cooked legumes, and cooking neutralizes the lectins found in most legumes.

In fact, cooking legumes for as little as 15 minutes or pressure-cooking them for 7.5 minutes almost completely inactivates the lectins they contain, leaving no residual lectin activity in properly cooked legumes. (2)

What’s more, other components in food (e.g. simple sugars) can bind to lectins and diminish their toxic effect. So even if there is a small amount of lectin left after cooking, it’s unlikely that it will have a detrimental effect given the presence of simple carbohydrates in legumes that can bind to the proteins. (3)

Finally, if lectins really are a problem then we’ll have to cut out a lot more than legumes from our diet in order to avoid them. It turns out that lectins are present in at least 53 fruits, vegetables, spices and other commonly eaten plants, including carrots, zucchini, melon, grapes, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, garlic and mushrooms—to name a few. (4)

This is not an invitation to stop eating these foods! It’s simply a reminder that almost every plant we eat contains small amounts of toxins, since this is how plants defend themselves. In the majority of cases these low levels of toxins don’t harm us, and in fact, they may even provide health benefits. For example, many of the compounds we call “antioxidants”—like polyphenols found in blueberries, dark chocolate, etc.—are actually “pro-oxidants” that cause mild oxidative stress and thus upregulate our body’s natural defense systems. (5)

To my knowledge there’s only one study demonstrating humans being harmed by consuming legumes. This is the study often used by Paleo advocates to “prove” that legumes are dangerous. However, what is often neglected is that this study described a case of food poisoning that occurred in hospital patients who ate legumes that hadn’t been cooked properly. (6) Suggesting that we shouldn’t eat cooked legumes because raw legumes cause disease is like saying that we shouldn’t eat cooked chicken because we can get Salmonella from eating raw chicken.

The one lectin we may want to exercise caution with is peanut lectin, since both raw peanuts and peanut oil have relatively high lectin content. Some data in animals suggest that peanut lectin may contribute to atherosclerosis by stimulating the growth of smooth muscle and pulmonary arterial cells. (7) However, other research (including clinical trials) in both animals and humans have found that peanuts and even peanut oil reduce cardiovascular risk factors and thus may protect against heart disease. (8, 9) In light of this conflicting data, and because of other risks associated with peanut consumption such as exposure to aflatoxin, I recommend either minimizing your intake of peanuts or avoiding them entirely.

Phytic acid (aka phytate)

Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus found in many plants, especially in the bran or hull of grains and in nuts and seeds. Although herbivores like cows and sheep can digest phytic acid, humans can’t. This is bad news because phytic acid binds to minerals (especially iron and zinc) in food and prevents us from absorbing them. (It’s important to note that phytic acid does not leach minerals that are already stored in the body; it only inhibits the absorption of minerals from food in which phytic acid is present.)

Phytic acid interferes with enzymes we need to digest our food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch. Phytic acid also inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.

Sounds pretty bad, right? While it is true that diets high in phytic acid contribute to mineral deficiencies, it’s also true that humans can tolerate moderate amounts of it without harm (perhaps because our gut bacteria produce enzymes that break down phytate and extract the nutrients the body needs). In fact, there’s even evidence that phytic acid may have some beneficial effects. It prevents the formation of free radicals (making it an antioxidant), prevents the accumulation of heavy metals in the body, and plays a role in cellular communication.

The problem with telling people to avoid legumes because they contain phytic acid is that many other foods in the diet—including “Paleo-friendly” foods—contain substantially higher amounts of phytic acid than legumes. For example, a serving of trail mix, that beloved Paleo favorite, is likely to be much higher in phytic acid than a serving of lentils. Cacao beans (chocolate) have about the same amount of phytic acid as most beans. And spinach and swiss chard are higher in phytic acid than almost any legume, nut or seed!

Phytic acid in common foods (10, 11, 12)

·Food·                              · Phytic acid (mg/100 grams)·
Lentils 270–1,500
Legumes (average) 500–2,900
Almonds 350–9,420
Walnuts 200–6,700
Pecans 180–4,520
Sesame seeds 140–5,360
Dark chocolate 1,680–1,790
Swiss chard 3,530
Spinach 3,670


I know some of you will be tempted to stop eating spinach and Swiss chard after seeing this chart. That’s not the point! Remember, the dose makes the poison. High levels of phytic acid are harmful, but moderate amounts within the context of a diet that is nutrient-dense overall are not. Moreover, phytic acid only binds to certain minerals and prevents their absorption. There are many other nutrients in spinach, Swiss chard, and all other foods containing phytic acid that will still be absorbed when you eat them.

It’s also important to note that phytic acid can often be at least partly broken down by certain food processing methods, such as soaking and roasting. I wrote an article a while back called “Another Reason Not To Go Nuts on Nuts” suggesting that you soak and then dehydrate or roast nuts before eating them for exactly this reason. In the case of legumes, studies have shown that soaking at room temperature for 18 hours or at 140 F for 3 hours eliminates between 30–70 percent of phytic acid—depending on the legume. (13)

The takeaway is this: phytic acid in legumes is not a cause for concern as long as you’re eating them in moderation and they aren’t displacing more nutrient-dense foods from your diet. This is especially true if you are soaking legumes prior to consuming them.

Are there any reasons we might want to limit legumes in our diet?

If you’ve read this far, you might think I’m a big advocate of legumes. That’s not the case. While they do contain beneficial nutrients and fiber (which feeds the gut flora), they are not as nutrient-dense as other Paleo foods—like organ meats, meats, fish, shellfish, eggs and vegetables—and, as I mentioned above, some of the nutrients they contain are not bioavailable due to phytic acid. (14) Because maximizing nutrient-density is one of the most important things we can do to improve our health, I think it makes sense to limit consumption of legumes to a few times a week, and to prepare them properly (i.e. soak for 18 hours and cook thoroughly) when you do eat them.

Another reason some people may need to avoid legumes is that they contain FODMAPs, which are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed by some people and can cause gas, bloating, and other digestive symptoms.

You probably remember this song from when you were a kid:

“Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot…”

FODMAPs are probably the main reason beans have this effect on some people. But not everyone is sensitive to FODMAPs, so this isn’t a reason to avoid legumes across the board. That’s like saying that everyone should avoid shellfish because some people are allergic to them.

Final thoughts and a caution about Paleo dogma

Legumes are not necessary for human health. They contain no nutrients that we can’t get from other foods—often with less trouble (i.e. no need to go through extensive preparation methods to make the nutrients more bioavailable).

That said, if you enjoy them, tolerate them well, and are willing to prepare them properly, there is no credible evidence showing that they will harm you when eaten in moderation in the context of a nutrient-dense diet—regardless of whether they are “Paleo”. The same can be said for many other “grey area” foods that are popular in the Paleo community, such as dark chocolate, alcohol, nut flour, and full-fat dairy (like butter and ghee).

I’ve recently been criticized on social media by some defenders of “The Paleo Diet” for my comments about legumes on the Dr. Oz segment. They insist that legumes are “not Paleo” and that they cause harm. When I ask them for proof of these claims, they almost exclusively point to Dr. Loren Cordain’s work. Dr. Cordain wrote the first mass market book on Paleo nutrition and has published many scientific papers on the subject, most of which I have read. I have great respect for his contribution.

But the idea that a single authority is uniquely capable of interpreting the research on a topic as diverse as Paleolithic nutrition, and that their opinion is infallible and unassailable, is dogma—not science. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines dogma as “a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.” Google dictionary defines it as “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.”

I feel strongly that we need to guard against this, both for our own benefit and if we want Paleo to be taken seriously in the scientific community and mainstream medical establishment. We should always be ready to question even our most cherished beliefs, and prepared to change our minds in the face of new evidence. And it’s imperative that we apply the same standards of critical thinking to Paleo arguments that we do to conventional arguments.

I’m by no means perfect in this regard. I’ve had blinders on in the past about certain issues (my stance on fructose and naturally-occurring omega-6 fats in foods like avocados come to mind), I’m sure I have blind spots now, and I won’t be immune to them in the future. Unfortunately, the tendency to succumb to groupthink seems to be a hardwired part of human nature. As clinicians, researchers, and scientists, all we can do is strive to be more rigorous and consistent in our thinking, and support each other in that process.


Join the conversation

  1. I’ve basically made legumes (mostly chickpeas) with perhaps some other veggies my staple side dish. Not only because I’m avoiding grains, I also find them just a lot more convenient when canned. Also they are filling and add some substance to meals.

    I seem to tolerate them fine. They only seem to become a problem for me when I eat them as a main dish. I had several bowls of lentil soup for dinner a few days ago and pretty bad flatulences subsequently…
    Is this an indicator that I might not tolerate them as good as I thought and should reduce intake?

    What kind of alternatives would you suggest as a staple side food?

  2. I’m new to the paleo diet & get a little confused about what’s in or out. Chris’s article is well written and makes a lot of sense. I’m definitely in with paleo & will continue to learn from articles like these.

  3. Would it be fair to say Aboriginies used Acacia seeds and gum for there Pschoactive properties rather than as a good source?

  4. But what about legumes causing the leaky gut syndrome? It’s the main reason why I was avoiding them and now I don’t know what to think anymore.

    • Properly prepared legumes eaten in moderation would not cause leaky gut on their own (unless you have some unique reaction to them). However legumes could definitely exacerbate preexisting gut issues in some people. That would fall under Chris’ discussion of fodmaps in this article. If you get a lot of gas from legumes, you might want to lay off them for a while (and probably other fodmap foods) and address your gut issues.

    • Hi Coco
      I agree with Robin, if you have leaky gut lay off legumes all other gut irritants and concentrate on fixing it in 6 weeks with an intensive programme of bone broth, other collagens, aloe vera, slippery elm, a nutrient dense diet and appropriately targeted supplements.
      Then you’ll be ok to re-introduce xx

      • Mark below offers this advice… ie to follow a gut healing protocol before re-introductions:

        Chris answered this question two days ago.

        “From the beginning I’ve advocated an approach similar to WAPf; however, I do think most people benefit from doing a 30-day Reset (Step 1 in my book) without any grains, legumes or dairy to see if they feel better without them.”

      • Go vegan and save the innocent cows pigs and chickens from humans taste buds!! They’re not here for you to murder them and eat them Shame on you humans!

        • Don’t go vegan and save the innocent plants from human taste buds!! They’re not here for you to murder them and eat them, shame on you vegans!

          Plants are herbivore food, we humans are omnivores, we are meant to eat both vegetation and meat! You claim that we are not meant to eat animals,
          where is the proof? There isn’t any, this is just vegan propaganda!

          • Cultivation of grains caused whole civilizations to die, and one quarter of the Earth is desert from mono-crop destruction.
            Permaculture and intelligent grazing resulting in the return of numerous animals, and the diet they support, will save the planet.

          • The proof is in the first chapter in your Bible keeping in mind that the word meat when you look it up in your Strong’s Dictionary means food

  5. good article. i myself have a tendency to troll on the dogmatists of paleo, even though i am all about crossfit life…so i appreciate you elaborating on the pros and cons. i for one, simply do not understand how people do not or cannot understand that ancient man, paleolithic man, neanderthals…whatever or whoever they were… i just don’t understand why some people seem to think that those ancient people did not harvest wild unprocessed legumes and grains as part of their forager-paleolithic diets. there is hard, physical, anthropological evidence that absolutely confirms that ancient paleo man had these items in their diets. so, yah, i love to troll on the dogmatists of paleo for that reason. i love meat! i love veggies! i love grains! i love legumes! I love fruit! I love roots! lol all natural food is good. and none of it is bad…unless you have peanut allergy….

    • Hear, hear. Ayurveda, which has been around for eons, includes all kinds of grains and legumes, mostly small digestible ones, as a major part of the diet.

      It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that there’s no one size fits all diet – folks thrive on different combinations of Whole Foods

    • Hear, hear. Ayurveda, which has been around for eons, includes all kinds of grains and legumes, mostly small digestible ones, as a major part of the diet.

      It’s becoming clearer and clearer to me that there’s no one size fits all diet – folks thrive on different combinations of Whole Foods

    • That’s why I now consider myself WAPF instead of Paleo. Weston Price seems to embrace all natural unprocessed foods, but with a strong focus on traditional preparation (fermenting of grains, soaking beans, etc). I’ve been making my own wild sourdough rye bread for a couple years now. I soak my beans for often 3 days. I eat quality cheese and kefir almost daily. Bringing back these non-Paleo foods into my diet has had zero negative impact on my health that I’m aware of and has made life more enjoyable. A lot of people like variety in food. There’s only so many meat and vegetable meals I can eat in a row, before I start to feel a bit depressed. I think the biggest problem now days is that people don’t put care into their eating. It is of utmost importance to get quality food and to prepare it with great care, as our ancestors did. In order to do that, we need to stop prioritizing all the other things that rob us of time. Like facebook, tv, and excessive commenting on blog articles 😉

    • Mono-crop grains have reduced one quarter of the Earth to desert. It’s a form of mining. Permaculture practices use intelligent practices to restore grasslands and forests. The term “Food Forest” describes sustainable forest gardening. Intelegent rotational grazing describes sustainable grassland practices. We can shrink those growing deserts.
      Eating sustainable food is all about Paleo.

  6. I am happy to read your article atleast things been clear here. I’m a fan of the health benefits of legumes so I got worried with some articles I’ve read about the negative effects they may bring. Though I’m not saying all those negatives should be discounted but I’m grateful you explained how they came up with it. I thought that it can’t be proven all true to humans since we do not eat raw beans and as much. I’m a new fan of bentilia pasta which is technically beans in pasta form that my kids love so much so imagine my concern whenever I read biased article. Thanks again. Bless you!

  7. Chris,
    I find this a very valuable post, but it still leads me to wonder whether, as a lacto-ovo vegetarian, my diet is nutritionally complete and sound. I rely a great deal on lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, quinoa, buckwheat, basmati rice and nut milks. Due to efforts to maintain a more alkaline diet, I’m careful about intake of dairy products and eggs. Basically, I follow a more Ayurvedic style of eating, and I’d love to hear your take on Ayurveda since I don’t hear much discussion about it when compared to the Paleo, Mediterranean, and Bulletproof diets . Thanks.

  8. I have to say, as a postgrad in Nutrition Science this has to be the best critically reviewed and scientifically sound piece on the whole ‘Paleo-legume’ scenario. Thank you, because I for one could not understand why such skewed allegations are being made towards beans, legumes, and whole grains.

    • I have been one of those who felt upset from this, I have my bias as everyone else, but I want to ger rid of them as much as possible. I honestly had some reservation about Chris’ work but the more I read from him the more I understand that he really wants to remain unbiased as much as possible. I don’t want to follow religions and I’m starting to agree with what Chris and Lalonde pointed out a while back. At the end, their perspective is not far from what the pioneer Cordain discovered through his amazing research. They just want to make things clear and the template much less prone to criticism. Nevertheless, This for me shouldn’t be for the sake of scientists, but for the sake of truth instead of being right. If we go around blaming phytic acid and then advise nuts we lose credibility. There should be a coherence that can hardly be attacked. It is the dose that makes the poison, what people hardly understand is that if one says “moderate amount” it doesn’t mean “make it 70% of your diet”. The 80-90% of your diet should be focused on nutrient dense toxin free food and this is the strenght of the template. The problem with grains are prolamines that are resistant to temperature and any other treatment. Aside from CD and NCGS, gliadin triggers leaky gut in EVERYONE, and as found in the latest study by Fasano e co. The difference is in the time of permeability and production of IL-10. But they found that the more you are regularly exposed to gluten, the more your gut is leaky. This suggests that even if gliadin itself doesn’t stimulate your autoimmune reaction, the issue may be due to LPS and other bad stuff entering into your bloodstream after the zonuline release triggered by gliadin exposure. Thus, since gluten containing grains are not necessary and may be a bad idea for everyone if consumed regularly, they should be a very tiny percentage of diet for most and strictly avoided by CD and NCGS.

      • Some people will do anything to make money, note the lack of science on people trying to push meat, dairy and eggs or the people supporting ideas that have been proven false throughout history….one such example is crying wolf about grains.
        You have any idea how many cultures past and present have done very well primarily on grains?
        You have no scientific basis for telling someone to avoid grains.

        • And tell me, what is the science that tells that grains are healthy? Where are the studies? Do you have an evolutionary framework, anatomical evidence, RCT, animal studies, in vitro studies? Or just epidemiological observation that is only good to make questions but terrible to give answers. The paleo diet has evolutionary biological plausibility, ethnographic observation, RCT, animal and in vitro studies…alone all of these pieces are nothing, but together make a case for this template and surely a case against wheat and refined stuff. Rice and some other grains are much less problematic, but they will never be an alternative to nutrient dense toxin free foods, the food that allowed us to become humans. Thanks to grains our brain shrank a lot in the last 10kyears. They are a nutrient cemetery full of nasty compounds

          • Here is just one (the latest) reason to avoid them
            Put it together with the nutrient density table by Dr.Lalonde, bind it with the fact that they are destroying the planet,and give me a reason to eat them

              • First of all observation is not causation, if you only use observational studies you don’t prove anything…second, Check for the bogus claims about the mentioned diet..elder healthy Okinawas ate primarly yams, not grains…and no wheat! And for Sardinians I know very well, I’m an italian researcher..Don’t spread ignorance anymore please

                • Wait the alternative one hundred to five hundred years till nutritional science proves every element of your diet or observe that there have been very large populations that have lived almost disease free by following a particular diet.
                  It is your choice, I made mine!

                • You claim you are this or that but do not know how to read. I lived in Okinawa for four years in the late 1960s and know first hand how the elderly and the younger generations eat.
                  It is true that during WWII and some years after that the Okinawans primarily consumed Japanese yams. However, in the 1950s much more rice was added to their daily diets.
                  The significant increase in Western diseases did not happen till more Western foods like meat and processed foods became popular in the 1970s. Although the Japanese were not as long-living, one can see the increase in diseases like CHD and prostate cancer as meat becomes more significant in the diet as the years go by.
                  I have no idea why we are even discussing this. You seem to want proof that is lacking in the world at this time so just do your way and we need not discuss why I do what I do.

              • Indeed there’s no need to argue with religions. You vegans go on with biased observations. Of course rice is one of the least problematic grains, and traditional cultures know how to prepare grains to mitigate their toxic effect. Of course if you observe in a short period of time the increase of rice you can’t see people falling apart died along the street and of course processed stuff from refined dwarf wheat and seeds oils are far worse than well prepared whole grains. But again the vegan mantra is going on without any reliable data to support their theory that is merely a religion. Everyone is biased, me myself as well, but at least I have much more than pale observation. You should know the ice cream and shark attack only have the same degree of correlation, but as you pointed out, arguing about religion is only a waste of time

        • Yes, Romans, Myans, native Indian cultures… and lately Californians. All dead or dieing due to their mining if the soil for grain monoculture.

          • Oh puhleeeeze shut up. This planet has been around for millions of years. It has an uncanny ability to fix itself, which means it will destroy US before you destroy it. So I think I’ll go eat some steak with a side of beans, some bread, and maybe a fat slice of cheesecake for dessert. Life is way too short to give a damn about living forever, and you people are way too serious. In ALL things, moderation.

      • I appreciate your research and you have an intelligent argument but you’re forgetting one thing we’ve been eating grains daily for the last four thousand years why don’t we all have leaky gut if these things are true

  9. @AnnieLaurie Burke
    >…there’s little truly Paleo meat left. And some
    > of the animals that Paleo man ate are now extinct.

    The NZ maori, in only 500 years with less than 100,000 people, managed to successfully extinct all the large land animals, and reduce the remainder to very low levels.

    Any version of the paleo pyramid that has meat at it’s base, thus, just makes no sense to me from a sustainability perspective.

    The primate diet is generally considered to primarily consist of green leafy vegetable and fruit, with a small amount of seeds, and occasional meat. (See the russian woman of green smoothie fame). Her research showed that green leafy plant matter has both ample protein content and a good ratio of branch chain amino acids.

    I also agree with the author (and W. Price) (but not the WP foundation, who turned against WP on the subject.. bizzare) that excess caution about phytates is unwarranted). Everything we eat contains toxins. Especially raw green leafy vegetables. 😉

    • Humans created deserts for centuries. Bad practice that destroys and mines the soil. Destructive herd culture is also mining. Permaculture… is not.
      We should eat that which we sustainably create. Food forests, and intelegent rotational grazing will feed us, along with all the other sustainable practices. Just not chemical based agricultural mining… or for that matter ANY cultures mining of sustainability babel systems… no matter how old they are.

  10. Thank you so much for an excellent, well-researched, balanced article. I love how you aren’t dogmatic, how you research thoroughly and show different sides to various issues..few things are so black and white (besides cheetos et al.) as many experts make out. This article is exactly why I have so much regard for you and your work. Keep up the good work and it is so great of you to stay humble, even admitting to past instances of dogma. Maybe it is that exact dogma free attitude that keeps you so never think you know the absolute “truth” and keep an open mind. Thank you for providing so much important information to the public, you are doing a great service to all your readers.

  11. Hi Chris

    I’m still trying to understand the legumes and sugars point.

    I looked at the study you referred to but I couldn’t how you deduced from this that it was saying that the natural sugars and carbs in legumes are helpful here. It sounds like they added a sugar water to the beans.

    I don’t understand this whole point about sugars – but would really like it if you could explain it in a bit more detail.

  12. This is why I LOVE Chris! He isn’t biased, does his research and uses anecdotal evidence! I am a fan of Paleo and have followed for 5 years but I have had an aggressive Hpylori & SIBO infection and my digestive system has been a mess. I stringently cut out legmumes. However it is my belief now both based on new research about the microbiome and my own repeated experience legumes positives far out weigh any so called negatives. The fibre and resistance starch it offers is reason enough to consume as part of a balanced Paleo template diet! It is super good for your good bacteria and the type of fibre it contains is excellent for blood sugar issues, obesity and any kind of chronic infection that affects blood sugar and are cravings. As for the fodmaps I firmly believe it is individual if not over played as someone who has major digestive issues and blood sugar insulin issues Lentils & Beans have literally turned things around alongside quality probiotics and a Paleo template whole foods diet. I suspect my digestive health has suffered due to the lack of this specific fibre whilst strictly adhering to a “traditional” Paleo diet and yes I was consuming lots of vegetables and Paleo friendly fibre. So that’s my 2 pence.

    • Yes!! Tayo, I was advised to add legumes back in by a non-paleo nutritionist, and it was like flipping a switch, the difference it made for my digestive discomfort! Her explanation is that the soluble fiber binds with bile, helping the body take out the trash, disallowing recycled horomones and other stuff in the bile (traveled from the liver) to be reabsorbed in the bloodstream. Amazing. Never knew that! And beans, for the same reason, make for a great morning sickness remedy!!

  13. 20 years ago I developed sever hay fever I was 30yrs old. After reading theories about miss informed immune systems being the cause of allergies I altered my diet. I went with the premise that yogurt was beneficial and added a cup of day to my diet.
    Otherwise I fashioned what I ate after Monkeys. I told my children I was on a monkey diet. Fast forward 17yrs and behold “paleo” or very similar.
    Within 3 yrs of my changes in eating I had no allergy symptoms, the only side effect I had was weight loss. In 8 months I had lost 100 lbs and 20 yrs later it’s still off.
    We are not born with science degrees but we all should have a good dose of common sense!!

  14. Good post and well-reasoned as usual, Chris. I have recently expanded my paleo diet to include oatmeal and beans and have felt no ill effects. Properly preparing beans really does cut down on the intestinal discomfort they can otherwise cause.

  15. I have been following Paleo diet(not diet really) for about ayear now. Have lost 20 lbs without even trying. The food is SO satisfying. I crave nothing. My favourite foods are bread and pasta. I do not crave them anymore. I am 64 yrs old. Even losing 20 lbs, my muscle mass is great. Today my 42 year old daughter told me I was too skinny( I am not skinny) BMi 27 . She said you have to eat more! I do yoga for exercise because my body, mind and spirit just fell in love with it. I’m just going along with their message to me.
    About what is good or not, after 1, year on Paleo, I do not need anyone to tell me what to eat or not… My body will tell me what I can or cannot eat within 12, 24,36 or 48 hours. Joint pain, hip pain, sluggish feeling, brain fog, full body aches and pains, stuffiness, tired early afternoon, need a nap, ..etc. My body talks to me loud and clear. These ” messages” tell you what your body can or cannot tolerate. A few times a year I will eat “old favourites” with the knowledge I will suffer for a few days. Now my body forgives me nothing. Which is motivation to keep me on track. Pizza? I’m sure I’ll have a slice in the future… If I’ m willing to suffer the consequences !!!

  16. I think it’s very disingenuous to say that you shouldn’t eat beans because they are less nutritious than liver and shellfish. It is unnecessary (and indeed would be very bad) to try to meet your entire caloric needs with liver and shellfish. Beans are dramatically more nutritious than most other starchy foods (double digit RDAs for 8 nutrients, compared with 2-3 for potatoes, plantains, etc). I just checked, and kale meets that target for only 6 nutrients. Alert: Beans More Nutritious Than Kale! All for about 130 calories! The only reason to avoid beans is if you are doing VLC (which as Chris has mentioned many times is unlikely to be a good idea long term) or have digestive complaint with them (and even then you can often handle them if you start small and gradually increase).

  17. I followed the paleo diet as outlined by the purists and got jittery like I was constantly on caffeine. I decreased my consumption of animal protein and started eating more legimes, specifically lentils, and started feeling better. I also felt better if I increased my carbohydrate intake to 40% or so; the only way I could do it without irritating my gut was through legumes and starchy vegetables, like potatoes or autumn squash.

    The other magic ingredient that worked wonders for both me and my dog was coconut oil. Since doing oil pulling, my gum disease went away and so did the perception of heart palpitations.

    Thanks, Chris for absolving legumes for those who subscribe to the wonders of a paleo diet.

    • Eileen, I had the same reaction! And also found that potatoes, beans, and squash were necessary on a daily basis. And also fell in love with coconut oil. 😉

  18. Dr. Kresser: Your ‘Final Thoughts’ hit the nail on the head! Especially the part about questioning our most cherished beliefs; something most people unfortunately find too threatening to do, although (IMHO) it is the best way to expand one’s horizons, regardless of the topic at hand.

    • The thing that makes me really disappointed is the exploiting of true studies about human nutrition to sell “paleo” supplements, “paleo” lasagna, biscuit, cakes and other ridiculous and processed stuff and recipes that have nothing to do with what our ancestors ate nor with what hunter gatherers eat today. Protein powders from egg are not paleo and never will be.. I admire dr.Cordain for his amazing work, but I’m really disappointed when I browse the websites of the more famous paleo “gurus” and on one side I see brilliant research explained and just below all the other way round: paleo snacks and otger rubbish..

    • To be honest the explanation given ob Cordain’s website still gives more than a resoneable doubt to consider eating legumes even a bit more than sporadically, please read his article.
      Considering also that they are not a special delicius food like chocolate and others, I don’t see how such miserable food should be eaten. You can find many safe paleo food much more tasty that legumes to be eaten liberally. The risk is far from being worth for me, but it’s just my opinion.

  19. With trying to eat healthier, there is so much conflicting evidence about what is and isn’t healthy. If you aren’t supposed to eat beans or seeds more than a few times a week, and you are supposed to make up the remainder of your protein with meat, what about all of the studies done that concluded that high weekly meat consumption increases your cancer risks?

    So now what? Never ending fish and seafood?

    • Paleo enthusiasts would tell you to eat A LOT more veggies. Maybe cooked in coconut oil. You can never have enough veggies!

    • Most nutritionists now recognize that the protein contained in shellfish is exactly the same as that contained in a dust mite and that is why so many people are allergic to shellfish so unless you like it and dust mites in cockroaches you might want to avoid shellfish just as a general rule

  20. Perfect ! this question plagued me for years as on Monday Dr. Oz the infamous Doc says eat beans they are ultimately beneficial, then Tuesday Paleo says no, exclude them. Last week the Diabetes Summit said we need more manganese and this and that minerals or supplements to prevent Diabetes. So I looked up high manganese source and up came lentils. One after another I entered the mineral and up came lentils on the top. What a shame we can’t consume a handful once in while rather than wash down supplements I thought. So until Paleo has better proof, I’m eating my lentils- thanks Chris Kresser for giving a clearer picture of the bean food dilemma!

  21. Back in the seventies, I was a young man with high ideals, and part of those delt with a healthy diet and lifestyle. I was the typical “granola”, and the cutting edge was macrobiotic-plenty of whole grains and legumes, meat and dairy free. It seemed to work for a while, but as I aged, and decades passed, my health began to deteriorate. The longer I clung to my diet the worse I became, and the more determined I was to stick to my guns. Soon I was a walking skeleton. In desperation, I added animal protein, and started eliminating gluten, all grains, and finally legumes. Today, I’m fine-as long as I stick to a strict diet which excludes all grains and legumes. Adding any of these back immediately results in serious repercussions. Several other former “granolas” that I know or have been affiliated with express a similar experience and would disagree that legumes are an acceptable item for human consumption..

    • I can appreciate everything you said and I’m glad that you feel better and that what you’re doing is working well for your body but after one week on a strict paleo diet my body falls apart I have the breath of a dog and the manners of a rabid dog I have zero energy I can’t sleep and my entire body hurts from eating all that stupid animal stuff ordinarily I restrict my Dairy and I eat almost no meat the only animal products in my diet on a normal basis or eggs and butter cuz I like to bake and I have never found a replacement for those two things other than that I’m largely vegan when I change from that and start consuming animals I feel lousy and it doesn’t go away so not all diets are for all people I have been told by several friends that you should eat for your blood type and in my case it’s true appositives are vegetarians and they don’t feel good with a lot of meat and animal blood type o are carnivores

  22. Thank you for your well thought out balanced approach to this subject. For me, the legume restriction in the paleo diet has always felt wrong. I feel almost as strongly about this as when the Adkins craze first came on and we were supposed to severely limit our fruit and vegetable intake to have the diet succeed. I just knew that was wrong. I look at this as a long road we have come down. Dr. Adkins discovered something that confounded nutritional understanding at the time, but didn’t see the big picture. A bunch further down the road and the paleo people have just about got it right finally, but not completely. Moderation is definitely a key to all of this, as you have pointed out. Also, we are not all built the same. People have all kinds of allergies or adverse reactions to all kinds of normally healthy foods and must adjust their individual diets accordingly.

    • Hello Zenithon. Thank you for you brilliant and fantastic observation. I suffer from chronic psoriasis and have been experimenting with every diet under the sun. Your summary is brilliant and encapsulates everything about the progression of a diets and the need for flexibility. Thank you again.

  23. What a great article, thanks. The dogmatic approach by the paleo movement to excluding ALL legumes has not made sense to me. We humans are hard-wired to want and need variety. It seems silly to me to exclude a whole, naturally occurring food group because of a theory. Thanks for your balanced viewpoint.

    • Actually, we’re not hard-wired to want and need variety. I’m not trying to be argumentative. Some Inuit studies of the early 1900s point to this – that the Inuit didn’t have much variety in foods – and didn’t desire outside food (although available via whaling ships). Also the researcher himself grew accustomed to eating fish and/or meat…and even grew to not desire salt with his meals.

  24. I love your balanced approach. And your point about dogma makes so much sense. I found my way to what was essentially paleo through a year of my own experimentation of what seemed to harm or help me. I realized what I was doing was most closely called Paleo, but I was reluctant to accept the label “Paleo” for some reason I couldn’t understand. Eventually I did accept the label as found it so much easier to have a single name to explain my new lifestyle. Most recently I’ve been reflecting on the fact that since I have done so, I’ve been more focused on what I can and can’t do according to paleo terms as opposed to how I initially began my journey – listening to my body for clues as to what foods work and don’t work for me. I realize now this issue can be articulated in one word: dogma. It was the reason for my hesitancy to embrace “Paleo” and it’s the reason why I feel less centered and less keyed into my body now. Don’t get me wrong – embracing it (& AIP focused paleo) has further helped me in my journey for sure (ie, bone broth!!), but focusing on “It” rather than “Me” has caused me to lose my inner barometer a bit. More science, more inner-focus, no dogmatic thinking. Thanks for helping me see this, Chris.

  25. Instead of searching for post-hoc rationalizations for not eating legumes and other foods because of fossil findings, maybe we should stick to nutritional science based on the study of what works for people we can actually observe and control for with randomized double blind studies?

  26. Thank you for this article chris…
    coming from a Greek heritage, legumes have been such a huge part of the Greek diet for literally thousands of years…I could just never reconcile that legumes could be considered to be bad for you…as long as they are traditionally prepared with a balanced probiotic rich diet…
    thank you for what you’re doing 🙂

  27. I have been eating Paleo since February and I am so glad I came across this article! Every so often I get a craving for split peas or navy beans. I guilt almost a sense of guilt if I stray from the paleo way. What you said helps me understand the whole legume debate. Thank you!!

    • That is the biggest issue with subscribing to any ‘diet’…we often deny our own bodies’ signals and inherent instinct in order to not feel guilty for betraying the said diets’ guidelines…listen to your body…thanks for your comment…I think a lot of people go thru the same thing.

  28. This article is exactly why I love Chris Kresser. Balanced, smart, and insightful approach to both a question of health/nutrition and also to the larger issue of keeping an open mind and not becoming entrenched in “dogma.” Keep up the good work, Chris!

  29. The are ways to treat legumes to get rid of phytic acid.

    Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting.

    The one I am interested in is fermenting.

    Does anyone know the best way to ferment legumes to get rid of phytic acid?

    • I recently came across some recipes where the person suggested soaking in whey reduces all the nasties that make some of these foods difficult to digest

  30. Much of the Paleo diet I can stomach. But the idea that I have to cut lentils out of my diet – an enormous source of protein and fiber, as well as milk (man, do I love milk) makes it simply not possible. I can live with no grains, starch, etc. I however cannot do without milk.

    • Chris Black, you DO know, don’t you, that you can follow the Paleo diet, and have even an occasional slice of white bread (horrors!!!) or a treat made with refined sugar (blasphemy!!!) and no one will come along and rat you out, or confiscate your caveman card, or even lash you with a kelp noodle? Your Paleo friends won’t unfriend you on Facebook (is Facebook Paleo?).That’s what’s so great about Chris Kresser’s approach. You don’t have to make it into an orthodox religion to get the benefits of a Paleo diet. BTW, some of the gurus who feel entitled to define what’s Paleo and what isn’t are hardly experts on the science of Paleolithic man.

      BTW#2, it’s not true that non-human animals NEVER drink milk after weaning. Not even wild animals — predators would never pass up a protein source. Big cats have been observed drinking milk from a nursing prey animal when they down it. Check out Beverly and Derek Joubert’s documentary on lions and buffalo. I’ll dig out the reference if someone insists. But never say never when it comes to what’s “natural” for animals to eat, including human animals of Paleo times. I am talking about foodstuffs that occur naturally in the environment, not Cheetos, of course.

      • Excellent point, AL! The biggest argument I get in with folks is that humans are OMNIvores. We are not meant to eat a restrictive diet, and from an evolution standpoint, we are very opportunistic and adaptable (hence the variations in diets across the globe based on what is available). Cutting out entire food groups is never the answer. Eating clean and eating REAL food are the core of a healthy diet.

  31. Finally!! Some more information to aid me in eating better. I’ve been thinking about switching to the Paleo diet but I didn’t like the restrictions. I never understood why you couldn’t eat legumes. I was under the impression that legumes were good for you. I ate maybe 3-4 serving a week.
    Yeah, I was one of those people that tried to eat the way we were told. Low-fat high carbs. I was always hungry, so I would eat some more, carbs. That didn’t worked. After my heart attack and later a 3x bypass. I still continued to eat the same way and taking the pills the doctor prescribed for my high cholesterol .
    Then one day I saw Dr Oz. He had a cardiologist on his show. I heard him say that cholesterol was not the main cause of heart disease. It was inflammation. I bought the book, “The Great Cholesterol Myth” by Stephen Sinatra and Johnny Bowden. I was amazed to find out that there isn’t one bit of evidence that saturated fats causes your arteries to plug up. It was marketing from good old Crisco.
    So I changed the way I ate, based on this book. I dropped all grains from my diet with the exception of steel cut oats and quinoa. Quinoa is not really a grain. I ate all meat except red meat. Started eating bacon and saving the grease like our grandparents did. Stopped using canola oil. I only use olive oil, lard (non-hydrogenated) or bacon fat, virgin coconut oil, and butter from grass-fed cows.
    I do eat the white sweet potatoes with skin instead of the white potatoes.
    I lost 60 pounds without trying and didn’t really exercise. I was never hungry. I ate 2 or 3 times a day. I did eat a lot of fruit (better than crackers)
    I stopped taking all my medication (Statin, blood pressure, diabetic meds) because I didn’t need them. My VAP test looked good regarding the LDL density. My total cholesterol was higher (250) than the standard (200). But I didn’t worry about it.
    I’ve been doing this for about 1 1/2 years. I haven’t felt this good in 35 years.
    I currently weight 5 lbs. more and wearing the same waist size than I did when I got married.
    Eating like our ancestors, I believe is the way to go. Its just common sense. If everybody did this, I believe heart disease would drop along with the cancer rate. Heart disease and cancer was rare in the 19th century until the addition of sugar and trans-fat was introduced.

    Good Blog

  32. Thank you so much for your balanced approach to paleo. The dogmatic approach to Paleo is at times a big turn off. Especially all of the paleo-hacks of bread, desserts, etc. I do enjoy eating legumes frequently (2-3 times a week) and they are definitely a part of my traditional diet, being a Southerner.

    My great grandmother is about to turn 99 and the more I learn about Paleo, the more I connect to the way I remember her eating when I was a child (before the low-fat dogma hit my family). As I return to this way of eating (along with incorporating new things), I’m feeling better, but this article helped dispel the guilt of eating…dare I say it, legumes. (Which I love so much.)

  33. The reason I’ve never completely gone Paleo was the legume thing. I like the taste of nuts but I cannot eat them. I eat them very rarely due to this. They give me really bad digestive problems. Yet, legumes on the other hand are great. I don’t eat a lot as is because they are time consuming to make and my usual western diet doesn’t really include them. However, I really love beans and they give me no digestive problems at all. So why can’t I eat them?
    I follow a lot of Japanese and Korean cooking and they tend to eat a lot of beans. They are much healthier than us. They eat meat/fish vegetables beans, and very little of everything else (flour, sugar, milk). I think this is a better way to eat. If Paleo was minus nuts but included legumes I would have stuck to this diet long ago.

  34. I appreciate this article, as i have been eatimg paleo for almost two years, but struggle to chew meat properly as I have bone loss in my teeth/jaw. Ive been wrestling with the idea of “are legumes reslly that bad” for a few months now. They will be a good addition to my diet on days when my teeth need a break.

  35. Having been allergic to Legumes my entire life and avoiding them, I have no problems with my gut and digestive track. My family has a history of gastro-intestinal problems: One brother has ulcerative colitis, other brother has IBS, and mother had her colon and most of her small intestines removed 15 years ago.
    As a child, I was able to eat some of the legume family group without incident. But now, as an adult in her 50s, my immune system lessened and I cannot tolerate any intake of legumes. When I got into my 30s, I started to become very tired and fatigued (and not by being overweight) and suffered from frequent headaches. After conferring with a nutritionist, I deleted wheat out of my diet. Thinking back 20 years ago, there were not a lot of substitute food options available. And walking through a grocery store trying to find foods I could eat (and reading food labels before they were regulated) was pure torture. Persistence paid off, my health improved, my mood swings stabilized, my headaches went away and I felt better overall. But I still cannot convenience my brothers to take gluten and legumes out of their diet.

    The huge list of the legume family was and is daunting. But avoidance is the best medicine for me and my health. It still amazes me how many people do not know that peanuts are not a nut!

    I am in agreement that we were never natually meant to eat all these legumes. And to have them ‘hidden’ and/or introduced into food groups, beauty products and herbal supplements (mainly soy) that have no connection is very harmful to our health.

    Thank you Chris for your article and opening our eyes to another source of information to help improve our lives.

  36. I just found out you can ferment lentils.

    I have been soaking a jar of lentils with a teaspoon of yogurt. Then I spout them.

    It takes the bean taste out of the lentils. They taste better this way.

    Has anyone else tried this, with other types of beans?

  37. “In fact, cooking legumes for as little as 15 minutes or pressure-cooking them for 7.5 minutes almost completely inactivates the lectins they contain, leaving no residual lectin activity in properly cooked legumes. (2)”

    The abstract of the linked study doesn’t mention this. On the other hand, another study from the same website expressly rules out that heat inactivates lectins:

    Whom are we to believe? Thanks.

  38. There are more than ample studies in the scientific research literature around phytates that state ‘it is well known that phytates bind with iron and other nutrients’ etc. this is why vegetarians tend to be anaemic when they lose the benefit of haem iron. Phytates also have an impact on the environment when fed to animals. Besides all that, may I just say as a former ‘healthy’ grain and legume eater, that fifteen years of being anaemic has finally resolved due to removing grains and legumes from my diet on paleo. Finally no more iron injections and infusions. One study to start with is Potential of Phytase-Mediated Iron Release from Cereal-Based Foods: A Quantitative View in the PMC. Another is Phytate: impact on environment and human nutrition. A challenge for molecular breeding*. In addition, there would not be such an interest in messing with the genes and molecular breeding if phytates were not a problem. In countries where there is a reliance on wheat and legumes, iron deficiency is rampant. Another study showed the inclusion of wheat in a healthy non anaemic person, actually reduced their iron status. Beans are not for everyone, they’re not for me, as are other grains not for me, but if the topic is phytates then there IS enough knowledge that they do take iron, as do tannins.

  39. Good Article Chris. The wife and I started eating mostly Paleo about two months ago. We are probably 85-90 percent paleo. We are not eating anything out of boxes or cans./ If we do have something out of a can, it is most likely a vegetable and we are doing a lot more label reading looking for hidden sugars and such. I feel better and have lost a little weight. It just feels good knowing we don’t have to work too hard to make a difference in what we are putting in our bodies and as a result feel better. Again, this was a good article, thanks for the read.

  40. Excellent post, Chris. You have a very broad perspective which is interesting. I’ve been eating Paleo for over a while now by following Diane Sanfillipo’s book, “Practical Paleo.” I wanted my diet plan to be very “focused” so I didn’t deviate or research much beyond that for the first year or so. My motivation to lose weight was simply because I am healthy, and want to stay healthy, and Paleo to me makes the most sense. When I used to eat bread, pasta and processed foods, I loved the taste, but was always tired afterwards. I’ve lost a lot of weigh by following Paleo in the past 1 1/2 years. Now I’ve begun to venture beyond Diane and have started looking around to see what everyone else is saying. Glad I found you! I actually don’t like legumes and was happy when I read they were not part of Paleo. Regardless, you do have a very interesting point of view. I’d enjoy a discussion between you and some of the other Paleo “leaders.” By the way, I was in love with Stouffer’s frozen meals, particularly their Mac & Cheese. When I reached my goal, I purchased one to “celebrate” and I could not taste it. I thought there was something wrong with the package I bought so I took it back and got another and still could not taste it. It was like cardboard. After touching base with friends, I discovered that my taste buds have changed completely!! If you had told me that would happen, and that I could stop drinking diet soda, I would have told you that you were crazy. What’s really crazy is that my mouth now waters for broccoli and chicken the same way it used to water for Stouffer’s Mac & Cheese. That goes to show you that when you begin to eat “real” food, your body thanks you for it by giving you your taste buds back!

  41. Thank you, Chris. As an MD with a strong interest in this area, I absolutely appreciate your viewpoints and approach to nutrition.

  42. Since starting a Peleo-ish lifestyle in 2010, and listening to all views I’ve become less than comfortable with the attacks some seek to always levy against others.

    Dr Cordain seemed a sensible person to me, that is until recently. The spats with Sally Fallon and now Chris point to someone who although expressing superior intellectual foundations, seems to lack the emotional intelligence necessary to deal with these issues in public.

    I’ve read many of Nell’s posts and have always been struck by her dogmatic adherence to the Cordain Paleo approach. Being someone who hates dogma I’ve found the constant need for self reinforcement of this dogma to be off putting at best.

    Chris, your approach works for those who are less dogmatic (some would say less intellectual), you handle yourself well under interview, and I would recommend you not get too hung up about people who hold such dogmatic views, no matter how much more intellectually gifted they may be.

  43. Some interesting discussions in the comments.
    The big one for me is the use of the term ‘Paleo’. It seems to generate a strong black & white for or against it reaction…

    My tuppence worth is that due to the fact that it has a large movement behind it, that it is a collaborative approach and isn’t accredited to just one person, that many of the better dietary approaches use some form of elimination diet in the initial stages, that we don’t need another batch of ‘fad diets’ essentially saying exactly the same thing with different marketing terminology, I think for simplicity and ease of promoting global health we should all just jump onboard with the Paleo approach.

    We should be using it to reconnect with our bodies and then build our own nutrition constructs from it based on how different foods make us feel, what we tolerate well, and what we like. I think having an umbrella term and template for getting people to reconnect with their nutrition, health and lifestyle is vital in order to be able to promote it effectively. So I totally understand why Chris has aligned himself with the Paleo approach rather than making up a new marketable name and I commend him for that.

    Caveat: No processed foods for commercial sale should be able to be promoted using the term ‘Paleo’ including chocolate, bars, shakes, supplements etc. I think if we take the commercial element away it becomes a much more acceptable way to approach nutrition.

    Personally I used a Paleo/Primal initial elimination phase and am gradually reintroducing foods to assess their impact, and it’s working fantastically. Much easier to explain this process by just saying Paleo rather than a lengthy explanation of what I am/not eating, how I’m preparing food etc…

    The more you research and more you discover you don’t know, the more confusing it can become. We don’t want people giving up on their nutrition because it is confusing, conflicting, and too hard. I don’t want to see another new ‘diet book’. Remember we need to make it as easy as possible for people. Most people commenting on this post are reasonably nutrition savvy, they are not the people we are trying to reach out to! Stop thinking ‘me’ and start thinking ‘What is best for the people of the world? Given their current eating habits, knowledge, and challenges!’ If this means being a little more flexible (post elimination phase) as more quality research becomes available and allowing Paleo to absorb this information and develop organically alongside it, so it is accessible and has a positive influence on more people, I think that’s a good thing – just saying!

  44. Excellent post, so pleased you have taken the time to look at the science. Legumes have been an essential part of man’s diet for thousands of years. Scientific research has revealed evidence that they were eaten as part of the Neanderthal diet. A healthy diet is surely one which is full to the brim of whole foods not processed ones. As a vegetarian, legumes are an essential part of my diet. A vegetarian, grain free diet has cured my son of Crohn’s Disease – one which includes legumes every day! Legumes certainly aren’t the enemy IMO unless, as you so rightly point out, people have a sensitivity to FODMAPs.

    As a vegetarian I obviously don’t follow the paleo diet, however, I do believe it has enabled many people to return to eating whole foods once more and thus adopt a healthier lifestyle.

    • Vicky, Thank you for being one of the tolerant vegetarians who realizes that we are all different people with different nutritional needs. There actually ARE Paleo vegetarians — they even have a couple of websites.While I am not currently vegetarian (was a long time ago, didn’t work for me), I am comfortable with the concept of Paleo vegetarians — even though ancient Paleo folk were not strict vegetarians, their diets included a huge amount of plant material, and they likely went through times when they were involuntary vegetarians, at least ovo-insecto-vegetarians. And it’s great to hear of your success in eliminating Crohn’s with dietary changes — thanks for sharing!

  45. This pretty much sums up why I feel true, strict paleo is silly. Paleo promotes many, many healthy practices that entirely contradict the typical modern diet. A paleo diet is leaps and bounds better than the average diet, there is no question about this… But to specifically limit healthful foods simply because they were not consumed during our evolution is silly.

    During our evolution, we didn’t use medicine, build cities, or even live long enough to produce cancers, let alone cure them. Using this as a basis for our diets neglects many healthful foods, simply for an arbitrary reason.

    Yes, our ancestors likely had a much more balanced PUFA intake, a diet higher in MUFA and saturated fats, a higher protein and carbohydrate deficient diet, while simultaneously consuming zero processed foods and large quantities of vegetable matter… Sounds like a very healthy diet because these foods, for their own intrinsic benefits, are exceptionally healthful.

    Limiting dairy, say, post workout… Or even sweet potato – while fruits are acceptable (never mind the fact that the average apple has 3x the fructose they did 200 years ago, thanks to artificial selection and breeding programs) simply because apples are high in fructose and sweet potatoes are high in starch… Well, that’s just asinine.

  46. Excellent article!! I so appreciate the voice of sanity rather than that of dogma.

    I’m pretty sure that sprouting beans activates phytase, which also helps reduce phytic acid? I wonder if sprouting beans, such as lentils prior to cooking is even better than simply soaking?

  47. I’m wondering how your vision of the Paleo template differs from the long established dietary principles of the Weston A. Price Foundation?

    • Chris answered this question two days ago.

      “From the beginning I’ve advocated an approach similar to WAPf; however, I do think most people benefit from doing a 30-day Reset (Step 1 in my book) without any grains, legumes or dairy to see if they feel better without them.”

  48. Excellent post. Thank you for including your sources and really being critical of the evidence. I also love your bit at the end about dogma because it’s something we can very easily become blind to.
    I look forward to more of your posts!

  49. Some commenters have noted that “modern” fruits and vegetables bear little resemblance to what our Paleo ancestors must have eaten, and there is a lot of truth in that. But that is also true of modern, factory-farmed meat. Domestic animals have been bred for certain characteristics, just as veggies have. While pastured meat animals may be closer to the Paleo variety, they are not entirely the same — except for wild-caught fish and wild game, there’s little truly Paleo meat left. And some of the animals that Paleo man ate are now extinct. Even an iconic meat like bison is not exempt — they are making a comeback, but there are very few genetically pure bison to work with. They have been extensively interbred with domestic cattle. Science and nature are not helping the purists maintain their dogma. As Chris keeps emphasizing, Paleo is a template. And diet is likely only one component of the health that Paleo people enjoyed.

  50. Great article all around Chris… Thank you for squashing dogma’s and all the hard work you do reading the science to help take the Paleo template to the next level. Cheers!

  51. Great post Chris, very interesting, thanks!

    However, I would say it’s debatable whether soaking beans at room temperature really reduces the phytic acid content. The article you refer to in you post in turn refers to a study by Iver et al. 1980 that I haven’t been able to find. But a more resent study,, found virtually no reduction in phytic acid content from soaking beans for 16 hours at room temperature. I believe hot water soaking is the way to go if you are to get any significant effect. But it would be great to get your comment on this, Chris!

  52. Really great article. I think it’s important to continue questioning and learning about foods. Besides the good taste, and the fact it made me feel better, I like the paleo diet because it is based on science and facts about what foods do in the body–not dogma and old correlational studies and unbacked claims, which is all I have been able to find so far to support vegan and raw-vegan diets. (I’ve looked so I could learn if paleo is the right choice.)

    I am wondering if soaking, then grinding and fermenting (using nut or dairy yogurt) then steaming or baking legumes further reduces the toxins. What about being resistant if they are now ground and in bread form? The same goes for fermenting nuts into cheese or yogurt, using probiotics. What does that do to the omega 3 vs. 6 ration? I also have seen no mention of beans in the mung group (ie mung, moth, and urad). They are small like lentils. Are they “safer” too? Lastly, when legumes are turned to dals (split and skin removed) are there fewer toxins? (ie are the toxins in the skin?)

    If these foods have benefits and no harm, it makes sense to eat them, if only to add variety to the diet.

  53. I wish I could tolerate beans, I love making crock pot chili with them but alas I don’t. However, perhaps my son and husband can tolerate them better? I do best on meats and fat, some veggies and fruit rarely. Sigh, it’s worth it to me to eat the way my body likes. I like the term “Paleo” because there are LOTS of cookbooks that I can use to decide what to cook for dinner, easier than just making it up by myself.

  54. YEARS ago, I had read that the red “skin” that covers nuts and legumes (such as “red-skin peanuts”), was “meant” as a barrier to insects that were eating the nut/legume/seed. This made sense to me. But what I had read also suggested that, in your diet, those red skins may act to clear certain parasites from the digestive tract. I wonder if there could be any truth to that last part. ??

  55. Great Post! I love how you point out how people get paleo-anal about beans, yet still eat chocolate, etc. Now I won’t feel so guilty eating them, as I LOVE them.

  56. We cut out all legumes when we first started eating this way. But despite fish oil, plenty of coconut oil, good hydration, oily nuts, etc my friend got a little winter eczema inside her elbows and behind her knees. I remember that when I was a kid my mom was mystified by mine, which was about the only thing her cod liver oil treatment wouldn’t cure.

    Then one day Mom decided we should be eating natural peanut butter–the kind with all the oil on top. Cured the eczema almost overnight. I tried it for my friend and had the same result. If she eats a tablespoon or so of it every other day, no eczema or rashes.

    Doesn’t mean there aren’t problems with peanut butter. Just my experience.

  57. Hi Chris,
    I enjoy all your articles and thank you for evaluating facts in an un-biased way. A couple of comments:
    1) There doesn’t seem to be any difference now between what was originally described as the Paleo diet and the Weston Price/ancestral diet (maybe gluten in sourdough bread is the only difference?). This is not a bad thing, but is kind of what Weston Pricers have been saying for a while. It is an individual based ancestral diet
    2) I haven’t read the evidence but it seems to me that Paleo man didn’t have the methods or materials to ferment foods. This must be a fairly recent practice. Yet Paleo advocates fermented foods (as they should) just like Weston Pricers.
    3) I’m quite familiar with the Blood type diet and Dr D’Adamo’s work. Based on the lectin discussion above, his work actually makes a lot of sense – some blood types can tolerate some lectins and some can’t. That’s what he’s been saying all along…

    • 1) From the beginning I’ve advocated an approach similar to WAPf; however, I do think most people benefit from doing a 30-day Reset (Step 1 in my book) without any grains, legumes or dairy to see if they feel better without them.

      2) Fermentation of food is a very old practice. It would have been one of the few ways of preserving foods.

      3) Blood type has nothing to do with someone can tolerate lectins or not. My point was that most lectins are destroyed by heat (cooking) or neutralized by simple sugars.

      • Chris, not sure if you’ve expressed your thoughts on this in the book or elsewhere, but do you think it’s possible that the 30-day reset could negatively impact the composition of gut flora in a way that actually leads to problems upon reintroduction of grains, dairy or legumes?

        • really interesting question… I do hope that Chris will comment further.

          my guess is that the avoidance advice is to escape all possible inflammatory agents but thereafter slow re-introduction might possibly allow the flora to adjust and to increase gut flora diversity to accommodate re-introductions

          • I don’t see how a nutrient dense, fiber rich and toxin free diet may negatively impact the microbiota.
            So far evidence strongly suggests all the other way around and demonstrated that the mentioned food are mostly those to blame for the gut disruption.

    • Paleo man quite likely did eat fermented foods. Even wild animals will eat fermented berries that occur naturally. It would have been easy for people to duplicate this process — no special tools or equipment are needed. A few years ago, National Geographic Magazine had an article about a baby mammoth that had been exposed by thawing ice. They discussed evidence that early man preserved and fermented meat by submerging parts of a kill in the lakes in the area, where lactic acid formation and fermentation on the outer surface would keep the meat from decay. Regarding the blood type diet — D’Adamo is off-base in his theory of how blood types evolved, and food sensitivities don’t appear to be related to blood type. I am O- (btw, a relatively recently evolved type) and I thrive on dairy. I have relatives and friends who are O- who bloat and sicken on it. I think there are more factors involved in food sensitivity than we presently understand. It appears they can be acquired as well as possibly inherited, and that they can change over time.

  58. Great article!

    You know, I always think, if a Paleolithic person was walking along and came across some green string beans or snow peas on a bush, would he/she eat it? Yes, of course they would have, they’re delicious! But, they grow seasonally and they are eating a varied diet. No dramas here, I say, unless as someone pointed out earlier, if you’re gut is already compromised by a dodgy diet, then you may be prone to have an unpleasant reaction to bean consumption.


  59. Chris, thanks very much for this ‘beginning’! There re mains a pile of information that still needs correction re. a healthy LIFESTYLE (diet strategies are an important, but minor component). Here’s one simple illustration: most plants pack nutrients for the next generation of plants in their seeds. T his process is like the breast milk of newborn mammals. Unlike mammals, plant enemies are not those-that-eat-them, but cold from winter.
    It stores these nutrients in compartments that have ‘walls’ of phytates/phylates/oxalates/etc. All these ‘walls’ are destroyed in the spring with water. [All oils that are ‘pressed’ come from non-germinated/soaked seeds.] All the nutrients mix and the seed germinates. We humans duplicate this process by soaking seeds (lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, grains) then sprouting them.

    We CAN alter this process by ‘magnetizing’ the water – by placing the sprout-water in a blender and spinning the water between the ‘N’ pole and ‘S’-pole of fixed magnets [or let the soaking bowl rest on the N-pole of a fixed magnet] …. the water can be upgraded with a few-drops of H2O2/milk/@1/4 tsp of sprouted-died-barley].

    The magic is unmistakeable, to my African violet plants. Trying to find a formula that will translate to us/livestock has been elusive. Perhaps you would like to do some experimenting too?

  60. Some clarification would be helpful in resolving the apparent contradiction between your statement that humans can’t digest phytic acid and then saying “our gut bacteria produce enzymes that break down phytate and extract the nutrients the body needs.” Isn’t that a description of the digestive process itself?

  61. Chris,

    Thanks for clarifying your position on the debate about the Paleoness of legumes.

    On the question whether or not legumes are Paleo and does it matter, I would say that yes, legumes are Paleo, but only conditionally; and as to whether it matters: yes, it does matter.

    First, I think that in the end and for all practical purposes, you and Dr. Loren Cordain agree that legumes can be consumed by a Paleo dieter in moderation. I think there’s simply a lot of misunderstanding going on as well misreading one another’s positions on things concerning Paleo. On page 114 of Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, he provides a list of food groups that should be avoided, and included in this list are legumes. But at the top of the list is this quote: “Just because these foods are not part of the diet, you don’t have to banish them from your life forever. But you should try to avoid them most of the time.” His book suggests that for best results one should adhere to the diet at least 85 percent of the time by avoiding legumes, dairy, grains, and highly processed industrial foods. The diet generally consists of eating healthy meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits, and some nuts and seeds. On page 135-136 of The Paleo Diet, under the heading “Individualizing Your Diet,” Cordain’s position is close to yours. He states, “Many people don’t even know that some foods…are to blame for some of their health problems…Find out what works for you and be sensible; alter your diet so that you can live with it.” With Cordain’s “open” meals suggestions, one can have legumes, if they so desire, up to three times a week as part of one of their meals.

    As for the evolutionary perspective, legumes may have been eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors, but the link you provided as evidence is not enough to let us know how much they consumed them and how frequent. We can plausibly infer that they ate them sporadically and weren’t the staple of their diets. They regarded them only as starvation foods. Anthropologist Chris Stringer has pointed out that though meat was very important food resource for our ancestors, it was unpredictable in obtaining. Thus, usually women, “developed and shared the skills of gathering and refining plant resources as an insurance policy” (Stringer, pp. 145-146 in Lone Survivors). Even at the beginnings of agriculture, wild grains and legumes were not food unless they were processed, i.e., fermented, baked, or ground. Grain-and-legume based diet, as writer Richard Manning pointed out, requires sedentism. When did sedentism happen on a large scale and permanently? In the Neolithic era. The Neolitihic era must have been the time that humans started consuming these foods more frequently and became the staple of their diets, not the Paleolithic. Cordain et al simply argue that it’s best to avoid grains, legumes, and dairy because there was little “evolutionary experience” in consuming them as staples throughout human evolution during the Paleolithic. Can we consume them occasionally like our ancestors did? I don’t see why not. In this, I don’t many of us differ.

    Why should we avoid legumes most of the time? The two antinutrients you mentioned in your article seems to me the least of the problems with legumes. They also have saponins, polyphenols: tannins and isoflavones, protease inhibitors, raffinose oligosaccharides, cyanogenetic glycosides, and favism glycosides.They have three times less protein than animal foods, and the little protein they do have are poorly digested. They’re high in starch, contain low levels of essential amino acids, cysteine and methionine and they are a poor source of iron compared with animal foods. We’re left with only fiber. Is it worth to consume legumes for that? Sure, as you pointed out, other “Paleo” foods, like nuts, have some of those anitnutrients too. But how much in comparison? And which is more worth it to consume, nuts or legumes? Should you have them on occasion because they’re delicious in many Latin and Asian dishes? Sure! Given, as you say, they are prepared properly by soaking, fermenting, etc. before consumption. But who has time and energy for that? It’s difficult enough to cook Paleo breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily let alone soak legumes for 18 hours then find a good recipe to cook them with. Again, in the end, there’s really little fundamental disagreement on these matters among Paleo adherents, just misunderstandings.

  62. Well it’s happening all right. Been predicting for a while now that the more thoughtful Paleo “leaders” would eventually begin to bring sufficient nuance to the whole Paleo thing that it would just dissolve entirely as a construct, which is of course after all, what it has always been. In a decade or so Paleo will have found its place as a culturally specific and indeed useful critique on the prevailing “SAD” culture, much as say Macrobiotics did a generation back.

    It’s interesting to watch you Chris morph from a man who initially built a fanbase on a diet of “straight” Paleo dogma to one who is now gradually trying to bring that very fanbase along with you as your ongoing researches are beginning to reveal to you that “Emperor Paleo” hasn’t been wearing as much as a wee loin cloth from the beginning … My next prediction: you will soon begin to move towards entirely personalised dietary recommendations as the wise ones have always done (Ayurveda, TCM etc.)

    Finally, as I’d noted on one of your things before Chris, I’m surprised you didn’t refer at all to the huge body of evidence around deliberate supplementation of IP6 a.k.a. phytic acid for successfully treating a variety of ailments for decades now, notably many forms of cancer. I highly recommend Prof. Shamsuddin’s book on IP6 to you and your readers. It runs very much counter to Paleo dogma of course but one possible if understated implication of the Prof’s 4 decades of work seeming to be (simplifying of course) that the incidence of cancer generally looks to be significantly correlated with the general under-consumption of whole grains and legumes that has characterised diets in “developed” countries in the past 50+ years

  63. Great post Chris, one of the things that occurs to me is many of the longest lived groups of people eat quantities of beans or grains. One thing they have in common is traditional preparation methods and often fremented foods i.e. tofu eaters have fremented soy or miso. The microbiome for these people will be specifically adapted to these foods. I also note that they often have a pretty basic diet not frequently and radically varing it.

  64. Hi Chris, as a nutritionist and Crossfitter I am constantly reading and researching on diet and nutrition, in particular the Paleo diet. I love reading your articles, and especially how you give a really well balanced, unbiased point of view based on multiple sources of research. I also admire how you are comfortable admitting there have been times when you have had “blinders” in in regards to certain health topics. It’s very refreshing to know that the information you are providing is for people to make up their own minds about things and that they can do that from an educated source that isn’t trying to shove an agenda or their opinion down their throats. I know as a practitioner I don’t always get it right and there have been many bandwagons I have jumped on in defence of an opinion only to discover I didn’t know the full story. The internet can be a confusing place to navigate for health information, not only for the general public but also for people like me involved in the health industry. I too think that Paleo can be a tricky path to navigate with so many versions and opinions on what is the “right” way to do it. As an advocate of whole foods and food as medicine I also agree that no one “diet” will ever suit everyone and that using Paleo as a template to design a diet that suits the individual is an insightful and important piece of advice. Thank you for providing such a great article to read and learn from. Looking forward to reading more!

  65. This is a great article. If your goal is optimal health than you will follow in the foot steps of you ancestors within general reason. If beans are your thing, then once a week won’t kill you. However, don’t make the exception the rule. I don’t buy that eating full fat dairy, bowl full of honey sweetened ice cream, a couple of dark chocolate bars, and some beans to top it off is healthy… All things in moderation can be healthy. Make the exception the rule and you will join the ranks of millions of Americans who are…. well… fat and frankly not healthy. Most people will look for any excuse they can and say “This is Paleo”. Frankly very little of it is. Paleolithic people ate diets far different from our modern Paleo diet. If your ancestors lived in the far northern hemisphere (most Americans have northern hemispheric heritage) than you ought to be eating fish and red meat most of the winter. Very very little vegetation was consumed during the winter months. In fact they were practically “Atkins” for six months out of the year. This is not really up for dispute though you can argue all you like and join the ranks of “the exception is the rule”. I myself eat very few carbs in the winter with an increase in fruit intake during the summer months. In fact berries will significantly contribute to my calories during the summer with protein and fat in the winter (North American Indian Diet). Maybe I should start a new fad!!

    • I’ll join your “fad”! 🙂

      I am a woman of Northern European background, and I don’t do well with legumes, starch of any kind (it just doesn’t resist enough) and definitely no gluten… though my only symptom was arthritis in my thumbs. No digestive issues.

      But I get along with fruit and greens, and that’s turning out to be the vegetation part of my eating these days. And good dairy… I was once misdiagnosed as lactose intolerant but I eat high fat yogurt and cheese most days so I know what it’s like to not eat it.

      Remember, just because something works for you NOW doesn’t mean it’s fine. Add some stress, health issues, or even age… and things could be different.

  66. Legumes are a great source of resistant starch – a prebiotic- necessary to feed gut flora. Also butyrate & more!

    God wouldn’t have produced such a myriad of legumes in all colours and shapes for us not to eat them.

  67. Thank you for this post Chris. I find the Paleo world confusing to navigate with all the “eat this. don’t eat that. wait, never mind, eat this.” I always find your articles extremely helpful, thoroughly researched, honest, and objective. As a fellow acupuncturist, I rely on this kind of information to relay to my patients, and I really appreciate your contribution not only to our field but to the healthcare industry in general.

    I especially appreciate your brief discussion about dogma. I recently came across a commencement speech of Charlie Munger’s (Warren Buffet’s billionaire business partner) where he said something that really resonated with me. And if only the world would heed his advice…

    He said (sorry this quote is kinda long, but it’s too good not to post in it’s entirety!), “Another thing I think should be avoided is extremely intense ideology because it cabbages up one’s mind. You see it a lot with T.V. preachers (many have minds made of cabbage) but it can also happen with political ideology. When you’re young it’s easy to drift into loyalties and when you announce that you’re a loyal member and you start shouting the orthodox ideology out, what you’re doing is pounding it in, pounding it in, and you’re gradually ruining your mind. So you want to be very, very careful of this ideology. It’s a big danger.

    In my mind, I have a little example I use whenever I think about ideology. The example is these Scandinavia canoeists who succeeded in taming all the rapids of Scandinavia and they thought they would tackle the whirlpools of the Aron Rapids here in the United States.

    The death rate was 100%.

    A big whirlpool is not something you want to go into, and I think the same is true about a really deep ideology.

    I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it. I think only when I’ve reached that state am I qualified to speak. This business of not drifting into extreme ideology is a very, very important thing in life.”

    (I got above excerpt from Tai Lopez’s website.)

    A great reminder to keep your mind flexible and open to new possibilities. Things are always shifting and changing!

    Thanks again.

  68. I like your customized approach to Paleo… it is very true that there is no “one-size-fits-all” paleo diet. I tried doing the standard low-carb paleo and ended up with adrenal fatigue as a result. Something that I am still battling. I NEED some carbs in my diet or I get sick as a result.

    The other thing I don’t like about Nell Stephenson and Dr. Loren Cordain’s approach is that they say that salt is not paleo – that may be fine if you live near the coast and are eating food grown in a salty atmosphere, but a lot of soils are sodium deficient, so food grown in them will be sodium deficient. And we need a certain amount of sodium in our diets. Even animals will seek out salt-licks (I have caught my cat and dog licking my Himalayan salt lamp several times!), and there was some research (that I don’t have to hand – but it was referenced in Richard Dawkins “Greatest Show on Earth”) that showed wild chimpanzees dipping their food in seawater… presumably to get extra salt – are they seriously trying to tell us that our paleolithic ancestors did not do the same? Seek out salt and/or seawater to season and supplement foods with not only sodium, but also all the trace elements that natural, unrefined salt contains…. In addition, I am sure there is a reason why that since prehistoric times salt has been seen as such a valuable trading commodity… I see no reason not to season food with high quality, unrefined sea salt (or pink Himalayan salt) if you are not eating a high-sodium SAD.

    For myself, I don’t do legumes/dairy/nightshades as I have a bad reaction to them (am anaphalactically allergic to casein and have a bad reaction to legumes and nightshades, and I am also non-celiac gluten intolerant). But I am not averse to a few traditionally non-paleo ingredients (I do dark chocolate for example, and have been known to use organic sugar on occasion).

  69. Kudos, Chris, for a logical, balanced post (and overall approach). If this had been the thinking from the beginning of the “Paleo” movement, it would not be getting all the undeserved criticism from diet gurus, nor would many of us have to spend endless hours convincing friends that we are not eating large slabs of raw meat and little else. More balance would have encouraged more people to be open to a lifestyle approach that could maximize their health, rather than resisting what they perceive as a “weird” fad.

  70. Chris – I really appreciate your approach of using Paleo as a template rather than a set of hard and fast rules. We all have to experiment and discover what works best for our bodies and lifestyles. While I consider myself “Paleo” — the way I do Paleo would make a lot of the Paleo police get all freaked out. I’ve relaxed on legumes and potatoes in the past year or so, and I’m fine. I don’t eat them every day (or even every week), but when I want a bowl of homemade chili with beans — I whip some up!

  71. Great article. Actually, people ‘get gas’ from legumes, especially larger beans, because they don’t eat enough of them. Once you start eating them at least twice a day, after a few weeks, less gas, after 6 weeks, next to none at all. The body develops super efficient bacterial amounts in the large intestine to digest them well.
    The other wonderful benefit of legumes is their massive amount of soluble fibre. This bonds with a strong chemical bond to the bile flowing into the duodenum, holds all the excess cholesterol like a strong magnet, excess oestrogen and other excess hormones trapped in the bile, as well as the toxins that the liver has diverted into the bile to clear out. Those bonds to beans and lentils are so strong, that they won’t break and let it reabsorb lower down in the digestive tract, as usually happens when only eating foods with insoluble fibre such as green vegetables and fruit (which form weaker chemical bonds with bile and what bile carries). So the digestive tracts of legume eaters do not recycle bile (and all the rubbish is was attempting to carry out of the body) – which is the usual process – it has to make a fresh batch. What is bile made of? – cholesterol.
    So beans provide a double benefit – they help rid the body of excess cholesterol and then the body uses up more cholesterol making necessary bile.
    Beans and lentils are a superfood, in my opinion.

    • I was at a Weston A Price conference years ago. One of the speakers, a GI MD talked about beans. His comments about “gas” and beans was that the “gas” was good because it meant we were giving the bacteria in our large intestine something to eat. By the way, he used another word for “gas”.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself !!! This is why truly understanding your gut is essential! Keeping it fed , healthy and sealed is the root of great health IMO and healthy legumes ( not soy or peanuts) is essential for this.

  72. Here here! Thanks for the new info…and for helping me to question my own “dogma”. Much appreciated for further growth and understanding.

  73. For people with hormones imbalance the issue with eating legumes is not lectins or phytic acid. The real issue is the phytoestrogens in legumes. All legumes are high in phytoestrogens ( not just soy ).

  74. I still have mixed feelings about paleo. There is some recent indication that evolution can take place much faster than we thought. Is there evidence to suggest we have *not* evolved to tolerate a slightly modern diet compared to paleo? Why paleo, why not go back to when were were just starting to climb out of the sea? Which time period truy represents our nutritional needs? Ok, say humans have not evolved much, then that leaves our gut biome & micro biome which likely -has- rapidly evolved to deal with these new food sources (lactose for example). I know a hell of a lot of 90+yr olds in great health and mental wellbeing who are not paleo to say the least. What they do seem to have in common is close relationships with friends, keeping themselves busy and active, being stress free and “everything in moderation”. Anyway…

    • Only because I ran out of space, and because it’s another non-issue. I’ll do a separate piece on them soon. Mat LaLonde and I discussed them on our podcast a while back, and here’s what he had to say recently:

      “The saponin and glycoalkaloid story is slightly different. The activity of the compounds varies enormously depending on the nature of the sugars attached to the alkaloid or terpene. It has been shown that changing one single stereogenic center on the carbohydrate can completely alter the activity of the saponin or glycoalkaloid. The carbohydrates attached to the alkaloids or terpenes have been shown to be easily cleaved or modified during digestion. In addition, saponins and glycoalkaloids have many different types of activities, some of which are beneficial. The studies that have shown saponins or glycoalkaloids to be detrimental to the gut are animal studies where massive amounts of the compounds were fed to the critters. The studies are simply not physiologically relevant. There is currently no convincing evidence that cooked and ingested glycoalkaloids and saponins are harmful.”

  75. I’m glad you and Stephan have been bringing up this topic for discussion! Regarding FODMAPs, I wanted to mention that germination removes around 60-100% (most often 85-90% reductions are rerported, depending on a variety of germination conditions) of the oligosaccharides like raffinose and stachyose in legumes (lentils, cowpeas, and black beans are some that I’ve specifically looked at).

  76. My food philosophy is based on the fact that every person is a unique individual, so to say that one particular diet will work for everyone just isn’t reality in light of this truth. So while I absolutely do not agree with the evolutionary dogma of the paleo diet, what I do agree with is your perspective that it should be viewed as a basic guideline that may help many individuals (particularly those struggling with chronic conditions) to achieve improved health and wellbeing. Since starting my real food journey over 6 years ago, I have found that my diet constantly needs to be adjusted and that although I could once eat simply gluten-free, now I must avoid all grains, except white rice on occasion. I also do well with certain legumes in moderation, but I do not do well at all with white potatoes. So again, my point is that I appreciate the fact that you avoid elevating the paleo diet to the point of making it an all-or-nothing lifestyle. God created an amazing array of healthy foods for us and it truly is a blessing to be able to pick and choose from a wide variety of healthy foods to suit our particularly dietary needs. This isn’t the case in third world countries and among the poor. In our quest to live healthier, let’s not forget to be thankful and also to use the resources God has blessed us to help bless others. Thank you again, Chris. I truly enjoy your blog. Blessings, Kelly

  77. I’ve often thought the “no beans” for Paleo was one of its downfalls for many reasons, one being it deprives one of the many rich cultural dishes prepared with beans. I am one of those persons who doesn’t do well with beans unless they are very well cooked and in small amounts. My husband on the other hand has no problem at all and loves them. I would rather see him eat beans than french fries or junk food. I embrace much of the Paleo life style, but find it too dogmatic and then a bit ridiculous. I hate to see the same things happening to Paleo that happened with the gluten free craze. As an Italian, beans are one of the staples, but not eaten daily, maybe not even three times a week, but still a part of many dishes, especially dishes loaded with vegetables and olive oil. I see nothing unhealthy about those rustic dishes.

  78. Chris, there is another aspect to all of this. What we think. If we look at a food and say, “I shouldn’t eat this, it will be bad for me”, chances are we shouldn’t eat it because it will be bad for us. This goes for legumes, chocolate, alcohol etc. etc. If we acknowledge the nourishment as we eat the foods and express thanks for the abundance, these will most likely nourish our bodies. I’m constantly reminded of the monks and their begging bowls, eating only one bowl of rice each day for nourishment, and being thankful for having this much.

  79. I think this is a fantastic article. I’ve been on the Paleo “path” for three years now and can attest that there is certainly wiggle room that I’ve found that makes me a) happier on the diet and b) more likely to stick within the framework in the long run. I appreciate that you encourage people to explore what works for their bodies rather than sticking with a rigid set of rules set by someone else.

  80. Thank you so much for this article and all of your well done research! My first attempt at Paleo left me underweight and feeling miserable. I was aware that I wasn’t getting enough calories (unintentionally) but had become so concerned with what I was NOT supposed to be eating and strictly adhering to the “rules” that I was severely restricting the foods I consumed and felt extremely guilty at the thought of eating anything that was not Paleo. Now I try to eat the foods that agree with MY body, and not just eliminate things in order to label myself as Paleo. This article was incredibly helpful and shows that I have no reason to feel guilty for eating a properly prepared serving of legumes. Thank you!!

  81. Sorry, in addition to a couple of other of my typos, my closing question should read “…the same objectives AS the long soak method?”

  82. Chris, I LOVE to cook and eat, and I make many of my own foods from scratch if I feel they will substantially superior to a purchased item (ie, almond milk, bone broth, etc). But even I, a self-professed foodie, have been finding all of the special food shopping and prep for paleo to be daunting and monopolizing my time. So I’m always excited to find optimal food items that are fast and don’t require a lot of advance planning or prep, ie, like soaking beans for 18 hours.

    So…for legumes: rather that buying, sorting, washing soaking, etc, what about buying sprouted lentils and just cooking them right out of the package according to directions (ie, simmer for just 4 minutes)? I was buying the TruRoots “Accents” line of sprouted lentils and quinoa, and then stopped using them when I recently started exploring a Paleo diet. Until then, I was only eating 1 serving of the lentils a few times a week, and even less of the quinoa, and I’ve never experienced any obvious digestive problems with either (possibly because I also avoided consuming them alongside animal protein in any given meal because I’d read that was the safest approach from a digestion perspective). I’d love to have them occasionally if you think that these accomplish the same objectives and the long soak method?

    Please let me know what you think…

  83. Congratulations on your Dr. Oz segment – that’s quite a coup!
    I used to teach macrobiotic cooking and I always soaked beans overnight, discarded that water, then pressure cooked them with kombu. And yet… my entire family still had digestive issues. Sometimes even cooked this way the beans were still harder than they should have been.
    Now I wonder why I went through all this trouble when I can cook some burgers in 10 minutes, they will be delicious, my family will enjoy them a heck of a lot more, and we all get more protein?!?

  84. The term “Paleo” is already obsolete.
    Paleo does not require imitating our ancestors but taking them as a reference.
    Paleo is supposed to be a risk minimization strategy based on the notion that the more foreign elements we include in our diet, the higher the chance we suffer a metabolic derailment of some sort.
    Paleo is what *not* to eat.
    There is still a lot to know about how the body works, so the safer route is to avoid legumes.
    Can you eat them without seriously risking your ability to maximize health? Maybe. Or maybe not.
    We will have more certainty only as science advances.

  85. Great article Chris! Thank you.

    It’s funny just last night I was googling around for an article about legumes, and whether they were really as bad as people in the paleo world made them out to be. Then there it was this morning in my inbox! I’m a very big fan of fermented soy (natto and miso), and recently I just started letting loose and eating as much as I want. I’m going to continue doing this for now and just cross my fingers that it’s ok (I’m a middle aged woman with no estrogen dominance issues).

    One thing the article didn’t touch on was the fact that most beans tend to be high in carbohydrates, which a lot of people don’t deal with well in the modern world. Trust me, if I could stuff my face with taro every day and have a BMI of 18, I would jump right on the safe starch bandwagon!

  86. A way to bind lectins is to consume glucosamine, which is found in the shells of shrimps. So, if you are going to eat a lectin heavy meal take a glucosamine supplement before.

    As mentioned, pressure cooking is a simple way to eliminate most lectins. I pressure cook a weeks worth of potatoes and eat them cold to get the benefits of the resistant starch.

  87. I enjoyed this article. The reason why I was attracted to the paleo diet is because of the open minded approach. Finding real foods that work for YOU. There is no “one size fits all” diet or lifestyle.

  88. Amen! The anti-legume crowd never did convince me. Why are people so anxious to always be jumping on the next bandwagon? It is like a replacement for religion?

    I don’t think gluten avoidance is going to stand up to much scrutiny either. In another year or two we’ll be reading about how gluten is ok – if you tolerate it – which most people do. It’s not evil folks! If you are having trouble digesting organic wheat then you need to see to your gut health, i.e. take your probiotics.

    • A gastroenterologist I was talking to the other day says his specialty literature mentions that some people are fructans intolerant (a form of sugar in wheat and other foods) and so when they eschew wheat they improve. So it’s actually a FODMAP issue for these people rather than non-coeliac gluten intolerance.

  89. Chris, what you present here is essentially a strawman argument. All major proponents of Paleo, including Loren Cordain, propose an 85/15 rule that allows for the occassional consumption of things like legumes. They would argue, just like you, that the occassional consumption of low amounts of legumes is fine.

    It seems wildly irresponsible for someone with your prestige to use it to both:

    1. Frame this arguement in an extremely confusing way that will leave a large portion of your readers to walk away from this article with the idea that “legumes are okay” instead of the idea of what is actually healthy for them, and what they can occassionally eat for pleasure.
    2. To launch a whole attack on major paleo thinkers and authors who are actually under attack from all sides by BS fad-diet psuedo-science.

    None of us are the meat-eater version of vegans. This is not a movement of dogma. And creating dogmatist-strawman characatures of Loren Cordain is damaging to all of us.

    • Maybe you’ve just learned about this in debate class Eric, so we’ll give you some leeway, but I think the strawman argument is much better illustrated by your own comment.

    • “Dr. Cordain wrote the first mass market book on Paleo nutrition and has published many scientific papers on the subject, most of which I have read. I have great respect for his contribution.” – Chris Kresser

      Sounds pretty far from an ad hominem attack on Dr. Cordain. I think Chris is trying to address the folks who have argued that legumes aren’t “Paleo (TM)” because “Dr. Cordain says they’re not.”

      I value Chris’s above contribution as a way to help make people aware that being free to question everything and anything is one of the virtues of science, and when we stop questioning what we’re told, we’ve moved from science to dogma. This should apply to nutrition science as well.

      As a nutritionist, I personally worry that people will not be confused by Chris’s well-researched articles, but rather the sound-byte Paleo(TM) dogma that comes from outspoken individuals whose personal finances depend on people believing that strict Paleo is the only way to eat. And yes, those people exist. (Frankly, Dr. Cordain doesn’t even fall under that category.)

      You may not see it, but I’ve had clients who have expressed a great deal of confusion about how they should and shouldn’t eat based on arbitrary “Paleo(TM)” rules, and I think it’s crucial that clinical experts like Chris address these issues in a public forum, so that people can make the best decisions for their health and mental wellbeing.

      • You’re mistaken. Read Cordain’s Paleo blog. He was the one who FIRST attacked Kresser with extremely weasel words. Chris simply responded to this. And he responded like a gentleman.

        • Ehh, I looked at the blog and while I think Cordain shouldn’t use lack of scientific publication as evidence for lack of expertise (by that logic, none of us should listen to a thing our doctors tell us), I wouldn’t necessarily call them “weasel words”.

          I personally value clinical experience as high, if not higher than publication count. After all, we’re working with humans here, not lab rats, in vitro cultures, or archaeological fossils.

    • Dear Eric R.,

      Please refer to Cordain (The Paleo Diet, revised edition, 2011), page 23–Ground Rules for the Paleo Diet, states (and I quote): “no legumes”.

      I do not think that Chris Kresser’s comments that legumes are indeed paleo are attacking a strawman when Cordain very clearly (and without ambiguity) states legumes are not be consumed in his six rules for the paleo diet (chapter 2). These rules (at least not all of them) are not, in fact, based on the actual paleo diet (and, therefore, shouldn’t influence the modern version of it). This comment is not meant in a rude or sarcastic tone. I simply don’t believe that Chris is making a strawman error. Best wishes.

    • Eric R,

      1. Chris has not done anything confusing, its all very clear to me. As he said on the Robb Wolf show, he is neutral on legumes. Legumes are not the highest nutrient dense food, but they are also not harmful in moderation.

      Sometimes I get tired of eating tubers all the time, it makes me happy that sometimes I can take a break from tubers and have some lentils.

      2. There was no attack on anyone. Adults should be able to have respectful disagreements, without anyone taking it personally.

  90. People typically like to define a diet by noting what they can’t eat (based on the rules of the diet). Therefore, they describe their diet to their friends in terms of “I can’t eat this or that”. Recognizing great diversity in a diet makes it harder to define the diet in a few sound bites, which then creates tension for some people. The paleo diet was an incredibly diverse diet (as are/were the diets of their direct descendants–indigenous people). The paleo diet, in many ways, is too diverse to define on what you have to exclude (aside from obvious items, like highly processed foodstuffs).

    This is especially true considering one can examine different regions and different time periods within the paleolithic. For example, if you want to go back 2.5 millions years, you would be eating a more carbohydrate- and plant-rich diet as Homo habilis was not the effective predator that later hominids were (though these people did consume animals). If you look at more recent times (say 50,000 years ago), hominids were eating grain and legumes (along with all kinds of other foods, including lots of animals). The idea for me is then to examine what types of animal foods (or grains and legumes) they consumed, and find those forms (or as close a mimic as possible–ignoring highly derived cultivated plants that have documented losses in nutrition, phytochemistry, and fiber).

    There is ample documentation of indigenous people around the world consuming legumes and experiencing health (i.e., none of the chronic health ailments we face today). That being the case, a blanket statement like “no one should ever eat legumes” is in direct contradiction with real world observations. Instead, we need to ask questions like “what kind of legumes did they eat?”, “how did they prepare them?”, “how much did they consume?”, and “what other foods were combined with legumes in the diet?”. It may seem like more work, but it opens up the diet to greater diversity (and stops spreading dogma). Best wishes everyone.

  91. Thank you for this post. I am indian and legumes are a big part of our diet. I get so many questions on my blog specifically related to legume consumption and I haven’t been able to just write it off as legumes being terrible for you.
    In Indian cooking legumes are soaked overnight very often and are properly prepared. Also a lot of people who are interested in eating paleo are vegetarian and often ask me that if they can’t eat ‘daal’ which is their only form of protein (apart from fermented dairy) what can they eat.
    While I am aware that this is not the ideal paleo plan, there are a lot of vegetarians out there who want to take a step or two in the right direction and without properly prepared legumes, it’s almost impossible for them to go anywhere close.
    I agree with what you say about being on guard against the herd mentality.

  92. Thank you! I have a short question (hope it has a short answer…):

    How about sprouts from lentils or peas? They are not paleo if strict, but what about lentil sprouts and anti nutrients?

    • No, I would soak and cook your own. I know someone who can eat homecooked beans all day without a problem, but the storebought canned ones cause the back of her hands to crack and bleed within 20 minutes of consumption. This leads me to believe that they are not soaking the beans properly. Probably just pressure cooking them from the dried state. Be careful.

      • Absoltely! Kudos to Eden for their wonderful beans and no BPA in their cans! I cannot imagine my life without their beans. I used to be sensitive to all beans, even the ones cooked and soaked at home. But I can totally enjoy Eden beans. I am able to make a variety of dishes for my family and they allow me to serve different kinds of beans for small or large servings when I need to and not be stuck with the same pot of of beans for a week! Not to mention that they save me time and make my life a little easier!

    • Canned legumes aren’t soaked before they’re cooked. Cooking destroys enzymes such as phytase. So even though they are soaking in the can, there are no enzymes to neutralize the anti-nutrients. Soaking must be done before cooking.

    • There’s a lot of advice out there to avoid canned beans but I haven’t seen a smoking gun yet. In fact the research I was able to find seems to show that canned beans are probably ok — and possibly even better than any home method other than soaking and pressure cooking.

      This study found that lectins in canned beans are mitigated during the pressure-cooking process. Also less than 5% trypsin inhibitor remained. (

      What about phytic acid? According to one study, simmering beans without a pre-soak has the smallest impact on phytic acid, with 64-92% still present after cooking. Soaking first shows a further reduction, with 30-48% remaining. But the best results came from canning/pressure-cooking, with only 8.5-32.4% remaining. (

      Bottom line, soaking and pressure cooking your own beans is probably the best option, but canned beans seem ok, too, at least in terms of phytic acid and lectin content.

  93. Chris, I really appreciate your interpretation of the evidence and your balanced take on this. It is quite helpful to me as I try to determine my own best Paleo template and has made me decide to buy your book!

  94. You’ve responded admirably and make a good case for not applying a double standard – say for e.g. – when it comes to legumes & nuts.

    A comment:
    (This applies to other respected figures in the health & nutrition circles) I think people aren’t explicit enough about what angle they’re taking on a particular subject- are they talking about:

    -what APPEARS to be *optimal* (or what SHOULD be) from the purely scientific perspective
    -what someone COULD probably ‘get away with’ (whilst remaining at a determined level of health &/or performance)

    People listening to the argument don’t necessarily even get that such a distinction underlies all questions of health & that not clarifying the approach, explicitly, leaves people talking past each other.

    This may be an uncomfortable distinction to make because it constrains ones recommendations & makes it harder to harp on the “everyone is a special snow-flake” ‘cop-out’. [Of course everyone is different – question is why & what to do about it]

    “I don’t know” is unsatisfying but ultimately a true scientists best friend.

  95. Chris,

    Thank you for taking a scientific, evidence-based approach, instead of a dogmatic one! I know sticking your neck out there isn’t fun, but there are lots of us that appreciate the evidence based research!

      • Hi- curious about the difference between canned beans and dry ones that are soaked – can you elaborate or point me to an article discussing the processes and how it affects the legumes? Just wondering – never thought about this before!. I don’t eat legumes too often anymore, but I still like them and they don’t give me a huge amount of trouble.

    • Haha, me too! I know it’s coming. We need to stop setting ourselves apart with our food choices. I think it’s a form of elitism.

  96. Great article Chris, paleo circles have become just as dogmatic as vegans in the last few years, its tiresome. To be honest, after years of researching and listening to dozens and dozens of different specialists opinions in different fields on paleo and health, i really think that Loren Cordain should just be ignored overall. He never seems to have anything positive to add to the discussion, just constantly pushing his narrow minded views and bashing anyone who disagrees with him regardless of the fact that theres tons of evidence showing people can live well on foods he deems “evil”. Keep up the good work Chris and stay open minded as a buffer for the people against all the stupidity in health these days!

  97. After reading both your book and this article, it occurs to me that the Paleo diet is something of a giant detox that alerts the eater to what they can and cannot tolerate, and how much of what foodstuff they can tolerate without gaining weight or incurring other unwanted side-effects.

    Judging by the galactic brouhaha about resistant starches, and now there’s sure to be one about beans and legumes, I’m even more convinced of the detox mindset. Like Atkins, it seems the Paleo diet is also one you don’t stick with for very long–just long enough to get your body’s messages straight about the food you eat. Once you become fluent in that language, then you venture forth and “eat the forbidden fruit” as it were. It’s a STARTING POINT, but for some, it’s the start and end point (according to our bodies). The “Paleo” part is just marketing–something to get our attention, but it’s really a well-disguised elimination diet.

    Fortunately, we’re educated as to WHY we should limit or avoid certain foods along the way, and not just left with a book author’s opinion of foods as justification for the diet.

    And the education portion has just started, even though the Paleo concept is in the twilight years…some will seem justified in calling Paleo a fad diet, but when is education ever a fad?

    • In my book, I refer to strict Paleo as essentially an elimination diet, so I’d agree to some extent. But as I mentioned in another comment above, I do think Paleo is still a useful construct.

  98. Hi Chris, In your book page 199 you say (condensed): “Extensive preparation is required to make legumes more digestible and improve their nutrient bioavailability. If you are healthy and have a strong digestive system, and are willing to take the necessary steps to prepare legumes, then you may introduce them in modest amounts (that’s about 3 to 5 servings per week) during step 2 (= reintroduction phase)”. Perhaps you should have emphasized what is stated in your book during your nice Dr. Oz TV-performance.

      • I already thought so. Dr. Oz and his team give limited space. I think it is already great that paleo was promoted. He clearly fancied you and Nell.

    • I’m sure there was a lot of ideas Chris would have liked to further explain, if given the opportunity. It’s tough for a guest to go on a show like that and have much control over the show’s overall content, much less spend time on nuanced biochemical foundations of cooking and GI health.

      My guess is that the show’s producers have a fairly strong say, maybe stronger than Dr. Oz’. They’re making sure the show continues to be highly viewed and marketable to the masses. Not my preference, but that’s the reality.

  99. Chris, I think this is a great article and I also listened to you cover a lot this on Robb Wolf’s podcast. But one thing slightly disappoints me. You discuss the reasons why you shouldn’t necessarily avoid legumes, but I disagree that there aren’t more reasons why people should definitely consider including them in their diets. Sure they aren’t as nutritionally dense as liver, but at the same time, people probably shouldn’t be eating liver daily either. With your recent focus on the benefits of resistant starch and fermentable fiber I would expect that you might see legumes in a better light. I hope at some point you explore this more. 🙂

      • Could cause copper or vitamin A toxicity if eaten in excess and if you’re not getting enough zinc or vitamin D, respectively. Also might be harmful for anyone with an iron storage disease like hemochromatosis. Most practitioners recommend ~6-8 ounces per week, so you could eat an ounce per day and probably be fine, but I wouldn’t suggest eating a 3-4 ounce serving daily.

        • I think it’s helpful to always try to consider what probable availability would have been. I.E. the liver would be a relatively small portion of the kill. I very much doubt hunters would expend the energy going after more kills just for the liver and wasting the rest. Too often people think because something is good more is better – it’s not.

          • The amount of copper in lamb liver varies a lot, depending on what the sheep have been eating. Sheep accumulate copper in the liver more readily than other farm animals. If I eat much local liver (green pastures most of the year) it makes me ill, as do copper supplements. Pyroluric people should avoid it.

    • Legumes are a great food! You’ve got all those great prebiotics, you’ve got soluble fiber to absorb whatever toxins the liver decides to eject in the bile, you’ve got a good dose of magnesium (without the omega-6s you get in nuts, which is the main other practical place to find magnesium) (not that I think whole-nut-source omega-6 ought to be avoided at all costs either, but that’s another comment, and if we can get 1/3 of our magnesium needs met in one serving of beans with minimal omega-6, why not?) And they have a nice substantial mouthfeel that I miss on a “true” paleo diet. Go eat some beans, people!
      I find I need 150+ net carbs a day for good adrenal function, and beans are a far sight more “nutrient dense” than tubers (or rice), and if I tried to eat that much fruit I’d be a sobbing blood sugar rollercoaster mess. For those of us who need carbs, legumes are an excellent choice. Lentils and kidney-type beans hold up well against most cuts of meat as far as minerals and b-vitamins per calorie (albeit admittedly because they lack the great fats you get in grass fed animal foods, etc).
      Besides, who said every single morsel that passes our lips has to be absolutely maxed out in nutrient density? Most traditional cultures get a fair chunk of their calories from something starchy with decidedly modest nutrient density, and get the rest of their needs met with supplementary meats, nuts, leaves, etc. It would be insane for an omniverous species to have evolved to need every morsel to be maxed out. We would never have survived if there weren’t a fair amount of slop built into the system.
      Note: This does not entitle you to live on twinkies supplemented by small amounts of liver, oysters, and kale. And I concede immediately that with today’s poorer soils and less nutrient dense produce varieties (and lower calorie needs due to more sedentary lifestyles) we don’t have as much room for slop as our ancestors. But it still doesn’t mean that we’ve got to be pushing the pedal to the metal at every meal.

  100. Love this article! Why strictly avoid legumes if they don’t bother you? No one would say legumes should be a replacement for more nutrient dense foods but it’s nice to be able to be flexible when enjoying various ethnic cuisines.

    Of course if you’re FODMAP intolerant that’s one thing, but I bet there’s a lot of Paleo followers out there who could easily handle a few servings of legumes per week with no problem. I hope people understand that Chris isn’t saying you must eat legumes, but rather that if you choose to have them on occasion and you tolerate them well, there’s no strong evidence to support universal avoidance of a relatively benign, whole food.

    I’m glad I’m not dogmatic about legumes either, because it would have been tough to enjoy all the food I ate when traveling in Nicaragua last year!

    • I agree and I agree with the article.

      As a nutritionist who advocates a whole food, nutrient dense diet (with a Paleo bent) to my clients, I have this conversation about legumes all the time.

      I do ask them to make legumes part of their elimination stage and then bring them back in. If they can tolerate the, great. Prepare them properly and make them more of a sometime meal, not an everyday meal.

      I do believe that the Paleo dogma is what gives Paleo a bad rap, and it is unfortunate.

      Keep up the good work.

  101. Nicely worded and I agree. It’s interesting how just because someone has published a book on paleo foods everyone else quotes and follows. I however do not… Best to read as much information as possible and then, taking into consideration what we know about our own bodies, make proper assessments and changes to provide optimal health. No one way of thinking works for every person…. We are after all individuals (our DNA is proof of that).

  102. interesting post. But it begs the question: What is really left of the Paleo Diet? The stance on carbs has been softened, dairy is now fine if you can deal with it, and legumes are okay, It seems to me that avoiding gluten is the only thing left that distinguishes this diet from a basic natural, traditional diet like, say, the French eat. Paleo has become ‘things you would eat in 1930s-50s, minus wheat’.

    • Lars, as I said in the article, Paleo is still a useful framework that can guide further investigation and research. The hypothesis that we are fundamentally mismatched with the diet and lifestyle we’re living today, and that returning to a way of eating and living that more closely resembles our Paleolithic roots will improve our health, is still valid. But my point is that we shouldn’t stop there; we shouldn’t mistake the map for the territory, as the saying goes. Paleo is a starting place, not a destination.

      From a dietary perspective, I think Paleo is about maximizing nutrient density and minimizing toxicity most of all. But don’t forget that a Paleo framework can also inform our lifestyle choices—from how we exercise to how we set up our sleep environment to our sun exposure.

      • It kinda begs the question does the “Paleo Diet” ™ label serve us that well anymore other than in marketing a new approach on healthy eating? When we ask questions like “What is left of the Paleo Diet” it starts to sound like the goal is setting ourselves apart as this special (read: weird) group that does things differently than other folks. While it’s cool to be part of a subculture, that shouldn’t be the focus of what we are trying to do here getting folks healthy should be. When I talk to friends about me doing Paleo the most common refrain is it sounds way too hard to do. Getting folks who are sick 95% there, with something they can stick to, seems way more important than doctrinal purity. At the end of the day, does it matter if it is called Paleo, Perfect Health, Ancestral or even “I’m eating like my grandma did” if it gets results?

        • Mark, I love your reply. There’s plenty of guidelines left for those of us interested to follow, and further exploration of the paleo diet can only make us more informed and help make better choices. I am not doing it because I like being part of a subset, I’m doing it because I’ve seen results and feel better. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

        • Thank you for posting this response! I agree that no matter the name if we can encourage others to at-least get to a 95% whole foods,nutrient dense diet then things like arguing over legumes becomes a benign issue that loses sight of the ultimate goal. Blessings!

      • What’s really cool about “Paleo” is how our ideas about it can change depending on the latest research and the current zeitgeist. We think our grandparents ate healthier than we did, but my grandma gave birth to a daughter with spina bifida because of nutritional deficiencies she didn’t know about.

        Nowadays we come armed with all kinds of scientific information to help us make decisions. While we brand the diet “Paleo,” we are just looking to be as healthy and happy as possible… that might be easiest to achieve if we follow the ancestral diet template without falling into the dogma, and leave wiggle room for new ideas and updated research.

        • The problem with defining unequivocally what is “Paleo” is that the Paleolithic era covered a huge span of time, geography, and human evolutionary stages ( and thus diets). It is generally accepted to cover the period of 2.5+ million years ago to 100000 years ago (start of the Neolithic), if we skip the early Australopithecus relatives and look only at the Homo genus. During that period, there were hominins that were still “proto-humans”, like Homo habilis, with a brain half the size and teeth twice as big as those of modern man. H. habilis’ physiology shows that his “Paleo” diet is not the “Paleo” diet of physiologically modern humans. Remember, during this Paleo time span, human brain size went from an average of 600 cm3 to 1350 cm3, a change of about 225%. Fossil remains indicate that H. habilis probably had a diet more like modern chimps than that of fully-human Paleo man, who appeared only about 200,000 years ago. Proto-humans like H habilis spent much of their day finding food, because their food was low-nutrient, fibrous plant stuffs, a small amount of scavenged meat (probably ripe in the tropical climate in which he lived), and an even smaller amount of meat that he hunted. As man evolved and spread out of Africa (first as proto-humans, then later as modern man) into more temperate ones, his largely-plant-cantered diet changed to one higher in animal foods and lower in plant foods. As Chris notes, Paleo man (across the time spectrum and geographic variation of the Paleolithic era) was not consuming modern “gourmet Paleo” cuisine, baking with nut flours, converting Cordon Bleu recipes to “Paleo-conforming”, etc. Like the hunter-gatherers of the historic era, modern Paleo man at all stages ate primarily locally-available and simply-prepared whole foods. That literally covers everything from soup (bone broth) to nuts. Today, you even see vegan gurus arguing that very early man was vegan, so vegan is the real Paleo. While the fossil record does not support their hypothesis, even for H habilis, it also doesn’t support the dogmatic Paleo tenets, either.

          • Oops, sorry, that should be 10,000 years ago when the Neolithic started, not 100,000. I am a lousy typist sometimes.

      • I’m starting to think that lifestyle is actually MORE important than diet. Unfortunately, lifestyle may be even harder to fix than diet in the modern world. Most of us cannot live a busy professional life in the city and still move like our ancestors. Modern life also isolates us from the enormous benefits of organic community. We are not neurologically, physiologically, or hormonally adapted to the lives we’ve created for ourselves. We thought with our technologies, we could rule the planet and have whatever we want. Now the planet loses and we lose. I hope we find a way to turn things around. In the mean time, we have to be even more careful about how we eat.

      • Chris, your version of Paleo just feels like it’s Weston A. Price approach now. That’s not a bad thing but increasingly the “Paleo” label just doesn’t mean thing anymore. Maybe we need to come up with a different name.

        • I couldn’t agree more. I avoided Chris’s work for years because I didn’t identify 100% with being a classic ‘paleo’. I’d been missing out on so much valuable information and the wonderful articles he writes, just because of the term paleo.

      • I absolutely agree with Chris! Paleo is the reminder of the standards of the food we eat….not limitations to only what our ancestors ate…we have come along in society, it doesn’t mean new findings are bad just because it wasn’t eaten way back then. Having a sound mind and listening to our bodies is what most people miss!

    • Regarding legumes: I also had gas as a kid, eating legumes like everybody. However, at the time I was eating gluten (which was destroying me little by little). After I started Paleo and my gut was healed, and then years later I started eating again legumes, the problems DISAPPEARED. It seems that legumes become a problem if your gut is ALREADY in a bad shape, due to gluten/sugar/processed-foods/seed-oils. Avoid these, and suddenly, both fermented dairy, and soaked nuts/legumes aren’t a problem anymore. At least for me.

      The least problematic legume I found is sprouted lentils (Whole Foods sells some if you don’t want to do the work yourself). Garbanzo, peas, and white beans are also pretty benign after they have been soaked for 24 hours. Darker/colorful color beans might be a bit more problematic.

      To answer your question about what is left of Paleo if we start eating rice, legumes and dairy. For me, Paleo is this:

      – No glutenous grains ever, and avoid most other grains and pseudo-grains too when possible (rice or quinoa once a week is as far as I go). There were three recent studies (Nov-Dec 2013) that showed that *some cultivars* of quinoa and (certified GF) oats where producing celiac-like symptoms. But the rest of the cultivars didn’t. So sometimes it’s also about the actual cultivar eaten, not just the whole species of a grain or a pseudograin. I found that some types of rice makes me sick, while others don’t (Japanese rice is always safe for me, for example. GF Chinese is not). So when it comes to grains: “always avoid all glutenous grains, experiment with the rest, but avoid if you can anyway”. That’s my motto about these.

      – No seed oils/margarine/trans-fats. No brainer here.

      – No processed foods. This includes gluten-free pastas and pizzas and breads and cookies, artificial sweeteners, in addition to the more “bad” things found in supermarkets.

      – No excess sugar. If you got to have a sweetener, use unprocessed sugar, raw honey or maple syrup, always in small quantities. If you gotta make a dessert, make it raw.

      – And also: *soak* your nuts and seeds, soak your legumes. Avoid peanuts. Ferment your dairy, prefer casein A2 milk (or any, raw). Don’t bake with nut/seed flour (it oxidizes them). There is no such thing as a “Paleo cookie” or “Paleo bread”.

      – Go for the best quality of your food you can afford. Eat lots of veggies & fruits, more so than meat. Give priority to wild seafood. Eat offal, bone/fish broth, oysters, herbal tea (Greek Mountain Tea has huge research behind it for its benefits), fermented foods, sea veggies, ginger, turmeric, raw young garlic.

      For me, this sums Paleo up. Its what makes both sense to me, and makes me feel good. I was strict Paleo for 2 years and even Paleo-ketogenic for a few months, and while my health ailments went away, I never regained energy. My adrenals and thyroid got trashed in prolonged VLC. I feel and poop better eating this way, that includes more carbs (even if I am fat-adapted after so long on VLC).

      • Regarding my argument about grains: there is about 10% of celiacs that don’t get better with the gluten-free diet. However, they do get better with the Paleo diet, which removes all grains. This is why I’m still cautious about grains, and only allow in my diet a few types of grains and pseudograins, and only these brands that I have experimented with and they don’t create a problem. Even if you might not be a celiac, I’d still suggest you be careful with grains regardless. There’s a reason why so many people found their health with Paleo when all grains and processed foods were removed.

      • I, too, trashed my thyroid, and my adrenals by going VLC. I practiced intermittent fasting for probably two years, eating between 10am and 6pm. As a result, my body went into early menopause. I had no energy, I grew nodules on my thyroid, I couldn’t sleep, my body composition changed whereby I gained body fat. In addition, my cholesterol went through the roof (314). A VAP study revealed that my LDL’s (170) were the large fluffy kind, but still….? 314?
        The medical doctor wanted to sit and wait….”come back in a year.” Oh thanks, you mean when I feel EVEN WORSE!!!!!
        The problem is this: while everyone is glorying in their health gains, I thought I was doing something wrong. I tried Whole 30, I tried the SCD diet (maybe I had small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). I read about the AutoImmune protocol. Finally I went to a naturopath. A vitamin mineral amino acid test showed that I was deficient in several amino acids (How can that be when I was eating so high fat, and moderate but good quality protein?), as well as vitamin, mineral deficiencies. He prescribed a diet that was mostly vegetables, some legumes, brown rice (once a day), amaranth (once a day), and some fruit. I ate fish every 3rd day. He also had me eat raw almonds (soaked) as well as raw walnuts (soaked). I freaked out…..I thought I was going to blow up like a balloon. The majority of my calories where coming from carbs. I soaked the legumes (for 24 hours), I used TruRoot’s organic, sprouted brown rice. I soaked the amaranth in lemon water (per Nourishing Traditions). I entered my data on FitDay to see what the macronutrients profile of what I was eating. I ate about 1700 calories/day (200 more then what I allowed myself being Paleo), between 160-220 grams of carbs/day, with about 30% of my calories coming from fat.
        Results: so far I am down 8 lbs, my skin tags (which are benign skin tumors and had begun showing up the last couple of years) are shrinking (almost non-existent), hot flashes are gone, sleeping better, more energy, overall feel better, with a better mental outlook. This whole episode has me questioning Paleo. Is it the panacea that everyone claims it to be? Isn’t the most important thing that we stay off of processed foods, and maintain a diet that is clean?
        Even Robb Wolf stated that when he first wrote his book, his subjects were diseased populations. These were people who had a lot of weight to lose, had type 2 diabetes, etc. He agreed that the Paleo diet is evolving as we learn more. VLC and IF is not necessarily good for all populations. My research on IF for women showed that many women had adverse effects to IF…..namely of the female variety of problems. I wish I had known that before IFing for two years.
        After I finish my detox diet, he will put me on a normal diet with more variety. I believe I will probably eat a lot of vegetables, small amount of fruit, good, healthy fats, small amount of meat, which will focus mostly on organ meats, bone broths, and wild fish. I also believe I will allow myself to eat legumes in moderation. I am still not so sure about grains…..rice once in a while, ok. But, no more VLC for me, no more IF. If I fast, it will be all or nothing, and not on work out days.
        This was a great post! Thank you, Chris, for being open minded, flexible, and allowing the research to speak for itself.
        Nutrition is in it’s infancy. To say we have all the answers RIGHT NOW is foolish. The sanest approach is to realize that not everything about nutrition is set in stone.

        • Same experience here too. After I added more veggies, legumes (for more fiber), fruits, and brought down my excessive fat and protein consumption, I felt better within 3 days time.

          Except my trashed adrenals and thyroid, with Paleo my trigs went off the roof (200). My fatty liver never went away either, while for other people on Paleo it did!

          I was reading an article about the Hadza people, that women eat more veggies, while men value meat more. Scientists thought that this was so because the men were hunting, and the women were gathering, so they were valuing their product higher for psychological reasons. But so it seems, that women NEED more veggies/fruits, while men can do better with ketogenic diets.

          I do believe the people who say they found their health with Paleo and Paleo-keto, and their trigs and LDLs all stabilized at healthy levels, but it seems that the majority of them were men! It’s possible that we women need more carbs than men!

          Paleo has saved my life (I was near death when I found Paleo in Sept 2011), but it took me about 2 years too to find out WHICH parts of Paleo to keep, and which to throw out of the window. My comment above is the knowledge I accumulated in these 2 years on how to eat properly.

          Thank you for the info on this sprouted brown rice, I will be trying it soon!

      • I am 65 and live in Australia. When I was young in UK all our food was bought fresh at the market, and I continued to carry on that tradition for my own family. I figured that cooking a proper meal after work gave me time to wind down for the day, and it was a lot cheaper.
        Now, even though I have shops and restaurants within minutes, I still mainly make my own food, and keep a productive veg garden. At present I am eating green peas and beans and tomatoes straight off the vines for breakfast, with a leaf or two of kale, water cress, lettuce or herbs. What could be better? Most of my produce is grown in containers. I could afford to buy produce, but frankly I don’t want something that was picked a week ago or flown in from Peru, or sprayed with poisons.
        I cannot believe the rows and rows of rubbish food, pre prepared, that groan on the supermarket shelves. They are all so full of additives and salt they mostly taste quite horrible. Even the so called organic foods are often quite without flavour.
        There is a movement about for people to grow and eat their own produce again, and I think that is better than following food fads slavishly just because they are in vogue. Most of this is just marketing manipulation at the end of the day. I am healthy, look much younger than my age, and enjoy my garden. Not much wrong with any of that. People, don’t over complicate your life to eat fad food, just be sensible.

    • But isn’t eating what people ate in the 1930’s (minus wheat, or even moderately including wheat if it’s properly prepared and you tolerate it) a healthy diet?! especially when based on individual evidence about what you can tolerate, which you will have if you’ve followed paleo for any amount of time in order to determine your tolerance to foods that are “not paleo”. the biggest problem people face in their diets today is processed artificial foods, and eating this way will eliminate them. JERF!

        • Yeah, I’d prefer the 1830s, actually. Recently saw the food allowance set aside by the adult children for their aged parents in that decade. For the two of them for one year they got a 300 pound pig, 300 pounds of beef, 100 pounds of fish and all the milk and calves of three cows. Figuring it all out, and assuming the couple ate everything themselves, you’re talking nearly 2,000 calories worth of animal products and fat per day. They also got a little grain, some vegetables (whatever was in season), tea and some white and brown sugar.

          • Some food in the 19th century was adulterated and there was no legislation to protect the way it was produced. There would be chalk in flour and milk, floor sweepings in sweets, re-used tea leaves sold as fresh, and so on. Here’s one article that says ‘During the nineteenth century, much of the food consumed by the working-class family was adulterated by foreign substances, contaminated by chemicals, or befouled by animal and human excrement.’

            And here’s another article: ‘Children’s sweets came with added plaster-of-paris, among other nasties.’ ‘Most of the adulterants were not dangerous as a one-off, but taken over time they impacted on health by lowering nutritional standards’

            But perhaps if you were living in the country you might have a better chance of eating fresh and unadulterated food.

            The middle classes would have done much better, I’m sure.


      • One major source of confusion is what ‘tolerate’ means. It’s an iffy term with little meaning, but you see it a lot in these discussions. Many foods or substances may harm you over the long term, without causing any overt symptoms (gas, nausea, headaches, changes in blood panel, etc).
        My own feeling is that “Paleo’ is going to be a moving target for quite a while yet ( I personally mostly agree with Eugenia, minus the dairy.)

    • hey lars! EXACTLY correct, sir. if we’re just avoiding gluten and crappy oils, i see no need to cling to a confusing term and outdated dogma. paleo is a silly misnomer, that should be dropped.

    • And this is why I rarely call myself “Paleo”. To non-paleo folks I simply say that I eat a low-inflamatory, nutrient dense diet that is both biochemically and physiologically sound… And if I need to justify why I don’t eat gluten (or grains in general), dairy, nightshades and legumes I say “I am allergic”.
      I will use “paleo” in the paleo community simply because I fall under that umbrella. (and FWISW, I was eating “Paleo” for years before I realized that I was)

      • I strictly avoid using the term “I am allergic,” because it further promotes the lack of understanding about food that people have. I say “I am sensitive to foods,” and if necessary explain the difference. I have heard other people I know use the allergic explanation because it’s easier and I cringe. That person they are talking to might have the same issues without realizing it yet, and if someone was honest with them about their own problems, it could help this person. At the very least the person would learn more about the human body and not walk away with the false impression that people are allergic to gluten, which doesn’t happen (as far as I know). This is part of the dumbing down of America, which is ashame.

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