Are Legumes Paleo and Why it Might Not Matter | Chris Kresser
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Are Legumes “Paleo”? And Does It Really Matter?

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why are legumes not paleo, are legumes bad for you
There are benefits to consuming legumes, especially when prepared correctly. olgakr/istock/thinkstock

I went on the Dr. Oz show in 2014 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 in 2013 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!

Are Legumes Paleo?

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 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.

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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

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)·
Lentils270–1,500
Legumes (average)500–2,900
Almonds350–9,420
Walnuts200–6,700
Pecans180–4,520
Sesame seeds140–5,360
Dark chocolate1,680–1,790
Swiss chard3,530
Spinach3,670

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 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.

Evolution didn’t stop in the Paleolithic. While it’s certainly true that foods our ancestors ate are most likely to be well tolerated today, our bodies have continued to evolve and change. In fact, up to 10 percent of our genome shows evidence of recent selection. Many of us are able to tolerate foods like dairy, grains, and yes, legumes, even though our hunter–gatherer ancestors didn’t typically include those in their diets. That’s why I’m a proponent of a Paleo template, instead of a strict diet.

That said, the right dietary approach for any individual person depends on several factors, like their:

  • Calorie needs
  • Age, gender, height, and weight
  • Current activity levels
  • Existing health issues
  • Health goals

Functional and integrative medicine practitioners are well suited to help someone who is searching for the healthiest diet for their needs, while health coaches are experts at supporting them as they reach for their health goals. Working together with practitioners as part of a collaborative care team, health coaches empower their clients to change their lifestyles. Health coaches with knowledge of the principles of Functional Health and ancestral nutrition can offer deeper support to their clients.

In the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program, our students learn more about Functional Health and ancestral nutrition. Graduates of our program can become ADAPT-Certified Functional Health Coaches who are prepared to fit within a collaborative network of healthcare providers focused using a Functional, ancestral approach to prevent and reverse chronic disease. Find out more about the ADAPT Health Coach Training Program

257 Comments

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

  2. 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

    • Mexico eats beans with every meal how much leaky gut do they have? I’m a Texan and I don’t know even one

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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 themhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25734566
            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 example..you 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

  7. @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.

  8. 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 humble..you 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.

  9. 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.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20686845

  10. 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!!

  11. 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!!

  12. 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.

  13. 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 !!!

  14. 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).

  15. 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. 😉

  16. 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.

  17. 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?

    http://tumor.free.fr/TAP/Larsson-Meat-CRC-Meta-Analysis-IJC06.pdf

    http://www.pnas.org/content/112/2/542.abstract

    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

  18. 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!

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