We’ve seen a great deal of controversy around whether or not beans should remain part of a healthy diet. Advocates of keto and paleo diets claim that beans should be avoided altogether, because they’re high in potentially harmful compounds called lectins. So, what’s the real deal with beans? Should we ditch them entirely, or keep these protein-rich staples in the pantry?
What are lectins?
Let’s take a closer look at lectins, and what they do exactly. Lectins area family of carbohydrate-binding proteins. They’re found in nearly all foods, with the highest amounts in legumes and grains. They are thought of as a plant’s defense mechanism to steer animals away from eating it. Animals, including humans, have trouble digesting lectins. This is because they are resistant to the body’s digestive enzymes and can pass through the stomach unchanged.
Certain lectins can cause digestive upset, and legumes, particularly beans, and grains contain the most lectins. You may have heard of the lectin-free diet, made popular by Dr. Steven Gundry. He advocates for avoiding foods that contain lectins. Beyond general digestive upset, he asserts that if we consume too many lectins, they can penetrate the cellular lining of the intestines, resulting in immunity issues. However, Gundry also dishes out cooking methods to eliminate and/or deactivate lectins so that foods like legumes and grains are safe to eat. He suggests using a pressure cooker. Beyond legumes and grains, Gundry offers tips to reduce the lectin content of fruits and veggies. He suggests peeling and de-seeding fruits and fermenting vegetables. Some of his favorite lectin-free foods are avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and olive oil.
Cooking off the lectins
We do see where Gundry is coming from, because no matter how nutrient-dense a food is - if not digested properly, we won’t absorb the nutrients. However, cooking at high temperatures effectively eliminates lectin activity from foods like legumes and grains, making them perfectly safe to eat. In fact, boiling legumes eliminates almost all lectin activity!
The takeaway? When eating legumes, grains, or any other high-lectin food, be mindful of where it comes from. Are you cooking it thoroughly enough, or purchasing pre-cooked from a trusted source?
Beans for the win
Beans are packed with protein and fiber to support healthy regularity, and they’re also great sources of B vitamins and minerals like manganese, copper and iron. Studies have shown that they help lower blood sugar and keep insulin levels stable. Other legumes like lentils and chickpeas are also protein powerhouses that provide plenty of fiber, as well as antioxidants. Chickpeas, for example, are an excellent source of zinc – an important antioxidant mineral that helps support clear skin!
It's all about you
At the end of the day, the health value of different foods is highly individual. While there are many healthy staples that are gentle on the body and good for mostpeople, everyone reacts to different foods in their own unique way. Trendy superfoods are often touted as extremely healthy, but it all depends on the individual, their specific health goals, and even the state of their gut health. We need to leverage different foods and cooking methods to meet our needs throughout different stages of life. A great place to start is by narrowing down which foods agree and disagree with your body. This can be done by simply eliminating the food at question for a considerable time period – at least a few weeks – and then see how you feel. Then try reintroducing it and see what happens. Listening to your body is one of the best tools in your wellness arsenal, and it’s free of charge!
At Plantable, we always aim to use the healthiest cooking techniques possible – with no added sugars or inflammatory oils, and ingredients that are nutrient-dense and easy (for most!) to digest. Most importantly, our coaches are here to help you determine a way of eating that makes you look and feel amazing 😊