Why You SHOULD NEVER Eat Vegetables (Or Beans). And Why You Simply Do Not Have to Eat Them!
You do not need to eat vegetables or beans because they are not needed in your diet and are potentially harmful!
Do you really need not to eat or have to eat vegetables or beans? No, you can eat them if you like them but there are risks such as oxalates, pesticides and poor growing practices, they are expensive, and GI issues.
If you choose not to eat vegetables and beans, you can get the same nutrition you'd miss out on from eating plenty of super fruits, honey, and beef liver. Yes, you need to eat fruits and beef liver (honey optional in moderation) if you don't eat vegetables or greens as beef liver is a massive super nutrient source and fruits are as well.
We mean, think about it, vegetables don't want to be eaten as they are plants, living things, that defend for survival with inside their DNA evolved to attack your body as a result.
Fruits, on the other hand, want to be eaten as that is one way how they can spread and populate their mom tree, such as in the poop of animals!
Now at least you have a reason since way back as being a kid to not eat your greens, beans, and other gross stuff! Your body just knew they were no good, should have known this and told you mom!
We have two great articles for you today. The first is from here and the second here. They say similar things on this topic. Enjoy the articles.
If you want to eat veggies, the best ones are full of water like sea veggies, bok choy, and lettuce. If you want to eat beans, there is really no substitute as they all contain lectins.
"I think veggies are gross!"
Elsie Deese - A child that we agree with
"I think veggies are gross!"
Dan Mann - An adult we agree with
#1 Vegetables are Not the Holy Grail
Vegetables get a lot of good press in healthy eating circles because they’re one of the few things everyone agrees on. From strict USDA adherents to radical vegans to Paleo dieters, everyone can rally ‘round the broccoli. There’s nothing wrong with this – and it’s definitely true that most people in the modern world need to replace a lot of the processed junk on their plate with vegetables (ketchup doesn’t count!). But that doesn’t make veggies the final word on a healthy diet. As a food group, they have some drawbacks as well as benefits, and they’re healthiest when eaten as part of a balanced diet, in conjunction with nutrient-dense animal foods.
Maybe it’s just part of human nature to constantly be searching for the One True Solution to all our problems. The monthly rotation of new “miracle foods” certainly takes advantage of that urge (acai berries? Green tea? Chia seeds? Resveratrol?). But even if you don’t succumb to each new fad, it’s definitely possible to get too fixated on one specific food or food group as the ultimate in nutrition: the Perfect Food Syndrome.
Vegetables are one example of this. Run a Google image search for “healthy food” and you’ll turn up picture after picture of lovingly arranged carrots and broccoli. The individual emotional response to this is huge - digging into a huge bowl of spinach just feels virtuous. It’s very easy to get stuck in the mindset that all vegetables are healthy for all people at all times, that there’s no such thing as too many veggies. Some people take it to an incredible extreme by going on vegetable juice cleanses, drinking only vegetable juice for days at a time to “detox” or lose weight faster.
Paleo isn’t a crazy juicing cleanse, but even on Paleo it’s possible to get caught up in eating too many vegetables, or eating them for the wrong reasons. Even after reading all about how fat won’t make them fat, some people are still nervous about all the calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol in red meat. They don’t want to go back to grains, but they’re not quite willing to take the leap of faith and enjoy their steak, so they substitute endless piles of salad. Other people are afraid of the carnal pleasure of eating meat, and eating vegetables gives them that ascetic pleasure of doing their nutritional duty. They “fill up” with vegetables because they’re afraid of their own appetites.
In both of these cases, vegetables are “safe” foods because they’re Paleo-approved but don’t stray away from conventional nutritional advice either. But eating a diet with too many vegetables relative to the amount of meat and eggs deprives your body of the energy and nutrients it needs to thrive. Paleo isn’t just about getting rid of grains; it’s about substituting animal products (not vegetables!) as a staple source of calories.
This article takes on some of the dangers of eating too many vegetables relative to meat and animal products. It can seem pretty discouraging to learn about the downsides of all those leafy greens, but bear in mind the big picture: it’s not that vegetables are unhealthy; it’s that all foods have their benefits and drawbacks. Nothing is beneficial if you eat it to excess, or if it crowds out other foods that you also need. Vegetables don’t provide all the micronutrients a human body needs, and the benefits aren’t limitless: there comes a point where eating more isn’t better. As part of a balanced diet, they’re indispensable. As a “miracle cure” on their own, or as an answer to emotional needs, they’re ineffective at best.
Vegetables’ main claim to fame is their content of vitamins and minerals, considered relative to their caloric content. But how micronutrient-rich are they, really?
Vegetables are nutritious, but there isn’t some magical dichotomy in the human diet where animal foods provide calories and vegetable foods provide nutrients. There are plenty of vitamins and minerals in animal products that you can’t get from vegetables:
Vitamin B12, which is critical for mood and mental health, is found only in animal products.
Iron is available in plant foods, but the non-heme iron in vegetables like spinach and broccoli isn’t as easily absorbed as the heme iron found in meat, so animal sources of iron are better.
Vitamin A is the same as iron: there’s a form of pre-Vitamin A in plants called beta-carotene, but this has to be converted in your body, and the conversion process isn’t very nutritious. It’s much more effective to get animal forms of Vitamin A (called preformed Vitamin A, or retinol).
Zinc is found predominantly in animal foods, especially oysters.
Vitamin D is rare in all foods, but the only foods that contain even a little are animal products like eggs and fish.
Also, some of the fat-soluble vitamins in the veggies themselves aren’t available to you unless you also eat the vegetables accompanied by some fat. For example, you can’t really absorb Vitamins A and K without fat, no matter how much of them you eat in carrots or cauliflower. If your dinner is steak and asparagus, the steak is at least as important to your health!
Another reason why vegetables aren’t as nutrient-dense as you might think has nothing to do with the plants themselves. It’s simply the way we grow them. Think of the differences between a traditional family farm (the way we grew our produce for thousands of years) and a huge industrial agriculture operation. The family farm would have had animals in addition to vegetables, and would have grown many different kinds of plants – after all, if a farmer just grew kale, his family would starve.
This system was ideal because it constantly replenished the soil with the nutrients that the plants needed to grow. Vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals because they take them from the ground, so planting a field of vegetables is actually very hard on the soil. The most nutritious veggies – especially the brassica family, which includes broccoli and kale – take the most out of the land (by contrast, legumes actually add nitrogen to the soil).
Home gardeners know this, and rotate the plants in their gardens accordingly to give the soil a chance to rest. A small family farmer who raised animals in addition to plants had a ready-made solution to this problem: plenty of fresh manure. But modern agriculture separates animals and plants, and crams the animals into factory farms where their waste products get dumped out into rivers and streams to pollute the local ecosystem. Meanwhile, the vegetables in the fields are deprived of all these vital nutrients. Modern farmers do use fertilizers, but the fertilizers only contain three minerals: nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous (abbreviated NPK). Meanwhile, the soil is becoming steadily more and more depleted, and the vegetables that grow in it are becoming less and less nutritious.
Not only are the vegetables lower in nutrients when they come out of the ground, but they’re also often trucked long distances in freezer trucks – this can result in significant nutrient degradation. For example, green beans lost 77% of their Vitamin C after just 7 days in storage. So the amounts listed on the Nutrition Facts panel might not actually be what you get from your salad, and there’s no real way to tell.
The upshot is that vegetables contain a lot of good stuff, but they just don’t provide everything a healthy human needs. Instead of thinking that vegetables provide nutrients while animal foods provide calories, think of the two as working together. A diet can be unhealthy if it has too few vegetables, but also if it has too many vegetables at the expense of necessary animal foods. In our diet and in our food production system, plants and animals naturally work together, and when humans try to destroy this symbiosis, we see the negative effects both on our bodies and on the planet.
The nutritional incompleteness of vegetable foods is most obvious when you prepare them in a way that allows you to consume more vegetables than you would ever eat in solid form, and especially when you eat those super-concentrated vegetables as your only source of nutrition. In the same way that a piece of fruit and a glass of fruit juice are completely different to your body, a head of broccoli and a glass of veggie juice are also different, Juice fasting (drinking only juice for extended periods of time) really highlights the nutritional drawbacks of vegetable overload, even though the vegetables themselves are perfectly healthy when eaten as one part of a normal diet.
First of all, juice fasting provides very imbalanced nutrition, since you aren’t getting the vital nutrients only found in animal products, and you aren’t even getting all the nutrition from the veggies without any accompanying fat. As well as getting too few of some nutrients (like iron and B vitamins), it’s also possible to get too many of others; for example, some juice fasters see their skin take on an orange color from drinking too much beta-carotene in carrot juice.
Long-term juicing is also a risk for mineral imbalances. Vegetables are rich in potassium (which your body needs), but poor in sodium (which your body also needs). Fasting on vegetable juice can actually lead to a sodium-potassium imbalance, which is hard on your mood, your energy levels, and your thyroid.
Another disadvantage of vegetable juice is that it’s quite high in sugar. This seems surprising because un-juiced vegetables have almost no sugar relative to their bulk, but the juicing process presses all the fiber out, and fiber is what gives vegetables most of their size. Fiber-less vegetable juice is much higher in carbohydrate by weight, so vegetable juice has a significant sugar hit overall, especially if you use a lot of sweeter vegetables like beets or carrots.
A lot of people claim they feel amazing whey they “detox” with juice fasting, but most of these people eat a diet full of toxins the rest of the time – of course they feel better when they take away the gluten and the soybean oil! But you can get that fantastic feeling and have a diet that’s sustainable and healthy in the long term by avoiding these toxins in your foods all the time. No juice fasting required.
Again, this isn’t to say that vegetables themselves are bad for you. Fasting on vegetable juice for weeks on end is very different from eating some zucchini noodles with your meatballs. It just points out that no single food group is a perfect source of all nutrients. Vegetables are healthy food, but they shouldn’t be your only food.
Vegetables aren’t only incomplete sources of nutrients; for some people they can be downright harmful. First of all, vegetables are like grains and legumes in that they need to develop natural pesticides to survive. They can’t run away from insects, fungi, or other predators, so they rely on chemical defenses.
Many common vegetables (like zucchini, rhubarb, and bamboo shoots) contain a variety of toxins for this reason. The famous antioxidants that make vegetables so healthy are actually part of the plant’s natural defenses against predators. If you’re eating the plant, that predator is you. That isn’t to say that the antioxidants are actually dangerous – they are healthy, but they’re healthy as a hormetic stress: your body reacts to the challenge by bouncing back stronger than it was before. Hormetic stress is valuable in small amounts, but too much of it is just as dangerous as any other kind of stress.
As well as containing hormetic stressors, some vegetables cause an unpleasant reaction because of the type of carbohydrate they contain: these carbohydrates are called FODMAPs. FODMAPs vegetables are so numerous and sensitivity to them is so common that these vegetables get their own article. Essentially, FODMAPs carbohydrates aren’t completely broken down and absorbed in the intestinal system. All people have the same inability to completely digest them, but most of us aren’t sensitive to the low amounts in a normal quantity of vegetables. In FODMAPs-sensitive people, though, even a normal serving can cause bloating, digestive upset, and gut bacteria overgrowth. Common FODMAPs vegetables include onions, garlic, cabbage, and asparagus.
Nightshades are another class of vegetables that can be less than ideal. The nightshade family includes potatoes, tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant; these veggies contain lectins that can exacerbate autoimmune issues and trigger joint pain. Again, most people aren’t sensitive at all, but people who are sometimes see dramatic results from getting the nightshades out of their diet.
Hypothyroid symptoms are an additional reason to watch your vegetable intake. Some vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, contain a type of chemicals called goitrogens. Goitrogens aren’t dangerous at all for healthy people, but an excess of goitrogenic foods can be dangerous for people who have poor thyroid function.
Some of these substances can be destroyed or reduced by cooking – nightshade lectins and goitrogens, for example, are both decreased during the cooking process. On the other hand, fermentation actually increases the goitrogen content of a food, so skip the sauerkraut if you have hypothyroid problems.
If none of these potential gut irritants give you any problems, that’s great. Dietary restrictions that are useful for sick people aren’t necessarily warranted for healthy people, so there’s absolutely no reason to limit any class of vegetables that doesn’t upset your stomach. But the number of potential vegetable intolerances should point out that not all plant foods are automatically healthy for everyone, especially eaten in excess.
Another reason why vegetables aren’t flawless angels of nutrition is their cost to environmental and human health. Most of us in Paleo circles are aware of the problems of factory farming and the need to develop a more wholesome and sustainable food system, but we don’t usually think of vegetables as raising the same issues. Unfortunately, plant foods aren’t as ecologically friendly as the vegan crowd would have us believe. Vegetable farming can be just as polluting and also just as cruel as factory farming.
First of all, the toxic pesticides and herbicides that we spray on the fields are dangerous not only to the people who eat the vegetables, but also to the land surrounding vegetable farms. These chemicals leach into the air and water, and become environmental toxins that damage local ecosystems and human health.
Organic food isn't necessarily much better here – yes, organic farmers use more natural chemicals, but because these chemicals are less effective, they have to use more of them. A better alternative is to join a CSA or find another local source or produce – not only is this often cheaper, but you can ask the farmer directly about how the food was grown and what was or wasn’t sprayed on it. As a bonus, local food also doesn’t lose as many nutrients in transit from the field to your fork.
Another strike against the modern farm system is not really about the health of the vegetables themselves, but about the human cost of food production. Vegetarians and vegans who avoid animal products out of fears about cruelty would be horrified to learn the actual working conditions on many vegetable farms. Many farmworkers are recent immigrants (often living in the country illegally) and subject to terrible working conditions. They handle dangerous tools (sometimes without the proper safety gear and training), they’re constantly in contact with toxic pesticides at much higher levels than anything you get from eating the produce, and they’re stuck in such an exploitative cycle of poverty that they frequently can’t afford to take a day off if they get sick, for fear they’ll be fired.
Many victims of these terrible working conditions children, because a loophole in US law allows children under 16 to do agricultural labor. Farmworkers don’t receive overtime pay and are not allowed to unionize. Conditions are so bad that a group of farmworkers in Florida, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, has launched a campaign against “modern-day slavery,” citing farmworkers’ average yearly wage as less than $12,000.
This isn’t to say that vegetable farming is inherently abusive, or that people who buy and enjoy vegetables are evil. Refusing to eat vegetables is not the answer: these foods are healthy parts of our diet, and one person’s boycott won’t do anything to stop the abuses of powerful corporations. But understanding the abuses of vegetable farming strips off the automatic halo of virtue that surrounds anything green and leafy. In Paleo circles, we spend a lot of time criticizing factory farms and the horrible conditions that animals have to endure. We should also be aware of the environmental and human cost of our vegetables, and work to make all our food as cruelty-free as possible.
This article points out a lot of potential downsides of vegetables, but it’s important to keep it all in perspective: nobody is suggesting that you never touch green plant matter again. Vegetables are wonderful! They’re delicious and add variety to your meals, and they’re rich in several important nutrients. The real danger lies in seeing vegetables as the ultimate goal of a healthy diet, because no one food group by itself is perfect. Veggies aren’t the “holy grail;” neither is meat. Neither are eggs. Neither is liver, fermented cod liver oil, butter, water, or anything else. Searching for the “one true food” is dangerous and futile because humans are naturally omnivores.
The perception of vegetables as flawless vehicles for nutritional salvation also ignores the steep environmental and human costs of our agricultural system. Eating vegetables carries the same weight of ethical responsibility as eating meat – if we’re going to make healthy food sustainable for everyone on the planet, we have to address these problems.
Instead of exulting vegetables as the final word on nutrition, think of your diet as an archway. If you build an archway without mortar, each stone is critical to holding up the whole construction. Take out any one stone, and the whole arch will collapse. Vegetables are one, and only one, stone. They’re necessary but not sufficient – eat them and enjoy them, but don’t expect kale, or anything else, to be a miracle cure.
#2 What’s Wrong with Beans and Legumes?
Unlike wheat, corn, and sugar, legumes aren’t generally associated with “junk food” or processed food products. It’s easy to conjure up hyperbolic images of Twinkies and Wonderbread to demonize wheat, but lentil soup and hummus just don’t have the same effect. Some legumes, like soy, are even widely considered to be health foods, and marketed as nutritionally superior alternatives to animal products. But that doesn’t make them optimal foods for human beings – just because you can’t find them at McDonald’s doesn’t make them healthy.
Like grains and pseudograins, legumes contain phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to nutrients in the food, preventing you from absorbing them. It doesn’t steal any nutrients that are already in your body, but it does make that bowl of lentils a lot less nutrient-dense than the Nutrition Facts panel would have you believe. For this reason, it’s usually cited as a major downside of these foods, but the truth is clearly little more complicated, because some Paleo-acceptable foods like nuts also contain relatively high amounts of it. Per unit of mass, most nuts actually have a little more phytic acid than most grains and beans. So why are nuts fine to eat, but lentils are problematic?
Rather than labeling any amount of phytates as harmful, it’s more precise to say that the effects on the body depend on how much you eat. In fact, phytic acid may even have some health benefits in small amounts, so it’s not accurate to dismiss it as nothing but a toxin to avoid. The key is in how much you eat: this is why nuts are fine in moderation, while legumes and beans are discouraged. The difference is that nuts and kale aren’t staple foods in most people’s diets – if you were relying on almonds as a chief source of nutrition, which hopefully you aren't, you’d suffer from the same problems.
Beans and legumes, unlike nuts and vegetables, are the primary source of calories for many people around the world, and eating foods so rich in phytic acid as nutritional staples is quite unhealthy. If you replace meat and animal fat with soy and lentils, you’re drastically decreasing your nutrient intake – these plant proteins are less nutrient-dense in the first place, the phytic acid prevents your body from getting even the nutrients they do contain, and unless you eat them with another source of fat, the lack of dietary fat will also stop your body from absorbing and using them. Thus, basing your diet on these foods can lead to severe nutritional deficiencies. In terms of phytic acid content, eating a handful of lentils as a snack every now and again probably wouldn’t be any more problematic than eating a handful of cashews, but that’s just not the way people eat lentils.
In addition to their phytic acid content, legumes are also FODMAPS, meaning that they contain a type of carbohydrate called galacto-oligosaccharides that can cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people, especially people who already have IBS or similar digestive problems. This isn’t necessarily a reason for anyone else to avoid them (any more than you would avoid other FODMAPS foods like onions or mushrooms if you aren’t sensitive to them), but it’s definitely a concern for anyone with pre-existing digestive troubles.
Another drawback of these foods is their lectin content. Lectins are proteins found in almost all kinds of foods, but not all lectins are problematic. Different people react to different lectins, which is why, for example, some people are fine with eating members of the nightshade family, and other people react to them. Potentially toxic lectins are highest in grains, legumes, and dairy. In the body, lectins damage the intestinal wall, contributing to leaky gut, with all its associated digestive and autoimmune problems. While many lectins can be destroyed by proper preparation methods (more on this below), most people find these cooking methods irritatingly laborious, and it’s almost certain that any beans or legumes you buy in a restaurant won’t be cooked this way. Thus, making beans and legumes a regular feature in your diet can significantly contribute to gut irritation and permeability.
Anyone trying a lower-carbohydrate version of Paleo should also beware the carb content of many beans and legumes: vegetarians might tout them as a “protein source,” but this is only really true relative to foods like bread and vegetables, which are often very low in protein. One cup of black beans, for example, has approximately 230 calories, with around 170 of those being from carbs. Only around 53 of the calories in this “protein source” are actually from protein. Your mileage may vary of course, and some legumes have a higher protein content than others. While there isn’t anything wrong with the inclusion of safe starches in the diet, eating beans as a staple source of calories may deliver many more carbohydrates than your body needs. In the long term, this could contribute to weight gain and metabolic problems like insulin resistance.
Beans and legumes also don’t have much to make up for this: they can’t match the micronutrient content of animal foods, so there isn’t any compelling reason why we should eat them. If chickpeas or kidney beans were extremely high in some vital and rare nutrient, they might be worth eating once in a while as a kind of supplement food, but the reality is that they don’t have anything you can’t get in a more potent and healthier way from animals or vegetables. Vegetarians love them for the protein, but on a Paleo diet, you have plenty of better protein options: you don’t need to rely on rice and beans.
Peanuts are probably the sneakiest type of legumes, if only because of their name. Like other legumes, peanuts are problematic because they contain lectins and phytic acid, but peanuts also bring a new guest to the party: aflatoxins. Aflatoxins aren’t actually part of the peanut itself; they’re produced by a mold that tends to grow on peanuts (as well as other non-Paleo crops like corn). This mold thrives on crops stored in warm, humid places, and it’s so difficult to eliminate that the FDA has declared it an "unavoidable contaminant."
Organic or all-natural brands of peanuts and peanut butter aren’t any better, since the peanuts still have to be stored and transported. Unless you’re picking your peanuts directly from the farm, you’re probably getting some aflatoxins with them, and they’re not something you want: some research has linked long-term consumption of aflatoxins with risk for diseases like cancer and even more of a risk for those with hepatitis B, especially in countries where peanuts are a staple food. Especially in people with mold sensitivities, peanuts are a particularly concerning type of legume.
Unlike many other types of lectins, peanut lectins are also very difficult to destroy by cooking. As discussed further below, proper cooking methods can destroy many of these sneaky gut irritants, but peanut lectins are very heat resistant, so roasting or otherwise cooking the nuts doesn’t help.
Another type of legume that deserves special mention is soy. Some vegans seem to subsist entirely on soy products – soy milk with their cereal in the morning, edamame salad for lunch, and tofu stir-fry for dinner. Soy is beloved by the modern diet industry because it’s cheap to grow and incredibly easy to flavor and process into almost anything. But in the long run such a “cheap” crop comes at a steep price: the health of the soil it grows in. And the “convenient” additive suddenly starts looking a lot less appetizing when you understand the health costs of eating it.
As well as the same lectins and phytic acid as other legumes, soy has one particular nasty downside: phytoestrogens. Like environmental estrogens, these chemicals mimic the action of estrogen in the body. The problem with this is that their imitation of estrogen only goes far enough to trick your body into thinking that’s what they are. They don’t actually perform any of the vital functions that real estrogen does. The exact mechanisms by which they do this are very complex, but the upshot is that they tend to produce hormonal problems because they tell your body it has enough estrogen, even though it actually doesn’t.
In men, this hormonal imbalance can cause the development of typically “feminine” traits like breasts and fat deposits on the hips; in women, it can impair fertility and lead to all kinds of menstrual and other reproductive problems. Most alarmingly, phytoestrogens have been linked to breast cancer and disruption of normal thyroid function. It’s not necessary to be alarmist (eating soy products alone is unlikely to cause extreme problems), but in the context of a world full of other environmental estrogens and hormone-disrupting chemicals, soy adds one more straw to the camel’s back – and unlike many environmental pollutants, it’s a straw that’s completely avoidable
As well as hormones, soy also contains trypsin inhibitors, which interfere with protein digestion, and it increases the body’s needs for several important micronutrients, including Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D. Soy protein powder is even worse: this is a completely processed, artificial non-food that shouldn’t be part of anybody’s diet. Skip the post-workout shake and boil yourself up a few eggs or grab a can of sardines instead: there’s no reason why anyone needs to gulp down a massive dose of processed soy product every day, and there are plenty of reasons not to.
Of course, any argument that soy is unhealthy tends to raise the “Asian objection:” if people in Asia are so much healthier and longer-lived than Americans, and they eat a lot of soy, how could it be so bad? One difference is that traditional Asian cuisine relies much more on fermented foods: as described below, it’s possible to make legumes much more digestible and less harmful by fermenting them. Also, the soy products eaten as part of traditional meals were not industrially processed, and were served in addition to a very nutrient-rich diet that also includes lots of organ meats, bone broth, and vegetables. There is a world of difference between a small amount of fermented tofu in a big bowl of broth and a huge scoop of soy protein isolate in a protein shake full of food coloring and sugar.
Tofu and soy milk are easy enough to avoid (who wants to eat tofu when they could eat real meat instead?), but one soy product poses a particular challenge on Paleo: soy lecithin. This particular form of soy is an ingredient in most brands of dark chocolate, a common Paleo indulgence. Soy lecithin is actually a byproduct of the production of soy oil, and it’s not any better than any other kind of soy. In a moderate serving of chocolate, the dose of soy lecithin is small enough that some people might not have any problems tolerating it, but it isn’t doing anyone any favors, and it’s not difficult to find a brand of chocolate without it.
One way that many people ingest beans and legumes (sometimes without even being aware of what they’re eating) is through oils. Peanut oil (a staple in many Asian restaurants), soybean oil, and other similar vegetable oils are very common cooking ingredients, on the mistaken belief that since they don’t contain animal fat, they must somehow be “heart-healthy.” But these seed oils might be even worse for you than the plants they come from. Even naturally produced seed oils contain high levels of PUFAs and Omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are inflammatory. Since PUFAs are very unstable fats, these oils can easily oxidize, a process that produces harmful molecules called free radicals. When you cook with the oil, this process accelerates, producing even more. These free radicals are a major driver in inflammation and oxidative stress, the main culprit behind aging and many chronic degenerative diseases.
Even if you don’t buy or cook with vegetable oil, you can still get it if you buy peanut butter. If you’ve ever brought home a jar of all-natural PB, you’ve probably noticed how the oil floats to the top of the jar, requiring you to stir it before you dig in. When you stir that oil back into the peanut butter, you’re loading down your afternoon snack with an extra dose of rancid oxidized fats. This is actually why some people prefer to also pour the oil off the top of jars of almond butter: to get a creamier texture, they just add in healthier saturated fats like coconut oil. In general, nut butters aren’t an ideal food because they make it very easy to overindulge, but if you enjoy them, swapping out the PUFAs for saturated fats is always a more nutritious choice.
Peanut oil is bad enough even though it’s the product of a fairly simple procedure. Soybean oil is even more concerning because of the way it’s processed. From start to finish, soybean oil is a product of modern monoculture farming. Socrates and Plato could sit down to olive oil at dinner time, but soy oil would have been a completely foreign concept to them because the technology for making it simply didn’t exist. To produce this particular food product, the oil company first extracts the oil from the beans using a chemical called hexane, a byproduct of the process that refines crude oil into gasoline. If that isn’t unappetizing enough, the beans are then washed and purified with various other chemical solutions, heated to very high temperatures in the process, and then bleached to remove unwanted color and smells.
For products like margarine, which need to be solid rather than liquid, the soy is then hydrogenated. Hydrogenation solidifies the oil by pushing bubbles of hydrogen through it. This changes the oil from a liquid to a solid by changing the fats from naturally occurring PUFA to something even worse: artificial trans fats. These industrial trans fats should not be confused with the trans fats that are naturally found in animal products: nobody is putting trans fat in beef by forcing hydrogen bubbles through a cow! While naturally occurring trans fats are perfectly healthy, the industrial Frankenstein foods are not. The body can’t make heads or tails of these artificial fats, so they’re highly inflammatory, and contribute to all kinds of problems as diverse as weight gain, atherosclerosis, and infertility.
As with pseudograins, you may be able to make beans and legumes much more digestible by preparing them in various traditional ways. This is one reason why Asian cultures see fewer ill-effects from eating traditional foods like natto: proper preparation (as opposed to industrial processing) can make these foods much less problematic. This obviously depends on your level of tolerance for them – and peanuts and soy should still be avoided no matter what cooking method you use – but it’s useful to understand how you can at least minimize the danger from these foods.
Many traditional cooking methods go quite a long way in reducing phytic acid content, for example. Soaking is a good first step – it can help reduce some of the phytic acid but doesn’t completely eliminate it. Sprouting is the most effective method for legumes, reducing phytic acid by 25 to 75 percent. The process of sprouting a batch of beans or legumes is actually fairly easy: all you really need to do is keep them moist and give them access to the air. Fermentation also greatly reduces the phytic acid of many different types of food – and it gives your gut flora a boost as a bonus. Note that the phytic acid in soy is particularly hard to reduce: this is another reason to avoid it if at all possible.
After any soaking or fermentation, you still have to cook your legumes before you can eat them – this adds another layer of protection because heating most beans and legumes (with the exception of peanuts, which have lectins that survive the cooking process) will destroy most of the lectins in them. Since nobody eats raw beans or legumes, this significantly reduces the concern about their lectin content.
These traditional methods of cooking won’t turn lentils or beans into a magical health food. But if you do need to eat them for some reason, they can help reduce their more dangerous aspects. Paleo isn’t about perfection, so if you have to stretch $20 into grocery money for the week, a few bags of lentils or black beans, properly prepared, will do a lot less damage than ramen and peanut butter.
…it might not be one! In the same way that peanuts aren’t actually nuts, coffee beans, cocoa beans, and vanilla beans aren’t actually beans. Coffee can be problematic for some people for other reasons, but it’s actually a seed, not a bean. Vanilla and vanilla bean extract are also fine, as are cocoa products. Of course, if you react poorly to these foods for other reasons, there’s no reason to include them in your diet, but there’s also no reason to deprive yourself of them because you’re worried about the dangers of legumes.
Green beans are also somewhat of a special case. When we eat green beans and similar vegetables like snow peas, we eat the pod with the seeds – the seed contains the vast majority of the problematic elements, so a serving of green beans already has much less phytic acid than a serving of soybeans. Also, like nuts, most people don’t eat green beans as a staple food – most of us might have a serving once a week or so, but we don’t rely on them as a major source of energy. Since they contain comparatively fewer problematic elements, and since they aren’t a major component of anyone’s diet, green beans are often regarded as an acceptable Paleo side dish, just like nuts. If you’re very sensitive, you might need to eliminate them, but most people can eat them once in a while without worrying about it.
In conclusion, the main problem with most beans and legumes might be negative, rather than positive: when eaten as a staple food, they simply crowd out more nutritious foods like animal products. Combined with the phytic acid and lack of fats in the legumes themselves, this can lead to a perfect storm of nutritional deficiency. Peanuts (which contain aflatoxins and heat-resistant lectins) and soy (which contains phytoestrogens) are particularly problematic; these are definitely foods to avoid strictly. Other legumes might not cause such serious problems, but that doesn’t make them good staple foods for a healthy lifestyle: a diet based on high-quality animal foods is much more nutritious without requiring all the annoying and time-consuming preparation of soaking, sprouting, and fermenting – and it tastes better.
If you were used to eating a fairly healthy diet before they switched to Paleo, you might occasionally miss your lentil soup or hummus. After properly preparing the lentils or chickpeas, a small amount of these foods probably won’t do a lot of damage, but think of it as an occasional indulgence rather than a dietary staple. Alternatively, you could try more Paleo-friendly recipes like baba ghanoush or a thick, hearty "lentil" soup (this recipe uses cauliflower and plenty of spices to get the same texture). Experimenting with these new recipes is a great way to brush up on your cooking skills and enjoy making something tasty without the digestive stress of eating unhealthy foods.