Legumes are very controversial currently. Depending on who you are talking to, they can be either extremely nutritious or exceptionally detrimental to your health. Many people choose to eliminate legumes from their diet entirely. Should legumes be avoided, or can they serve as a source of nutrition in a healthy diet? Let’s take a look …
What exactly is a legume? Legumes consist of plants that produce a pod containing seeds. When people talk about legumes, they usually mean the seeds produced inside the pod. The most common legumes include lentils, peas, chickpeas, beans, soybeans and peanuts. Various types of legumes vary greatly when it comes to their health benefits and nutrient status.
According to the website http://nutritiondata.self.com/ lentils have the following nutritional content:
- Over 10% of the RDA for Vitamins B1, B3, B5 and B6, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese.
- 16 grams of fiber.
- 37% of the RDA for iron.
- 40 grams of carbohydrate.
- 18% of the RDA for magnesium.
- 18 grams of protein.
- 21% of the RDA for potassium.
- 90% of the RDA for folate.
Sounds like a good deal, right? Not so fast. Legumes also contain the same types of anti-nutrients as cereal grains. As was discussed in substantial detail in our post about cereal grains, these anti-nutrients can have significant health consequences.
What follows is a brief review on the anti-nutrients found in legumes. For significantly more information, please follow this link to our other page on cereal grains and anti-nutrients. (CLICK HERE)
The Bad News: Anti-Nutrients
Phytates bind to minerals in the foods we eat. This prevents the bound nutrients from being absorbed and utilized by our bodies. This means foods that contain a lot of phytates are not digested. This also means that their usable nutrient content is significantly decreased from levels of minerals found in laboratory analyzes. They can also trigger inflammation, bloating, indigestion, and gas.
Lectins are carb-binding proteins that are quite “sticky.” This causes them to be difficult for the body to break down and therefore they promote indigestion. This also negatively impacts how much of their nutrient content is absorbed and utilized by our bodies. Lectins and their ability to bind cause them to attach to your intestinal lining. Lectins can also initiate leaky gut syndrome, which happens when the intestinal lining is broken down. This “leaky” intestinal barrier lets toxins and anti-nutrients to escape into the bloodstream. Lectin consumption is frequently correlated with IBS, Crohn’s disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and many other health problems.
The Good News: Protein & Fiber
But aren’t they a rich source of plant-based proteins? Yes, they are. In fact, legumes have a unique ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and nitrogen is an indispensable element of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of the proteins in our bodies. This is why legumes are ranked among the best plant-based sources of dietary protein. They are also very cheap. This makes them an essential food staple in many developing countries.
Back to the initial question of this page, should we avoid eating legumes? The answer is that it depends on what your aims are. If your goal is to be well nourished, any food that contains anti-nutrients should be “off the table” (pun intended!). That being said, there are times when properly prepared legumes are an option. If you have either physical health reasons or religious/moral reasons why you can’t get your protein from animal sources, legumes are one of the few plant-based sources of protein and nitrogen that can be used by our bodies.
If you enjoyed this information maybe you would like to sign up for The Meditating Man – E-MAIL LIST (CLICK HERE)