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Why Can’t I Eat Beans or Lentils on the Paleo Diet?

Beans and lentils are such healthy foods – so why aren't they eaten on the Paleo diet? Here's why legumes and lentils aren't a fit for this specialized diet.

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Beans and lentils are some of the healthiest foods – they’re plant-based, full of protein, and highly satisfying for hunger. So why are these powerhouse plants not allowed when you’re following the Paleo diet?

Well, beans and lentils (along with other grains) are healthy, but they’re a bit of a paradox when it comes to the Paleo approach.

The idea behind the Paleo diet is that many of today’s health problems are caused by foods and food products that are relatively new in human history. So the Paleo diet is about eating foods that our caveman ancestors ate, which included foods we could hunt, fish, gather or pluck – no grains or beans.

Beans include a problem-causing protein

There’s another reason the Paleo crowd doesn’t like beans: lectins – or carbohydrate-binding proteins that plants developed to ward off insect predators. “Lectins can bind with almost any tissue in our bodies and wreak havoc,” writes Loren Cordain, PhD, in his book, The Paleo Diet (John Wiley & Sons, 2002).

Because of the lectin factor, other modern Paleo gurus like Mark Sisson, Robb Wolf and Esther Blum, ban beans and legumes as well. “Grains contain lectins which can damage the gut lining, which increases inflammation and is a newly discovered feature of not only autoimmune disease but also insulin resistance and liver pathology,” writes Wolf in The Paleo Solution (Victory Belt Publishing, 2010). (The lectins found in beans and other foods are also thought to contribute to the above conditions.) In her book, Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat (Gallery Books, 2013), Blum calls lectin “gluten’s sidekick” and notes that “lectin overload” can aggravate a number of health problems, including inflammation in the gut.

Should everyone avoid beans?

While lectin can be problematic and cause potential inflammation, this doesn’t make beans a bad choice. Beans have some of the highest antioxidant firepower in the food kingdom. And they’re the highest-fiber food I know of, with 10 to 19 grams per serving. They also have a vanishingly low glycemic load. If you want to give the Paleo diet a try for 30 days, I see nothing wrong with trying it, and you may discover that you feel a lot better on it. But for most people, I think beans and legumes are terrific foods to consume.

To learn more about beans, lentils, grains and other foods on the Paleo diet, keep reading:

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