Two weeks ago I announced the beginning of my Paleo, rather Paleo-ish, experiment. And I say ish because before I dive in with full force, I needed some answers. Are grains and legumes really bad for you? Here's the new word on these old food staples.
Why say no to what we've known to be healthy foods (whole grains and beans)?
Quinoa and oat meal are grains. Aren't these supposed to be good for you?
Well, apparently some opinions are changing on that. According to Dr. Loren Cordain, Professor of Exercise Physiology at Colorado State University and founder of the Paleo diet, all grains, although some more than others, have significant amounts of toxic anti nutrients (lectins, gluten, and phytates) that are harmful to our digestive system and that outweigh the benefits of ingesting these foods, especially since there are less harmful sources available.
Anti-nutrients in grain result in poor digestion and absorption of nutrients
These anti nutrients help prevent germination of the grain seed until conditions are perfect for sprouting and are at times regarded as the natural protection system of plants to make sure that when eaten their seeds (the grain) get swallowed, carried away and excreted back into the soil, but not digested. These chemicals that naturally occur in both refined and whole grains have been known to hinder our system's ability to digest and absorb the nutrients, minerals and vitamins from the foods we eat. And ironically, it seems that our bodies have more difficulty digesting whole grains than refined grains.
Grains have low nutritional value
Fruits, vegetables and animal foods get you a better bang for your caloric buck. In a comparable caloric portion, fruits and vegetables offer our bodies more (and better quality) fiber, more minerals (such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron) and more vitamins than grains would. And the little that grains provide can't be fully absorbed by the body. So, in essence are grains an unnecessary evil?
Grains can cause allergies, intolerances and autoimmune diseases
Most of us know that one of these anti nutrients, Gluten, has been especially associated with inflammation, allergic reactions and intolerances forcing people to move away from foods containing it. But an article, The Awful Truth About Eating Grains by Dr. Del Thiessen, featured in Dr. Joseph Mercola's Natural Health website, goes beyond to mention a correlation between gluten and autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, and even neurological complications, autism and schizophrenia in non-celiac individuals. Go figure!
What's wrong with Quinoa? It's not even a grain.
Quinoa is actually not a grain. It's a seed from a species of a plant called goosefoot, which is more closely related to spinach and beets. So why isn't quinoa Paleo approved? Even though it's not a grain, quinoa contains anti nutrients (phytic acid, saponins and lectins), making it an unnecessary food under the Paleo philosophy. However, it is a very nutritious food and non-strict Paleo adapters choose to continue enjoying it.
No to legumes means no to lentils and soy as well. Surprised? I sure am.
Legumes have been the best friends of any one on a vegetarian diet or anyone looking to add more vegetable protein to their food. Like grains, legumes also contain anti nutrients (lectins and phytates) to guarantee their beans get to sprout into the next plant generation. They also contain enzymes that have been known to disrupt our digestive process. Just as with grains, these anti nutrients and enzymes in legumes have been associated with poor digestion, poor absorption of minerals and protein, allergies and possibly certain diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, IgA nephropathy, and peptic ulcers. As if that wasn't enough, legumes (and particularly soy!) contain phytoestrogens which have been associated with infertility and a whole lot of other diseases including an increased incidence of Alzheimers.
Legumes, especially soy, are usually genetically modified (GMO)
The products available on regular supermarket shelves, for the most part, are or contain genetically modified ingredients. Long-term side effects of GMO products are still unknown, and I guess we will have to wait and see what happens. But in the meantime quite a few studies have presented evidence of the harms of genetic manipulation in foods, and I am personally big on avoiding these entirely, especially since they are modified to better serve the interests of crop producers (growth out of season, pest resistance, plant disease resistance, etc) as opposed to our health.
Soy is the most harmful of all legumes
Most of the soy produced in the US is genetically modified and highly processed into other foods such as tofu, soy milk and other industrialized variations of the bean.
Soy is the legume that is highest in phytoestrogens.
Soy, or perhaps its high consumption as a replacement for animal protein, has been associated with faster brain deterioration. The issue is related to an insuficiency of vitamin B12 which can only be attained in sufficient amounts through animal protein.
There may be hope – neutralizing beans and sprouted grains
The good news is that Lectin can be broken down and almost entirely diminished through the process of soaking and cooking. The drawback is that most of the nutritional value of legumes is diminished along with the lectin once cooked. And not much can be done about the other anti nutrients and the poor absorption.
Sprouting grains (think Ezekiel bread) helps reduce their harmful substances, but not entirely. And so, according to some of this early research and the Paleo proponents, both grains and legumes are unnecessary evils, especially if one has access to vegetables and grass-fed, pasture-raised lean animal protein.
What do you believe is the right way to healthy eating?
Share your thoughts, findings, opinions and dietary trials.