Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Dec

Dear Mark: Are Peas and Green Beans Healthy?

For today’s Dear Mark post, I’m going to hold off on doing a big roundup and instead focus on a single question that keeps appearing in my inbox: the suitability of green beans and peas in a Primal Blueprint eating plan. I regret not getting to it sooner, for I can imagine the Vibram-clad pausing in produce aisles across the world, looming over the bright green beans and agonizing over the antinutrient content of the admittedly tasty legumes, dipping their callused hands heavy with barbell stink into the display case full of sweet peas, letting the tiny green pearls cascade through their fingers like Maximus Decimus Meridius caressing the stalks of wheat in Gladiator and thinking of casseroles from days long past. Well, wonder no more. Today we dig in.

Are peas and green beans Primal?


Peas and green beans are, botanically speaking, legumes. And since I generally recommend against the consumption of legumes, it seems to follow that the consumption of peas and green beans is “not Primal.” But hold on. Peas and green beans eaten fresh – not dried – are young seeds picked when unripe. The type of legumes we’re wary of are dried beans – beans that are allowed to dry on the vine until they rattle in their pods. Green beans and fresh peas are picked before they dry. In fact, green beans and peas have been bred to be digestible, palatable, and easily cooked before maturation. No lab-coated genetic modification, just good old fashioned selective breeding – the stuff we’ve been doing for tens of thousands of years.

When you pop them into an online database, the nutritional profile of legumes is pretty decent. They’ve got more protein than grains, fewer antinutrients (and zero gluten!), and a decent amount of minerals. I’ve always advised against making legumes a significant part of your diet, mostly because far tastier and more nutrient dense foods exist out there, but I’ve never said they’re evil, either. I’d much rather you load up on soaked, well-prepared beans than hearthealthywholegrains.

Now, as for why I personally avoid legumes? They don’t agree with my digestive tract. Through years of intensive and occasional culinary dalliance with the legume, I’ve determined that when I eat them in just about any quantity – more than a few bites – I suffer the distinctively rumbling protestations of my gut. And I tend to listen to my gut. He’s pretty astute, and he imparts a lot of wisdom.

But why do I occasionally eat green beans and (less often) fresh (not dried) peas? Because they taste good, make an easy dish to prepare, and make my gut happy. I can, and often do, eat a side dish of green beans (and sometimes peas, though not as frequently) sauteed in butter and tossed with a half cup of bone broth that simultaneously steams the beans and reduces down with the butter to form a viscous sauce that coats the tongue. Add some fresh ground pepper and a half pinch of chunky unrefined sea salt and I’ve got myself a “side dish” that can almost make me forget about the “main dish.” Eating this never makes my stomach rumble (unless it’s out of anticipatory hunger) and it never negatively affects my digestion. By all (of my) subjective measures, green beans and peas are fairly benign.

By most objective measures I was able to dig up, green beans and peas are also quite benign:

  • The green pea lectin (pisum sativum agglutinin) is “much less toxic” than others, according to renowned legume opponent Dr. Loren Cordain’s research.
  • Phytate content of green beans and green peas, which isn’t that high to begin with, was greatly reduced by simple cooking (PDF): green beans dropped from 150 mg phytate per 100 g portion to 52 mg phytate; green peas dropped from 384 mg phytate to 158 mg phytate. Most of the phytic acid was retained in the cooking water, though, so if you’re trying to avoid phytates, discard the water.
  • I couldn’t find solid figures for phytohaemagglutinin (the primary bean lectin) content of green beans, but we do know that uncooked kidney beans are extremely dense with the stuff. We also know that eating uncooked kidney beans will make a person acutely ill from phytohaemagglutinin toxicity, but that eating uncooked green beans will not. I think it’s safe to assume that green beans are therefore pretty low in the lectin, and in any case, cooking at a temperature of 100 degrees C deactivates most of it (enough to make soaked kidney beans safe to eat).
  • Carbohydrate content of both green beans and fresh peas are lower than the dried varieties.

I often say that all food exists on a spectrum of suitability, with the classic example being dairy. Raw, grass-fed, fermented is best, followed by grass-fed, fermented, followed by grass-fed, followed by organic, fermented, followed by fermented, and so on. To malign an entire category of food with impunity and without regard for the subtleties that exist between individual foods within that category is foolish. Wheat is not rice (or oats), bologna is not leg of lamb, the honey-roasted peanut is not the raw macadamia nut, iceberg is not chard, corn oil is not red palm oil, and the green bean is not the kidney bean.

Now I’d like your take on the subject. How do you handle young legume upstarts? Do you yell at them to get off your lawn, or do you welcome them into your home and hearth for dinner? Let me know in the comment section!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m with you Mark – I love green beans… they’re delicious and they’ve never given me any digestive problems!

    Becca wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • first :)

      Becca wrote on December 5th, 2011
      • haha, when I started typing no one had posted yet. You beat me to it! Cool blog, by the way :)

        Elisa wrote on December 5th, 2011
        • 2 awesome blogs! I’ll be adding them to my primal blog list which is at 363!

          Primal Toad wrote on December 5th, 2011
  2. Thanks Mark! I was wondering where green beans stood in the spectrum of foods. I’m doing research in Chile right now, where green beans are really popular. While I was shopping with a friend, she encouraged me to buy a bag of frozen green beans. I did, but they’ve been sitting in my freezer for two months because I thought they were just like other legumes and didn’t really take the time to look more into it. Now I know! I’ll pull them out soon and see if they agree with me.

    Elisa wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Like someone long ago said, the not-so-good part about the Primal Blueprint is that people start fearing the food at some point – unless they hear “the orders from above”.

      Patrícia wrote on December 5th, 2011
      • That sounds good to me. If I don’t know enough of an issue I usually rely on “above”. It is different when I do my own research, which may or not agree with above. Not a problem for me :-)

        WildGrok wrote on December 5th, 2011
      • Very true. In my opinion, a strict primal diet is a great idea for everyone for maybe a month to start, but after that I believe everyone should do some experimenting to find what they can tolerate. I feared carbs for a while, but after a little experimenting I found that a bit of a higher carb approach with potatoes and some white rice works great for me. But everyone is different. To me, being in tune with your body’s response to food is key :)

        Burn wrote on December 5th, 2011
      • I promise you that is a people problem and not a primal blueprint problem. The word “sheeple” didn’t come from nowhere.

        It’s a good point though. I’ve been primal since 2001. What I tell people is “know your enemy”.

        Your enemies are:
        1) CORN!!! Corn syrup, cornbread, corndogs, Doritos, etc. No single food source has done more damage to more people than corn
        2) artificial _____ – You are real. If your food is artificial it will make you less than your ideal self in increasing increments. Your body will also struggle to process it and over sustained periods of consumption will case begin modifying your genetics to try. The end result of this last line of defense is called cancer.
        3) Sugar- the white kind found in copious amounts in so many things, while natural, is still so refined that it can provokes some of the same dangers as the artificials. I still use a small amount of unrefined sugar in my coffee, but by and large just avoid it all. Your body doesn’t want or need it.
        4)Grains – Carbs, insulin resistance, fat. Nuff said. The Cheerios people are lying to you.

        These are the low hanging fruit you need to deal with now. Worrying about a green bean a grain of rice or a chick pea is silly. Once your body is finely tuned, it will let you know what exactly it likes or does not like. If you are avoiding the mass-murderers listed above, you can spare yourself the drama of worrying about these minor things too much. Besides, at the end of the day the choice is yours. Err on the side of caution or throw it into the wind. You likely won’t see results or consequences regardless what you choose to do. I eat green beans all the time and couldn’t live without them…

        Deuce wrote on December 6th, 2011
        • This is an awesome response/reply.

          Teresa wrote on December 10th, 2011
        • I agree, those are great points–“know your enemy,” tune/listen to your body, and.. live!

          Analysis is only beneficial until the moment that it becomes excessive with diminishing returns; a stress that can deter you from confidence in your lifestyle. There is value in persistence, but knowing what information you’re looking for and when to stop is important to prevent getting burnt out in the search for a perfected diet.

          MK wrote on June 19th, 2012
        • I really appreciate this reply. My primal nephew questions my choice of protein shake, which is yellow pea based and an anti-inflammatory formula. When I can’t eat raw – this is my convenience vs. the horror of horrors I used to grab on the way to work. Whey protein inflames my joints – as said above- it’s all about getting to know your body. I cut the “mass-murderers” out – am a new and revitalized me. I can continue my intake without feeling that doubt…

          RitaS wrote on October 26th, 2012
  3. This is so strange!!! I went to outback steakhouse for the first time last night, forgoing the loaded baked potato for some seasonal veggies which included green peas in the pod. I stared at them for a full five minutes, contemplating the relative evils of legumes before I just left them on my plate. If they had just been regular ole’ peas out of the pod I probably would have eaten them without a thought…but the fact that the pod was there made me pause(are green pea pods primal? Are they even called green pea pods? I always called them snow peas…)But thanks to you Mark, I will now occasionally enjoy green beans and peas without censure. Which is awesome because one of my favorite veggies is the green bean. Especially raw, outta the produce bag, maybe even before the checkout line green beans. YUM!

    Maureen wrote on December 5th, 2011
  4. Awesome timing for yesterday I bought a bunch of green beans to make with dinner. I did pause and think but I thought you would approve :)

    Ande wrote on December 5th, 2011
  5. I’ve always loved fresh green beans and never seem to give me issues. But staying away from the squishy, preservative-soaked, and metallic-tasting canned varieties of beans and peas is always for the best.

    Abel James wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Well, canned beans are technically already soaked and you can always find then either in glass or BPA-free cans.

      Maxx wrote on December 5th, 2011
      • Del Monte green beans are the highest in BPA among canned goods, even higher than the progreso soups that increased BPA 1200%!

        Canned green beans used to be my standard “low carb side dish.” and, when fresh and in season, I’m sure they will make another appearance :)

        AmandaLP wrote on December 5th, 2011
        • I always buy frozen. Just as good or better than the “fresh” stuff.

          Jesse wrote on July 13th, 2012
      • Do you know of a brand that does NOT have BPA that carries peas or green beans?

        I know for coconut milk its best to go with native forest since they are bpa free but… what about peas and green beans?

        Primal Toad wrote on December 6th, 2011

          Try Trader Joe’s? (This was way too hard to find btw….)

          Karen wrote on July 4th, 2012
        • Eden Foods (a 100%Organic brand) lines their cans with Ceramic–very cool company–in all ways.

          There are some other Organic companies that do as well–look on the label, they’ll usually say ceramic-lined or BPA-free.

          johanna wrote on February 24th, 2015
  6. The one thing I haven’t stopped eating is green beans (I was never a pea fan). The main reason was the number of plants my man put in the garden this past summer. But I have no gut issues with the green beans. I can’t say that with any other bean. And they taste amazing sauteed in some butter or bacon fat! Good to know about the phytates after cooking!

    Heather wrote on December 5th, 2011
  7. Thanks Mark, It’s nice to hear I don’t have to feel guilty about eating peas. I love peas and fresh mint!

    Vicki wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Peas with mint? Sounds interesting and something that I would most definitely try!

      Primal Toad wrote on December 6th, 2011
      • All Brits love peas with mint. They even sell frozen peas with mint in Tesco’s.

        Have been avoiding peas but eating green beans because they came in my CSA boxes. Anything I get in the CSA box I eat (carrots, sweet potatoes etc as well as the “good” veg).

        I love the primal approach because it doesn’t advocate all or nothing.

        loligoss wrote on December 6th, 2011
  8. This is great to know, I have been wondering if beans or peas were ok to eat. I kept thinking that anything I can eat straight off the vine or plant should be ok.

    EZ wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • yes, especially peas WITH pods, like Snap Peas or Snow Peas–lowers glycemic index ’cause increased fiber. and the pods are juicy, tasty, nutritious.

      johanna wrote on February 24th, 2015
      • I’ve read about peas but in the South we have many that aren’t mentioned in the books. And the English language often fails us with the name. Can ya’ll help? What about these fresh frozen types: Field Peas (often come “with snaps), Zipper Peas, Purple Hull Peas, Butter Peas, Crowder Peas, Blackeyed Peas? (I’ve found Field Peas give me flatulence.) These are some I easily find in the stores – Thanks!

        Raye wrote on February 26th, 2016
  9. Oooh, yes, green beans fried up in bacon fat! It’s a great way to just about guarantee the kids ask for thirds! And how EASY is it to take a bag of frozen green beans, dump them all into a cast-iron pan of bacon fat, and cook till done? VERY!

    Hmmm, now I want some with supper….. :-)

    deb wrote on December 5th, 2011
  10. “I can imagine the Vibram-clad pausing in produce aisles across the world, looming over the bright green beans and agonizing over the antinutrient content of the admittedly tasty legumes, dipping their callused hands heavy with barbell stink into the display case full of sweet peas, letting the tiny green pearls cascade through their fingers like Maximus Decimus Meridius caressing the stalks of wheat in Gladiator and thinking of casseroles from days long past.”

    Dig that gonzo prose. Tom Wolfe, eat your heart out.

    bopes wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • I enjoyed this part too, Mark! The whole thing is good. The more I read of this lifestyle, the more I like and am adhering to it. I just happened to be reading the “Happy Feet” part in your book yesterday and have now joined the ranks of the Vibram-clad.

      A.J. wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Yeah Mark seems to have gotten a little wacky-poetic with this post 😛 I like it!

      Robin wrote on December 5th, 2011
  11. Every time absolute black and white truth is sought only shades of gray appear.

    Grokitmus Primal wrote on December 5th, 2011
  12. I have always loved green beans but I’ve only had them in butter or bacon fat. I gotta try the bone broth method-its making me drool just thinking about it.

    I read somewhere that green beans and snow peas are healthier because they are still in the pod. (And something about them still being in the pod made them more vegetable than seed.) Of course, can’t find where I read it now but does anyone know if that’s true?

    Kaylee99 wrote on December 5th, 2011
  13. Green beans are great. I consider them a negative calorie food because it takes nearly as much energy or more to digest them than the energy they contain.

    Coach Calorie wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • How did you come about this theory? I’ve never thought about them like this… so I guess leafy greens would most definitely be a negative calorie food if you take the time to chew!

      Primal Toad wrote on December 6th, 2011
      • By the time I take the chicken from the cooler, walk it to the cash register, walk it to the car, into the house, prepare it, cut it and eat it, due the the toil earing the money in the wallet; The chicken dinner just became calorie neutral. 😉

        Kenny wrote on August 1st, 2012
  14. We eat fresh green beans in our primal home and have for over a year. We probably have them twice a month and experience no digestive problems, or any other problem as far as we know. We make them in broth and with the butter as Mark described and enjoy them quite a lot.

    Guy wrote on December 5th, 2011
  15. There is no better treat in the world that the first tender green peas-in-the-pod in the summer.

    The local (awesome) hothouse does shelling peas – because they’re under glass they’re ready usually by the end of May or early June, about a month before anyone else (including my own garden). I always buy a big bag, and take them with me when I pick my daughter up at school. And I hand them out to all the kids and I tell you, you wouldn’t see that much excitement with jelly beans!!! Then when our peas are ready, my daughter loooves being able to just pop outside and grab some. I wouldn’t care even if they weren’t “suitable” food – I’d still grow them, buy them, and eat them!

    Sarah wrote on December 5th, 2011
  16. is this all incapsulated by the rhyme – beans, beans are good for your heart…?

    chuck cotton wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • or should I have said “green beans, green beans”

      chuck cotton wrote on December 5th, 2011
  17. Green beans are a staple at my house. Raw, cooked, it doesn’t matter, they are all good. So are peas, although I don’t eat as many of them.

    Jennifer wrote on December 5th, 2011
  18. Green beans with butter, and garlic powder with diced onion added. Just about the only ‘veggie’ I can get my non-primal wife to eat.

    Vance wrote on December 5th, 2011
  19. Frozen cut green beans a huge staple in my diet for an easy side dish to pair with meat. I usually saute with herbed butter and dijon mustard beef and sauerkraut. I never really considered them a legume in my mind so this was insightful to read, but I’ll definitely continue to eat them because they agree with my body very well.

    katie wrote on December 5th, 2011
  20. I’ve heard this question a lot too because my daughter loves to eat green peas. People ask me if they’re really primal. I have always read that they’re not but that hasn’t stopped me from letting my daughter eat a little bit. Now, I might just let her eat more! Thanks for the info, Mark.

    Peggy The Primal Parent wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Isn’t it nice to have someone like Mark confirm what you are doing is ok? Not that I do everything that Mark says but I’ve always thought that peas, green beans and sugar snap peas are not as harmful as other legumes.

      Primal Toad wrote on December 6th, 2011
  21. We don’t eat a lot of peas, but once in awhile, I will make them. I buy the giant bags of frozen gb’s from Trader Joes … perfect for winter, when we don’t have a lot of GOOD fresh produce here in Nebraska!

    Erin wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • I buy those super skinny green beans from Trader Joe’s as well; there doesn’t seem to be much “bean”, mostly pod.

      Melissa wrote on December 5th, 2011
      • True, but they are sooooo good!

        Erin wrote on December 9th, 2011
  22. Personally I’ve never been a green bean or pea fan. I’ll eat them occasionally a few times per year with some raw grass fed butter on them.

    Justin wrote on December 5th, 2011
  23. Green beans are certified by Robb Wolf as well – at least he put them on his Shopping List for Week 1 on his site. I enjoy mine with pastured butter and a steak. Not AS tasty as a sweet potato, but for variety and a different color on the plate, why not?

    Jeff Pickett wrote on December 5th, 2011
  24. I eat peas and green beans almost daily. Green beans in the stirfry, and peas in my guacamole. Yay!

    Lisa wrote on December 5th, 2011
  25. I grow snap peas and green beans in my garden. When your three-year-old twins plant, pick, cook and EAT all of their own garden “veggies”, you don’t get too picky about whether a green bean is optimal or not. You just say, “thank goodness” and let them eat it. The snap peas tend to be eaten sun warm and straight off the vine. Man is that good! I had figured since the pods were mostly vegetable matter and very little seed was actually being eaten that they were probably on the healthier end of the spectrum from dried beans. Glad to know I was right.

    Heidi wrote on December 5th, 2011
  26. Peas and beans from our garden -> eaten while picked faster than picked for the pail. Domestic foraging!

    Caleigh wrote on December 5th, 2011
  27. What a coincidence. I just bought a 1 lb bag of fresh sugar snap peas for $2 yesterday. I ate half last night and I’m eating the other half tonight. This article couldn’t have come at a better time. Hell, even if the conclusion was negative, they’re so good I’d be eating them anyway. I love them because they’re low in fiber, and I’m trying to cut the fiber in my diet. More carrots, snap peas, zucchini and mushrooms. Less endive, kale, cabbage and other things that are starting to bind up my gut.

    ChocoTaco369 wrote on December 5th, 2011
  28. I just avoid legumes (including green beans and peas) (as well as grains of course. I really don’t miss them. I eat veggies, like cauliflower, chard,collars broccoli, cucumbers etc. instead

    Gayle wrote on December 5th, 2011
  29. Green beans. Sugar snap peas. Peas. I love them all. In fact, I just finished my lunch which included some peas!

    Primal Toad wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Raw sugar snap peas are one of my favorite things in the world! I rarely buy them because I just eat the whole bag in one sitting :)

      Sabreteef wrote on December 8th, 2011
  30. I often get green beans in my CSA box, and they are delicious! I always figured a few times a month when they’re in season couldn’t be too bad.

    LizMc. wrote on December 5th, 2011
  31. I grow my own in the summer, and it is a treat from the garden!

    The best use of frozen green beans I know off is frying them with eggs (I am guessing they can be first fried with bacon or butter). It makes a big breakfast or a decent super-easy supper.

    leida wrote on December 5th, 2011
  32. I hate green beans, so I never miss them.

    Saturnfan wrote on December 5th, 2011
  33. This didn’t even cross my mind when I devoured a plate of turkey with green beans and mashed kabocha squash on Thanksgiving. Glad it didn’t too, it feels so much better when you stop over-analyzing everything :)

    Steffo wrote on December 5th, 2011
  34. I’m learning to listen to my body and trust myself and not CW. Before primal I always made chili with out beans because my body really did not like them. Now I’m just fine tuning my ear for subtle signs of what my body likes and dislikes.

    Green beans, skipping breakfast when I’m not hungry, dairy are fine. Wheat, rice, legumes, eating late at night; not fine!

    MissZ wrote on December 5th, 2011
  35. Where does that leave edamame (immature soybeans) on the suitability scale?

    Kitty wrote on December 5th, 2011
  36. Big thunk on the forehead, accompanied by a “DOH!”

    For some reason I have never considered green beans to be legumes — the fact that all beans are legumes never actually connected in my brain. Perhaps it’s because they are low in calories and taste good.

    I shall happily continue eating green beans — especially trying the sauté’ in butter and add some bone broth recipe. I shall continue to eat snow peas as well. I have never liked green peas.

    Diane wrote on December 5th, 2011
  37. My son was allergic to eggs and nuts for a long time so I had to find food for him to eat on the paleo diet. I did include the peas and beans in his diet and homemade hummus and peanut butter. However, now that he is healed we gave the hummus and peanut butter a kick in the butt.

    I have a lot of paleo recipes since I had to be creative for 3 years of his life. You can see a collection of them on my website.

    Hannah Willette wrote on December 5th, 2011
  38. Alas, I am allergic to green beans so none for me! Like Mark mentioned they are legumes, which can cause allergic reactions for some. Strangely, I am not allergic to peanuts, which are in the same family, but I don’t eat them anyway.

    Fresh peas every once and a while are OK… not my favorite though!

    Sara wrote on December 5th, 2011
  39. Good blog. I’ve been wondering about green beans for a while now!

    Joe wrote on December 5th, 2011
  40. I like a snack of edmame now and then. Doesn’t seem to affect me adversely.

    Nion wrote on December 5th, 2011

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