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. Love beans! And peas too, they add some variety to the menu. I consider them beneficial for myself and they give me a satiating feeling.

    Paul Alexander wrote on December 5th, 2011
  2. green beans wrapped in bacon with coconut oil or butter are outstanding. try them

    jack wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • I will!

      Andrea wrote on December 5th, 2011
  3. Well, since we’ve gone mostly primal, my 5 kids eat bowls of peas or green beans instead of bread, biscuits or potatoes with their meals. A good trade off, I think. And since these two items are their favorite “vegetables”, collectively, we’re sticking with them.

    Jen wrote on December 5th, 2011
  4. Thanks Mark. I knew that fresh legumes were fine but appreciate the full report.

    In the forum, newbies often ask about green beans and peas. Some uniformed member always says green beans = legumes = no primal. I hope this post will reduce that some.

    I frequently eat both green and traditionally soaked legumes, and do fine.

    Harry Mossman wrote on December 5th, 2011
  5. So incredibly bummed to learn that my split pea soup – which seemed like it would be primal – isn’t. Wahh!

    SactoSteph wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • Fresh pea soup is much better – just cook in some chicken broth, puree with a stick blender. I add a dollop of yogurt or heavy cream sometimes before pureeing. Really good, fresh flavor. You can also use frozen peas for this. Add some chopped green herbs if you like – mint is particularly good.

      HillsideGina wrote on December 5th, 2011
  6. My whole family loves them. I cook them up with a few slices of bacon or a little lard and they are delicious.

    Kevin wrote on December 5th, 2011
  7. Yay! I enjoy green beans, but have been hesitant to try pea protein. It seems that I’m sensitive to whey & egg proteins, so pea it is! (any comments on pea protein, btw?)

    LizaJane wrote on December 5th, 2011
  8. Thanks for clarifying that, Mark. Why do dried bean/peas have more carbohydrates than the fresh variety?

    Michelle Sharma wrote on December 5th, 2011
  9. For a quick-ish vegetable side, I prefer carrots or broccoli over green beans, but I probably eat them 1-3 times a week. My favorite way to eat them is oven roasted ( Oh so salty and crispy.

    Andrea wrote on December 5th, 2011
  10. I tend to think that if you can eat something raw without it upsetting your digestive system then it’s probably OK to eat generally.

    The slimreaper wrote on December 5th, 2011
  11. Thanks Mark! I always get this question from my mom and now I have an answer :)

    Green beans never particularly bothered my digestion, so I still ate them. Delicious sauteed in butter and garlic!

    Katherine wrote on December 5th, 2011
  12. I was raised on fresh pinto beans, as well as fresh purple hull peas, and cream peas among others. Of course, not being able to have the cornbread with them makes them not as attractive!

    Joy Smith wrote on December 5th, 2011
  13. Green beans and peas are in … maybe a couple of times a month as there are so many other combinations. I tend to include them because they go with something else in the dish.

    I take the raw principle – can the food be eaten raw? Yes, in these cases, and home grown green beans and peas are just so nice. The raw principle doesn’t mean I can’t cook them, just that if I can eat them raw, the chances are they’re going to be good to eat.

    I have a very occasional dish of legumes just to see … I say, “I have”, but it’s been two in about 3 months – once green lentils and recently puy lentils. Neither affected me negatively from observation and I thoroughly enjoyed the food I made with them.

    Paul Halliday wrote on December 5th, 2011
  14. Greener de beaners…yum! With butter or bacon grease…yes please. Peas OK now and then. Fresh young pea pods…yum!yum! Need I say more!

    Brenda Living Primal wrote on December 5th, 2011
  15. The farm where I work grows both Blue Lake green beans and sugar snap peas. When these are young and tender and at their peak, they seem alot more like a vegetable than a legume. You are mostly eating the pod, and the “seed” is still very tiny. As they mature, the seed gets alot more starchy, tougher and “legume-like”, and not nearly as tasty….

    Rene wrote on December 5th, 2011
  16. Oooh Mark I have been dreaming of a Spectrum of suitibility! Will you make one? It could be your next book, or an app. You could give food points, or stars or grades, or groks or something. Pleeeeeeease?

    Kristen wrote on December 5th, 2011
  17. This is great to hear. I love to throw peas and snow peas into dishes or have green beans on the side, and there are also a few garden-variety beans that can be eaten fresh (such as burgundy beans, which I guess are a cousin of the green bean)… and boy, there’s not much that’s better than wandering through the garden and snacking on fresh, tender veggies :-) Fresh peas and beans knock the socks off of “dry shell” beans. Just looking a few up, it looks like beans vary widely in the amount of phytates/lectins they carry… so I guess it’s just sticking to peas or green beans — and/or know the edibility of what you want to grow or eat!

    Kirsten wrote on December 5th, 2011
  18. I made a delicious green bean recipe for Thanksgiving dinner. Parboil the beans, drain. Toss with olive oil and sherry vinegar, crumble bacon and goat cheese on top. i added dried cranberries for the holiday.

    HillsideGina wrote on December 5th, 2011
  19. Great post Mark. I have been wondering about green beans for quite some time now because we eat them once or twice a week. I love the way you prepare them and will have to try that next time.

    Bryan wrote on December 5th, 2011
  20. Wow.. I too have been agonizing over green beans and peas. Has been hard avoiding black beans, kidney beans, pintos, and yes, black-eyed peas. Glad to know I can eat something from the “bean” family. Thanks!

    DavidM wrote on December 5th, 2011
  21. I never, ever thought of not eating our delicious, organic peas and beans. I sort of thought the paleocommisariat was seriously deluded about these wonderful legumes.

    Our cattle just love clover lucerne and we certainly relish eating them!

    kem wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • “Paleocomissariat” – LOOOL!

      I’ve always had the occasional green bean too; they’re fairly low in carbs anyhow.
      I think the best indicator is the extent of work you have to put in to make a food edible; sugarsnaps and green beans can even be eaten raw, and require minimal preparation if you want to cook them, whereas if you eat raw lima beans you’ll probably end up in the hospital poisoning ward.

      Milla wrote on December 6th, 2011
  22. Back in 2007, I was on a protein craze, and I made sure I ate a lot of edamame. I chose edamame because it was easier to prepare and eat throughout the day. I could not eat a steak in the middle of class if I got hungry, but I could eat edamame.

    The only thing was that it made my flatulence gas smell HORRID. That was because these beans were being fermented inside of my large intestines which produced this putrid gas.

    Of course, now I know that you cannot get any protein from unfermented legumes, so all that edamame was a futile effort (correct me if I’m wrong). However, I still eat fermented soybeans like tempeh and natto. After fermentation, the nutrients and proteins are available for absorption and most of the anti-nutrients are deactivated, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. Also, because it has already been fermented, it does not make my flatulence gas smell terrible, and I can get some healthy bacteria to live inside of me from eating fermented soy. Natto also contains nattokinase.

    Peter wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • If you read Mercola, it is the vitmain K2 you go for when eating natto. I get K2 from my (huge) cheese load, it is also a fermented food.

      Iluvatar wrote on December 10th, 2011
  23. I don’t get “grain pains” when I eat grains or legumes. Does this have to do with the fact that I am Chinese?

    Peter wrote on December 5th, 2011
  24. I’m no expert but have read that Asian guts/digestive tracts are somewhat longer than Caucasian and other races’ guts/digestive tracts. This was in reference to the topic of eating Japanese sea weeds. Apparently, additionally, Japanese people have special micro organisms living in their digestive tracts that aid in digestion of these sea “vegetables.” I read about this in a very interesting Chemical Engineering Magazine article some months ago.

    The article addressed the advances made in DNA technology and how that was helping identify and take census of the populations of microbes living in and on our bodies. If I remember correctly, our human cells are outnumbered by what lives on and in us by 100 to one! It’s a good thing that most of those microbes don’t weigh much!! Anyhow, we definitely do not live alone in a sterile world and, yes, the races are somewhat different internally as well as externally. Asian people do have longer guts and likely a better ability with grains. I myself am an old Northern European whose ancestors were fishermen in Norway. I love my Cod! I love Greek yogurt too!

    Patty Lynn wrote on December 6th, 2011
    • I agree, I think the ‘Asian argument’ in favour of grains is oversimplified; you can’t just take a region-specific diet and say its a one-size-fits-all;besides, the traditional Asian diet, despite the rice, probably still has a much lower carb count than the SAD, and as Mark says here
      rice isn’t that bad in the context of a traditional diet replete in meats, animal fats and low in processed foods.
      Grok On 😀

      Milla wrote on December 6th, 2011
  25. I go by the thought, though not absolutely certain it’s correct, that anything green = good? Am I over-simplifying it?

    London Accountant wrote on December 6th, 2011
  26. Green beans are an ingredient in Bieler Broth which is a proven health-restoring soup:

    3 stalks of celery
    3 whole zucchini
    2 cups of string beans
    1 cup of parsley

    RobG wrote on December 6th, 2011
  27. Sometimes the green beans or peas are the only green thing available on the table. That is the best time to go for it, given that there are so many other, better choices when you have more control.

    Jim wrote on December 6th, 2011
  28. It never even dawned on me that green beans were a legume….How stupid am I?

    MelissaJaney wrote on December 6th, 2011
  29. Who doesn’t like green beans it means he doesn’t know how to eat and i feel sorry for them.

    Radu wrote on December 6th, 2011
  30. I tried out Tim Ferris’ diet for a few months (think meat+veggies+beans instead of the meat+veggies that I had done for years). I noticed a huge difference switching from black/pinto/kidney beans to green beans. Green beans seem to be fine.

    Moshen wrote on December 6th, 2011
  31. “All we are saying, is give peas a chance…”

    Tom wrote on December 6th, 2011
  32. Ha! :)good one

    Gayle wrote on December 6th, 2011
  33. I eat green beans. They are one of the veggies I do like a lot. I don’t like peas though so I don’t eat those.

    hockeyfan7 wrote on December 6th, 2011
  34. Oh thank you for this article! I have been longing for my sugar snap peas and missing them. Now I will reintegrate them into my meals without any further anxiety. NOM!

    Rachel B. wrote on December 6th, 2011
  35. I just high graded a few sugar snap peas on their way to the kitchen from the garden. First of the summer!

    kem wrote on December 6th, 2011
  36. We have green beans all the time because it’s a quick and easy side veg. We buy frozen green beans, thaw them in the microwave then drizzle with olive oil and a bit of white vinegar. Spice up with salt, pepper and oregano and even my 3 year old and veggie-hating husband loves them. Add these to a roast that’s been slow-cooking all day and supper is on the table in 10 minutes.

    Vicki wrote on December 6th, 2011
  37. All this time being primal and it never even crossed my mind that green beans might be questioned. Hmmmph
    It’s my go-to veggie. No worries folks!

    Clint White wrote on December 8th, 2011

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!