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!