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?

greenbeansFor 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?

Sue

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. Hi Mark and others,

    What do you think of the hypothesis that peas contain m-xylohydroquinine, a potent estrogen and progesterone inhibitor? Many fertility forums say you should never eat peas if you’re trying to conceive, citing the book “The Infertility Diet” by Fern Reiss.

    Stefani wrote on December 17th, 2011
  2. I really like to make split pea soup from yellow dried split peas (soaked 24 hour in water first)

    I don’t eat it every day but maybe once a week..

    Are there any more thing I can do to reduce the lectins and phytates?

    I have a very limited diet due to many food intolerance..

    kai wrote on February 18th, 2012
  3. My children LOVE to eat frozen raw peas and green beans. We are on a pretty strict Paleo diet for my son’s Type 1 Diabetes. Should I be cooking them before they eat them. These are the only legumes we eat.

    Thanks!
    Christy

    Christy Lafferty wrote on April 23rd, 2012
  4. I mixed up the fresh green, white, & wax beans with olive oil, garlic, rosemary and sea salt and bake for about 10 minutes or microwave for 4. They come out delicious and go really well with a nice pork chop.

    Cory wrote on June 2nd, 2012
  5. Cooked green beans agree with my stomach and body and don’t have many side-effects afterwards,

    unlike green PEAS, i tried cooking and eating them every-which-way and even if sometimes they make me feel great in the beginning, they throw me right off the centre and give me insomnia and indigestion in the end, EVERY flipping TiME

    also, even the best of Potatoes are LOADED with anti-nutrients, solanine and chocanine are some of them are they very HEAT-STABLE and are not broken down even at temperatures as high as 280C ,
    so cooking them does Nothing to eliminate it,
    it accumulates, it’s a powerful CNS disruptor and it affects acetylocholine neurotransmitter functions in the brain

    anyways, great article, age-long question !

    Hall wrote on September 20th, 2012
  6. the only good greain is WHiTE, non-glutonous RiCE,
    such as non-aged Basmati or Jasmine

    and properly prepared Buckwheat,
    which is then soaked in boiling water for 5 mins and rinsed very well in a steel strainer with a silicon stirring spoon,
    then boiled for 5-10mins (:

    Enjoy

    Hall wrote on September 20th, 2012
  7. Stay away from ALL Vegetable oils, especially coconut oil and olive oil, etc

    the only good and sometimes essential fat/oil to use in a diet is an organic unsalted cultured (grass-fed if you can get it ) Butter

    also STAY AWAY from all opiate receptor affecting foods such as dairy, gluten, spinach, heroin, etc

    Hall wrote on September 20th, 2012
  8. I LOVE green beans and stopped eating them as I thought they weren’t primal ok’d. So, I’ll go back to a light ‘boil in a skillet with a bit of water, then olive oil and butter to finish them off, and slivered almonds toasted in the pan… so, so delish! Can’t wait… Thanks for this.
    I’ve never been a fan of green peas, so no loss, there. Can’t wait to pick up some green and yellow beans, though!

    Sussi wrote on January 30th, 2013
  9. But of course! I’ve had nagging indigestion and gas since I had canned sweet peas with dinner. I’ve never been big on peas, but the novelty sounded good, and like most side dishes they took well to butter and seasoned salt. Well, never again. I haven’t had any ill effects from food like this since going primal with my diet, and as soon as my stomach started bothering me I started researching what it could have been. I feel pretty crappy. This must be one of those rare things that I’m actually sensitive to. I can have as much dairy and chocolate as I want, but half a can of any legumes including peas really noticeably bothers my system. Oh well, here’s to knowing oneself better and learning how to nurture one’s unique needs.

    Nic wrote on February 26th, 2013
  10. I figure skinny green beans are 95-99% pod and the rest bean. So I eat ‘em and love ‘em. Since going primal, I’ve switched from green peas to snow peas, for the same reason, i.e., I’m really eating pods, not peas. Is this logical? If I eat a vegetative part of the plant, am I eating a legume at all? Is the whole plant a legume?

    Kay wrote on April 12th, 2013
  11. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for answering this question. I just asked this exact question on your facebook page. We like to grow peas and green beans in the garden, but we avoid all dried beans. I’m happy to know your thoughts on it.

    Taryn Kae Wilson wrote on June 19th, 2013
  12. Beans, beans, the magical fruit??

    Moon wrote on September 5th, 2013
  13. i suffer from gastritis and have just recently started cooking some veg. normally when i’m forced into hospital ie sectioned for being the messiah! i tend to eat any foods and plenty of vegetables because i’m not the one having to prepare, steam or boil them, i’m normally good with most veg “when sectioned” especially carrots peas and swede. i prepared some carrots and swede and it’s increased acidity and wind and really wasn’t worth eating the 20kcal portion! however i tried the green beans separately and noticed a slight decrease in stomach acidity and an immediate alkaline effect even though the first ones i prepared were undercooked! making digestion harder but still not too bad. earlier i had swede and carrots and just now i tried doing some french cut green beans and noticed little peas growing in the bean which would technically make the new born peas unripe and more acidic than when ripe! making the bean more acidic yet apparently green beans have a slightly more alkalising effect than peas even when full grown ripe peas are ready ive read green beans are slightly more alkalising. are those new baby peas classed as seeds or peas? are they acidic unripe peas?
    i found a fairly detailed alkalising chart here’s the link it’s where i found out green beans are slightly more alkalising than peas
    http://www.hangthebankers.com/your-guide-to-eating-alkaline-foods/

    michael solomon wrote on January 20th, 2014
  14. Mark, THANK YOU SO MUCH for posting this blog. I had dropped ALL legumes after reading Cordain’s The Paleo Diet, but I still bought them (less frequently and with some guilt) for my daughter because they’re a quick, easy to prepare veg that she’ll actually eat. Since falling pregnant, though, my diet has morphed into one of consuming what I could stomach at any given mealtime. My “rules” have gone out the window, and most of my beloved veggies have fallen by the wayside (isn’t that crazy? You’d think that during pregnancy, of all times, you would crave things that are GOOD for you/baby…), but green beans have remained palatable to me (in small doses). I’ve been feeling guilty about the frequency with which I’ve been buying & eating them, & we all know guilt is not a healthy state! Thanks for helping ease a pregnant lady’s mind!

    Mollie wrote on February 4th, 2014
  15. our favorite green bean dish: lightly steam 3-4 cups fresh green beans for 1-3 min. Heat 3-4 Tbsp olive oil in skillet, medium high.Add handful of walnuts, and 1-2 tsp of turmeric and stir/cook for 1-2 min. Add green beans and stir fry just til crisp-tender, about 3-4 min. optional, add fresh garlic and ginger, minced, with the walnuts.

    kay wrote on February 6th, 2014
  16. I have so many parameters around food with my kids that I give them free range in the fruit/vegetable/meat section of the store. If they want to eat green beans and peas–Huzzah! Jicama? Sure. If they pick it, they’ll eat it. I also grow them in our garden because they’re fun and again, the kids like the harvesting them and eating them fresh. I figure if I can grow it in our garden it’s better than what someone else grew, harvested, dried for eons, ground up into a flour, formed into cracker or cereal shapes (after adding some extra vitamins and minerals for good measure), placed in a box and shipped half way around the world to sit on a grocery store shelf for perhaps another few months.

    Jennifer L. wrote on February 17th, 2014
  17. The idea that people today in this obese, fast food, junk food world would fret so deeply over eating a green bean and or peas grieves me to no end, for a number of reasons.

    I spent my days teaching two little twin boys how to shuck fresh peas and enjoy freshly picked green beans. They would rather drink green smoothies than eat cookies. Even if they decide upon a Paleo lifestyle, I doubt they will sit in a restaurant and stare at peas and green beans as if some kind of poison was placed on their plate. How did we get to this?

    Thank for you bringing some sensible science to this.

    I’ve shunned veganism for its dogmatic and misguided approach to health. This mass fear of green beans is no better. What is worse, this tells me that it’s reflective of how families eat. Grown men fearing green beans tells me that they probably grew up eating in a car at a drive through, that no one cooked at home, that healthy food was not plentiful and now they can’t determine what’s good for them until some expert says “you can eat a green bean.”

    In my whole long long life, I’ve never heard of anyone (outside of food allergies) unable to eat a pea or a green bean. These were never food from the enemy.

    What’s next in the next trend? This is what happened to eggs and red meat, and I never bought into that either.

    I’m not new to eating a Paleo friendly diet, but I am new to Paleo community. I’m seeing a whole new level of fear regarding food that floors me. Additionally, it’s a turn off.

    This is why I like Chris Kresser so much, and why I come here. I need to hear voices of reason (with real science) and the flexibility to morph and evolve.

    angela wrote on March 2nd, 2014
  18. What is your opinion on pea protein supplements? I’m considering adding it to post workout smoothies…specifically the Warrior Blend by Sun Warrior where it is the first ingredient. Hummus and frozen peas do agitate digestion.

    Kevin wrote on April 13th, 2014
    • Funny, I was recently at a Whole Foods and there was a salesperson promoting a newer “energy drink” that had decent amount of protein: pea protein. I’d be interested in hearing the answer to this, too.

      Kevin Grokman wrote on June 19th, 2014
  19. Have always enjoyed peas; came to love fresh-made green beans much more than the canned or frozen, which is what I always had when I was a kid. Just ate some peas in an otherwise fairly healthy salad! I’m happy to see them on the safer side of the spectrum and am all about where it makes sense.

    Kevin Grokman wrote on June 19th, 2014
    • About *moderation* where it makes sense. And I believe the things discussed and investigated on this site promote moderation where it is warranted by the signals our own bodies give us, which is why I am such an ardent fan!

      Kevin Grokman wrote on June 19th, 2014

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