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. Wow, we had peas with dinner just last night and I was wondering how primal/unprimal they were. Read my mind MDA!

    Sabreteef wrote on December 8th, 2011
  2. Mark, Thanks for this.

    I have eaten frozen peas for about 30 years w/o any issues. My raw vegetable suite (lunch 5 days a week) incldudes snap peas raw. Ditto goes for frozen beans that I’ll throw in a 70/30 hamburger casserole (with the fat thrown in as well).

    I don’t know if you have ever done this, but take some frozen peas and let them sit out so that they thaw. Then just eat them. It would amaze you how sweet they are! When it was my turn to cook dinner (and I am so slow at it), I’d put a bowl out on the counter so the kids could munch while dad finally got the dinner cooked (lol). My kids loved to snack on them, and it stopped that awful question of: when are you going to finish making dinner?

    Where we diverge a bit is with peanuts. I love these guys. Eat the “spanish” peanut (red skin on for the resveratrol) with sea salt. I wish you hated them less. And it beats drinking red wine (grin).

    Iluvatar wrote on December 10th, 2011
  3. I’ve always eaten green peas & green beans. When I started this whole paleo/primal thing I still ate them as they fell in the “if you can eat it raw” rational. I did a Whole30 once & didn’t eat peas then, but still did green beans because, as they stated – they are more pod than bean. My favorite way is sauteed in ghee with diced carrot, coriander, ginger, garlic, & mustard seed. A nice side dish for lamb :) or just sauteed in lard with salt & pepper

    Peggy wrote on December 11th, 2011
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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.


    Christy Lafferty wrote on April 23rd, 2012
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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 (:


    Hall wrote on September 20th, 2012
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. Beans, beans, the magical fruit??

    Moon wrote on September 5th, 2013

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