Dear Mark: Beans/Legumes

Dear Mark,

I’m a former vegetarian who still enjoys cooking with all kinds of beans. I don’t see them in any of the MDA recipes. What’s your take on them?

Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, etc.) aren’t, by any means, the worst thing you can eat, but they don’t make the ideal meal either. In my estimation, legumes fall into the “O.K.” category with wine, chocolate, cheese and other dairy, etc.

On the upside, legumes offer protein, and they tend to be good sources of several minerals like potassium and magnesium. On the downside, they offer only a moderate at best amount of protein (generally 4-9 grams per ½ cup serving). As the How to Eat Enough Protein post showed, legumes’ protein content is dwarfed by the 28 grams you’d get from a cup of cottage cheese or the 50+ grams you’d get from six ounces of several meats. And this relatively small amount of protein comes with a hefty carb content: as high as 28 grams for that same ½ cup serving!

Because legumes generally contain so much soluble fiber, they won’t result in sudden blood sugar spikes. However, as I said a while back in the whole grain post, at the end of the day carbs are carbs.

Yet, the Primal Blueprint philosophy allows for some carbohydrate content. I’ve suggested in the past 150 grams as a daily ceiling. There’s certainly reason to shoot for less (100 is even better), but 150 grams can be a reasonable goal for many of us. The key is to make as much of that carb “allowance” vegetable-based as possible. Legumes offer nutritional benefits, but what they offer can be found in equal to greater amounts within other foods that have lower carb content.

All this said, not all legumes are created equal. Some, like lentils, have higher protein content. Others, like peas, have lower carb content. Both glycemic index and glycemic load vary among legumes. Check out this “International Table” for more info on legumes and hundreds of other foods.

The ultimate point on “O.K.” foods is this: if you can make the majority of your diet “best source” foods (meat for protein, vegetables for carbs, etc.), you’ll meet your daily nutrient goals and have room to include a few “lesser benefit but high enjoyment” foods such as dairy and legumes. (That is, if you consider beans exciting. Cheese I can understand, but give me a a big salad over a bowl of kidney beans any day.)

An additional note: the bioavailability of minerals in legumes is compromised by the body’s difficulty in digesting them (hence the flatulence jokes). If you’re going to include legumes in your diet, preparation is everything. Diligent and tailored soaking processes are necessary for the proper digestion and nutrient absorption of legumes.

Check back in the near future as I’ll be posting exactly what I eat in a typical day and how it breaks down in calories from protein, fat and carbs.  Thanks for your questions and comments, everyone. As always, if you have a suggestion for “Dear Mark,” shoot me a line.

Roger Smith Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

My Carb Pyramid

Dear Mark: Sugar Cravings

The World’s Favorite Bean

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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