Legumes – To Eat Or Not To Eat

Legumes, the little things that your parents told you to eat or you wouldn’t grow up big and strong. Sound familiar? But what are legumes? Are they really needed in the diet and are they really that healthy?

There are arguments for both sides of the equation. Some would say they are great sources of proteins, others say they have disastrous effects on your digestive system. So which side do I stand on? Let’s take a look at a couple of facts. Firstly, here is a brief list of foods that are considered legumes.

  • Beans – including soy (and any soy product), kidney beans, broad beans, green beans, mung beans and anything else that has beans in it (yes baked beans too!)
  • Peas – including green peas, sugar snap peas, snow peas and chick peas
  • Peanuts and any peanut product like peanut butter
  • Lentils

This is just a brief list of legumes, but should give you a good idea of what foods we are looking at here.

The people who are advocates of legumes are generally vegetarians and being quite limited in their choices for protein, they are almost a necessity for them. They just need to keep in mind that they are generally not a complete protein (don’t contain all essential amino acids) so they need to combine different sources to get the complete proteins. But for us carnivores/omnivores, we can get our protein from far better sources. And that is meat, which contains all the essential aminos, so is considered a complete protein.

Looking past the amino issue with the legumes, the main problem with them is the fact that they tend to be high in phytic acid. Phytic acid can be considered an anti nutrient, or something that we struggle to digest. Phytic acid tends to bind to nutrients like amino acids and once they are bound together, the phytic acid can prevent the digestion of the protein. A similar example of this is trypsin which is a protease (an enzyme that digests protein). Soy is quite high in a trypsin inhibitor, so it essentially block the action of trypsin, making it difficult to digest.

Some legumes can even create an allergic response in the body with soy being quite high on the list of foods that can cause a reaction. What happens is in the digestive tract, inflammation can be caused from some of the elements in these foods which increase the permeability of the tract. These foods then enter the blood stream only partially digested, the body recognizes it as an invader, like a virus or similar, and attacks it. This can leave the body run down and more open to attack from the real invaders.

Now this is not an issue in everyone, some people are fine with these foods. I don’t seem to notice any difference in myself when I am on them or not. But I still like to err on the side of caution in these cases. I never eat soy, very rarely eat beans, but do enjoy peas or snow peas etc on the odd occasion. I just don’t make a habit out of eating them.

Being a runner, my thoughts around nutrition is to get as many nutrients as possible into my diet as I can. Which is why I tend to go more for foods that are nutrient rich as opposed to highly processed, nutrient poor foods. If there is a food out there that may inhibit the absorption of any of these nutrients, I would prefer to avoid, or at least limit them.

Run Well

Chris O’Driscoll

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