Paleo and Legumes
Although many people view Paleo as something that is “too restrictive”, Chris Kessner, a writer and health advocate claims otherwise. Some people’s approach to Paleo prohibits them from eating certain foods such as legumes, however for Chris Kessner, Paleo is more of a template than a rigid dietary prescription.
Many people assume that legumes are not Paleo because they were never part of our ancestors’ diet. While others say that legumes are not Paleo, Chris argued they are. Some further research supports Kessner’s claim that different hunter-gatherer societies ate legumes.
Australian aborigines ate acacia seed which is another type of legume. According to the paper titled “Acacia in Australia: Ethnobotany and Potential Food Crop” which was written by Peter R. Lister et.al, the seeds such as those obtained from acacia served as a staple food for the indigenous people of Australia. In particular the species “A. difficilis” contained seeds that were eaten.
The !Kung San
An article written by Dr. Stephan Guyenet, who is a neurobiologist and obesity researcher believes legumes to be a valid Paleo diet inclusion. This claim was based on the quotes from the book titled “The !Kung San” which refers to a group of hunters and gatherers extensively studied by several anthropologists headed by Richard B. Lee. The said book revealed that legumes, particularly tsin bean, were the second most important food for the !Kung San ancestors who lived in the Southern parts of Nyae Nyae and Dobe area (somewhere in Namibia). By its dry weight, tsin beans consist of 31.6 per cent protein, 1.0 per cent fiber, 36.1 per cent fat and 23.2 per cent carbohydrates.
An article from The Guardian stated that Neanderthals feasted not only on seeds and date palms but also on legumes. This statement was based on the findings from the research led by Dolores Piperno which was conducted at the archaeology/biology laboratory of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington. After examining the remains of three Neanderthal skeletons which were unearthed from Iraq and Belgium, they found that the food scraps embedded in their dental plaques suggested they ate legumes.
Are Legumes Healthy?
A reason some claim that legumes should not be part of Paleo diet is because they have been said to be unhealthy. Animal studies revealed that legumes contain lectins that are known to cause damage in the lining of the small intestines. Lectin was also found to cause interference in the functioning of the pancreas.
However, researchers stated that these claims should not be extrapolated directly to humans on the premise that the said findings were only true to animals who have been mainly consuming very large amounts of lectin-containing plants. Unlike animals, humans are generally consuming a wider variety of foods on a daily basis compared to animals.
Most certainly in a Paleo diet the legumes alone would not be the major food type. Another reason why lectins from legumes should not be considered as a threat to human health is because humans eat cooked legumes. The process of cooking legumes neutralizes its lectin and makes cooked legumes safe to eat.