One of the biggest differences between the Mediterranean diet and paleo are legumes such as beans and lentils. Are lentils bad for your body? To explain the truth, I have to give you two answers: what I believe and what the “official” paleo books say.
The Reason People Ask About Lentils
When people talk about natural, nutritious foods that aren’t filled with processed junk, dry lentils, beans and chickpeas often pop into the conversation. Lentils have a lot of nutrients, they boast a ton of plant protein and they’re filling.
Some readers ask about lentils because their doctor recommended eating legumes to control blood sugar. Many physicians tell their patients to include more lentils in their diet to lower blood pressure or cholesterol. Well, let me tell you that listening to your doctor’s food advice is a smart idea.
Lentils According to Paleo — A Capital Sin?
Several books written on paleo, including the diet’s “holy grail” by Dr. Cordain, cross out all legumes with a big, red X. According to these books, lentils, beans, peas and peanuts are bad for you because our ancient ancestors didn’t eat them. Grains and legumes require farming.
Another complaint is that beans and lentils have anti-nutrients called lectins and phytates. Dr. Cordain says that these compounds cause inflammation around the body, hurt your digestive tract and prevent you from absorbing enough nutrients to be healthy.
The Truth About Lentils
At first, hearing about anti-nutrients can make you panic. If the only things you ate were foods high in lectins or phytates, you would probably be in trouble. But lentils and many other legumes don’t really belong in the “no” category for paleo, at least according to some new paleo pros. Here’s why:
- Ancient people probably did cultivate legumes: Prominent scientists think that our ancestors likely ate wild peas, beans and other legumes.
- Cooking legumes destroys the lectins: If you’re like everyone on the planet, you cook lentils and beans before eating them. Cooking lentils for just 15 minutes completely shuts down lectins.
- Other foods have a lot more lectins than lentils: When it comes to supposed “anti-nutrients,” other foods that are fine according to Dr. Cordain have a lot more than lentils. Cacao, spinach, almonds and nuts are equal or higher in lectins.
There is no real evidence that eating most legumes contributes to inflammation, pain or digestive troubles. On the contrary, there's a lot of evidence that lentils are great for your heart, your blood sugar and your gut.