Yes, you love eating lentils and you have heard that lentils have good protein. Well, guess what…you were not given the complete and full true information about lentils / legumes.
Lentils are delicious and versatile to cook. Yes they are a staple diet in alot of countries, especially Bangladesh, but all of that comes with some harms as well.
“But lentils and legumes are full of protein!”
I hear this alot and this is the only reason most people think lentils / legumes are important. But at the cost of harm (explained more later), these proteins are just not that important. The protein in lentils are not complete proteins. Meaning lentils do not have all 9 essential amino acids. The protein in lentils is not fully absorbed by the body. Along with these two important facts, you have to remember that lentils also come with some anit-nutrients which inhibit the nutrients from being absorbed into your body at all!
Legumes are a family of plants called Fabaceae, or the fruit of this type of plants, which is referred to as pod. Some common legumes eaten in different parts of the world are clover, Alfalfa, peas, lupins, lentils, peanuts etc. Thus, it is clear that lentils are a type, or subcategory of legumes.
What are legumes
Beans: The most common varieties of legumes are beans. These include adzuki beans, black beans, soybeans, anasazi beans, fava beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), kidney beans and lima beans.
Peas: A number of legumes are labeled as peas, including green peas, snow peas, snap peas, split peas and black-eyed peas
Peanuts: Some legumes are inappropriately called “nuts.” The most common example is the peanut, with other examples including soy nuts and carob nuts.
Lentils: Legumes that are classified as nuts, beans and peas are approximately spherical in shape. With their flat, round shape, lentils differ from this general pattern. Whether yellow, orange, green, brown or black, the nutritional profile of lentils does not change with their color.
Phytates – for the most part – just prevent minerals in a particular food from being absorbed. They’re not stealing minerals out of your body.
Phytates are not a major concern on their own. But if you’re planning on eating beans or lentils as a large portion of your diet, then it’s worth knowing that you’re not actually absorbing a lot of the minerals. This is particularly important if you’re considering replacing meat and animal fat with legumes, since meat and animal fats are some of the most nutritious foods you can eat. Especially important for those of you considering to stop eating animal meat, fish and eggs. This is not good for you !
In addition, phytates also inhibit the functioning of certain enzymes that are critical to digestion, such as pepsin and amylase. For a really thorough discussion of phytates, see this Weston A. Price Foundation article.
Legumes Contain Lectins
Lectins are a class of proteins that plants produce partially in order to protect themselves from predators. Some lectins (such as Wheat-Germ-Agglutinin – found primarily in wheat) are terrible and definitely cause problems.
The 2 main effects of lectins are that they cause “Leaky Gut” and they lead to increased inflammation in your gut.
Both of these things may not cause any immediate problems when you eat lectins, but they often lead long-term to all sorts of problems, such as not being able to properly absorb vitamins and minerals, food allergies, arthritis, and a variety of other issues.
Some of the most well-known lectins are Peanut Agglutinin, Phytohaemagglutinin, and Ricin, all of which are found in legumes such as peanuts, kidney beans, and castor beans.
Now, most lectins are deactivated by heat, meaning that when you cook these foods, most of the lectins become harmless. There are exceptions to this (including both Wheat Germ Agglutinin and Peanut Agglutinin), but this is one of the main reasons that lectins are not as big of a problem as some people make them out to be. Still, it’s something to consider. In particular, if you have any existing gut issues (IBS, for instance) or any auto-immune conditions (like Crohns or Hashimotos), then lectins are probably going to be far more problematic for you.
Grains and legumes such as black beans, soybeans, lima beans, kidney beans and lentils contain the highest amounts of lectins. Generally speaking, lectins are a type of glyca-binding protein, meaning proteins that bind to carbohydrates in your body. There are many types of lectins, and the main difference between them is the type of sugar each prefers and binds to in your body.
As noted by Dave Asprey, founder of Bulletproof.com, “One of the reasons wheat is so bad for you is that the lectin in wheat is attracted to glucosamine, the polysaccharide that covers your joints.” Some — including wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), found in wheat and other grass-family seeds — bind to specific receptor sites on your intestinal mucosal cells and interfere with the absorption of nutrients across your intestinal wall.
As such, they act as “antinutrients,” and can have a detrimental effect on your gut microbiome by shifting the balance of your bacterial flora — a common precursor to leaky gut.
Lectins Are Highly Inflammatory
One major concern is that most lectins are proinflammatory, meaning they trigger inflammation and create advanced glycation end products. C-reactive protein (CRP) is one example of the many lectins you have circulating in your body right now, and it’s used as a marker of inflammation.
They are also immunotoxic (capable of stimulating a hyperimmune response), neurotoxic and cytotoxic, meaning they’re toxic to cells and may induce apoptosis (cell death). Certain lectins may also increase your blood viscosity by binding to your red blood cells.
This makes the blood cells sticky, resulting in abnormal clotting. Some lectins (such as WGA) may even interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function. Lectins also promote leptin resistance, thereby increasing your risk of obesity. All of these factors can predispose you to disease.
Legumes are High in Protease Inhibitors
Proteases are enzymes that break down proteins. So Protease Inhibitors are molecules that stop proteases from doing their job.
In your body, because protease inhibitors keep proteins from being properly broken down and absorbed, your body starts producing too much of certain enzymes. When this happens, it can lead to all sorts of problems like Leaky Gut, chronic inflammation, and allergic reactions.
Soy is particularly bad about this, but most legumes are quite high in protease inhibitors.
Legumes Can Contain PhytoEstrogens
Phyto means “plant,” and you generally know what estrogen is. So it’s not too difficult to figure out what a phytoestrogen might be.
Phytoestrogens are not actually estrogen, but they act like estrogen. Inside your body, phytoestrogens bind to the same receptors that estrogen binds to, but phytoestrogens give a much weaker signal than estrogen. Because the signals are weak, your body will often over-produce estrogen, which will disrupt your entire hormonal system.
This can lead to a variety of problems, such as disrupted reproduction and infertility, bladder cancer, asthma, and increased incidence of Alzheimers.
This is especially bad for women who suffer from Thyroid illness such as PCOS, endometriosis, Hashimoto’s etc. Your goal is to take measures to reset thyroid function and balance hormones again. Keeping legumes and lentils a regular part of you diet will definitely not help you balance hormones. If lentils and legumes are a regular part of your diet and you suffer thyroid illness then this is a good time to cut it out.
Legumes Contain Saponins
Legumes are extremely high in saponins. Ok…but what the heck are saponins???
Saponins are compounds that are found in many plants, including most legumes. They have a particular chemical structure that allows them to bind to the surface of your intestinal cells.
Once saponins bind to your intestinal walls, they often cause the cells lining your intestines to either “open up” or else to die. In either case, the effect is a Leaky Gut.
Once that happens, saponins, bacteria, and other things start leaking into your bloodstream. An immediate effect is that saponins start destroying the cell membranes of your red blood cells (as well as leading to general inflammation in your body). After that, all sorts of other bad things start happening.
So should you eat legumes?
Personally, we have cut out legumes from our diet. And as a believer in functional medicine and a health coach, I don’t recomend legumes to my clients. If you are having legumes as a part of your daily meal then I would suggest you cut it down as much as you can. Baby steps in key, and making progress is what counts.
This may seem extremely hard for Bengali’s as daal (lentils) is such an important part of our diet. Bengali’s usually have daal with lunch and dinner – two most important refueling meals of your day!
Gut health is important! The best way to deal with daal is by cutting it down to a day or two a week. Eating legumes / lentils once in a while gives your body more time to “repair” the damage causes by all the anti-nutrients we discussed above. Don’t forget, damage to your gut builds up over time. You may not be suffering from any seemingly gut issues at the moment but this doesn’t mean you are shielded from any gut illness in the future. Your gut is your second brain, and protecting it means a healthier, stronger and thriving you!
Sources and References
- Plant Lectins by A. Pusztai
- Krispin.com, The Lectin Report
- Selfhacked.com, Dr. Gundry: Turning off Autoimmunity With a Lectin Avoidance Diet
- Precision Nutrition, All About Lectins
- Authority Nutrition, 6 Foods High in Lectins
- Authority Nutrition, Dietary Lectins
- Superfoodly, 50 Foods High in Lectins
- Science.gov, Records for Persea American
- EatDontEat.com Foods in the Grass Famil
- DrAxe.com, Nightshade Vegetables
- Bulletproof.com, Revenge of the Bean
- PKD Diet, Lectins
- The Atlantic April 24, 2017
- The Independent September 15, 2008
- Nutrition Myths, Legumes