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Why Are Legumes Not a Paleo Food?

By Aglaee Jacob

The Paleo diet is based on foods your hunter-gather ancestors ate during the Paleolithic period, before the introduction of agriculture. The foods allowed on the Paleo diet include seasonal fruits and vegetables, ethical protein sources from wild-caught fish, free-range chicken and their eggs and grass-fed meat, as well as fats from coconut oil, olive oil, avocado and occasional nuts and nut butter. The Paleo diet encourages you to eliminate all grains, legumes, dairy, sugar and processed foods from your diet. Because peanuts took too long to grow, they were not consumed by early humans. Proponents of the Paleo diet also avoid peanuts due to their potential negative heath effects.

Autoimmune Problems

Legumes, just like grains, contain lectins and other compounds that were developed by plants to fight off insects. These lectins increase intestinal permeability and may trigger your immune system to turn against your own body, leading to autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus and vitiligo, according to Dr. Loren Cordain. One of the world’s leading experts on Paleolithic diets, Cordain is a member of the faculty of the department of health and exercise science at Colorado State University, and author of "The Paleo Diet."

Protease Inhibitors and Anti-Nutrients

Legumes contain substances called protease inhibitors as well as anti-nutrients, which can prevent you from getting enough nutrition from your foods. This is according to Robb Wolf, former biochemist, student of Cordain and author of "The Paleo Solution." Cordain claims that these anti-nutrients, or phytates, prevent the proper absorption of B vitamins, iron, zinc, copper and calcium in the intestines.


Soy is abundantly consumed and is present not only in tofu, but also in soy burgers, soy sausages and other vegetarian alternatives. Soy is rich in phytoestrogens, a compound similar to estrogen, a female hormone. In your body, the phytoestrogens from soy can either stimulate or interfere with the role of estrogens and are associated with a more painful and longer menstrual cycle in females and lower sperm count in males.

Thirty-Day Challenge

If you want to give the Paleo diet a try, try eliminating all legumes for a period of 30 days to see if you feel any difference. Legumes not only include beans and lentils, but also soy and all soy-based products. Don't forget that peanuts and peanut butter also belong to the legume family and are not recommended on the Paleo diet. Before making any changes though, it is recommended to consult your physician and get some blood work done to ensure the Paleo diet is safe for you.

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