The Paleo diet is legume-free!

The Paleo diet eliminates all legumes.

Legumes represent a family of plant that includes beans and lentils as well as soy and peanuts. Peanut is commonly categorized as a nut, but it is in fact a legume. Avoiding beans, lentils and peanut is fairly easy, but avoiding soy may require you to do more label reading.

  • Beans and lentils are mostly found in: soups, chili, refried beans and hummus.

  • Peanuts are most often found in: peanut butter, granola bars, energy bars, breakfast cereals and other baked goods.
  • Soy can be found in almost ALL processed foods: breakfast cereals, margarines, mayonnaise, muffins, protein powder, soy beverages, granola bars, sauces, tofu, vegetarian burgers, vegetarian dishes, fried food, edamame, tempeh, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and frozen entrees, burgers or sausages (as a filler), gravies, smoothies, bouillon cubes, broth, soy nuts... hidden as: soybean oil, soy protein, soy flour, soy fiber, soy albumin, soya, lecithin, textured vegetable protein, vegetable gum, thickener, stabilizer, flavoring, gums...

What’s wrong with legumes?

Here are 7 reasons to avoid them on your Paleo diet.

 1. Antinutrients

    Antinutrients is one of the various defense mechanisms developed by plants to cause health problems to their predators—us!

    While nutrients nourish your body, antinutrients do the opposite.

    Legumes contain phytic acid (phytates), lectins, saponins, oxalates and protease inhibitors that can prevent you from properly absorbing the protein, vitamins and minerals found in your food, irritate your digestive system leading to gastrointestinal symptoms, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and a leaky gut (increased gut permeability), and promote autoimmune disorders. (1-3)

2. High Omega-6 Content

    Most processed foods contain either soybean oil or peanut oil, two of the oils, along with sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, grapeseed oil and cottonseed oil, with a very high polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) content, especially in the form of omega-6 fatty acids.

    PUFAs are highly sensitive to oxidation and rancid fats are deleterious for your health. (4)

    The omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, or LA, constitutes an essential fatty acid. However, it should be consumed in about the same amount as omega-3 fatty acids for optimal health. The standard American diet contains way too much omega-6, because of all the processed foods containing vegetable oils and grains they include in their diet, and too little omega-3 fatty acids, which are mainly found in fish. This is often referred to as a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

    Read more about the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio here.

    An excessive intake of omega-6 fats promotes inflammation, which is involved in the development of cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, asthma, some mental illnesses as well as autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, including arthritis. (3-6)

3. Short-Chain Fermentable Carbohdyrates (FODMAPs)

    All legumes, whether it is beans, lentils, soy or peanut, contain
    short-chain fermentable carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs, especially in the form of galactans. (7)

    Galactans in these so-called musical fruits are poorly digested by humans and end up feeding the bacteria in your gut, inducing a lot of gas, bloating, abdominal pain as well as diarrhea and constipation. If you experience any GI issues, have fructose malabsorption or IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), reducing your FODMAPs intake by avoiding legumes can help you feel better.

4. Poor Quality Protein

    Although beans, lentils, soy, tofu, seitan and peanuts are often recommended as a source of protein, legumes contain less protein compared to animal food. For example, 1 cup of cooked red kidney beans or tofu, which is a BIG serving, only has 15 to 20 g of protein, while a 4-oz serving of meat, fish or poultry provides at least 25 to 35 g of protein.

    Legumes are a poor source of methionine, an essential amino acid, which makes their protein incomplete.

5. Peanuts are not nuts!

    Peanuts look and taste like nuts. They even have a similar nutritional profile. But there are not nuts, they are a legume! In addition to the problematic compounds found in other legumes, your bag of peanut and jar of peanut butter can threaten your health. Peanuts often contain aflatoxin, a known human carcinogen, or cancer-promoting compound, in addition to containing a dangerous type of lectin that is associated with atherosclerosis and the development of heart diseases. (8,9)

    Learn more about why you should avoid peanuts on the Paleo diet.

6. Soy is not meant to be eaten!

    Soy definitely is the worse of all the legume family.

    Many people believe that soy has a long tradition in the human diet, but it is only recently that it was introduced on the Asian menu. And even then, soy was fermented to lower the amount of harmful compounds it contains and only consumed sparingly as a condiment.

    It is only in the last century that soy has been promoted as a healthy vegetarian alternative, finding its way in almost ALL processed foods from breakfast cereals, energy bars, sauces and meat patties. (1)

    Soy contains antinutrients that can prevent you from properly absorbing the nutrients in your food and hormone-disrupting phytoestrogens, in addition to providing a goitrogen effect that could interfere with your thyroid function and gut-irritating protein and FODMAPs. (1,10)

    Learn more about why you should avoid soy on the Paleo diet.

7. Non-Sustainable Agriculture

    Just like grains, legumes are not produced and cannot be produced in a sustainable manner. The huge monocultures of soy now covering a big part of the cultivated land are detrimental to the biodiversity and health of our planet. (11, 12)

    Most soy produced today is genetically modified (GMO) and long-term consequences on human health and the ecosystem have not been adequately studied.


    The Paleo diet recommends animal foods, preferably from pastured and free-range animals, as the main source of protein.

    The Paleo dietitian can help you transition
    from a vegetarian diet to the Paleo diet.

    More info from the Paleo dietitian:
    No Grains on the Paleo diet?
    Learn about why soy and peanuts are not on the Paleo diet.

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    References:(1) Daniel KT. The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite Health Food. 2005(2) Cordain L. Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword. World Rev Nutr Diet. 1999; 84: 19–73.(3) Carrera-Basatos P, et al. The Western Diet and Lifestyle and Diseases of Civilization. Research Reports in Clinical Cardiology.2011; 2: 15-35.4) Enig MG. Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol. 2000.(5) Cordain L, et al. Origins and Evolution of the Western Diet: Health Implications for the 21st Century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005; 81: 341-54.(6) Simopoulos AP. The Importance of the Ratio of Omega-6/Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2002; 56(8): 365-79.(7) Barett JS and Gibson PR. Clinical Ramifications of Malabsorption of Fructose and Other Short-chain Carbohydrate. Practical Gastroenterology. August 2007: 51-65.(8) Cornell University Department of Animal Science. Aflatoxins: Occurrence and Health Risks. 2008. (accessed January 2012)(9) Cordain L. Atherogenic Potential of Peanut Oil-Based Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Diets. Lipids. 1998; 33: 229-30.(10) Gedgaudas N. Primal Body-Primal Mind: Empower Your Total Health The Way Evolution Intended (...And Didn't). 2009.(11) Keith L. The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability. 2009.(12) Manning R. Against the Grains – How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization. 2005.

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