Do Beans Cause Inflammation? [Plant Paradox]
Updated: May 27
Do a quick scroll through most major health and fitness websites and you'll find a whole list of confusing titles that all contradict each other ~ coconut oil is good/coconut oil is bad/meat is necessary/meat will cause cancer/coffee is amazing (it is - here's why)/coffee sucks (it doesn't).
And just when you thought you were safe with eating plants and you're about to dig into a big salad topped with cucumbers and chickpeas... a new title pops up: BEANS CAUSE INFLAMMATION 😱😱😱
It looks like we're all just eating air from now on 🤷🏼♀️
Today I want to share the details of this theory and whether or not you should be avoiding beans, too.
What's the problem with beans?
Beans and many other plant foods - such as cucumbers, grains, tomatoes and corn - contain compounds called lectins. In beans, the lectins are mostly located in the outer layer. These lectins are used for cell signaling and binding within the body.
Due to the structure of lectins, they can't be broken down by the body. Therefore, the lectins can be absorbed directly into your blood supply in its original form. Some scientists have theorized that because the lectins can't be broken down, the body can produce antibodies to lectins and therefore increase inflammation when high amounts of lectins are present. This theory became widely popular with the book The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry.
So... should you ditch beans?!
My concern with science such as this is that it completely contradicts what the longest lived, healthiest people in the world are doing. And if you're looking for long term health outcomes, there's no better place to look than at those who are living well into their 100s without chronic inflammatory diseases. We're talking about those in Okinawa, Sardinia and the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.
You know one thing they all have in common? They eat BEANS. And they eat them quite regularly.
Living like those who live WELL
As I've mentioned in the past, I studied the Mediterranean Diet in Northern Italy. While there, I learned the science (duh 🤓) as well as the culture behind what makes the Mediterranean Diet so special. In the morning, my professor would teach us the mechanisms and research behind various food and lifestyle practices and in the afternoon, we would learn the traditional methods of cooking said food by the cutest little Italian grandma, Antonia.
One important piece of information that Antonia taught me is to ALWAYS soak and cook your beans from scratch. Remember how I explained that these "inflammatory" lectins are mostly in the outer layer of beans? Well when you cook beans in the traditional method (learn how HERE), it essentially wipes out the lectins within the beans.
Antonia didn't know about lectins, but she know through passed down information that beans MUST be cooked this way because that's how it has always been done. Ancient wisdom yet again helping you to avoid health issues.
Why are people feeling better when they ditch Lectins?
It's not necessarily the lectins that are causing some people's health concerns, rather the nutrient poor foods - that they are removing when they remove lectin "rich" foods such as pasta - instead. Keep in mind, lectins are in foods that we already KNOW cause issues - such as highly processed crackers, sugary cakes and pastries, and any other processed, nutrient poor grain. Simply by removing these foods reduces your sugar intake which reduces your inflammation... and will lead to weight loss. I share the details behind how this works with Kelly Clarkson's utilization of The Plant Paradox diet in the video below.
And as a side note to show how new this research on lectins is - there are some lectins in mushrooms that have been found to act as an anti-cancer compound.
Beans have been used for hundreds of years and are still utilized by those who are living disease-free, long and healthy lives. Instead of removing nutrient dense foods, take a look at the processed, added sugar foods that are in your diet instead. There may be some sneaky ones (like THIS) that you don't realize are leading you to feel bleh.
If you choose to eat beans, make sure you start cooking them the right way so that you can feel your best. Enjoy them in your Cauliflower Rice Burrito Bowl or LA Street Tacos from The 21 Day Intermittent Fasting Program! I know I definitely do ;)
Autumn Elle Nutrition