For today's issue of Dear Mark, I'll answer a reader question about beans. It's not just about beans, though. It's about the so-called bean protocol, a fairly new approach to nutrition that many of my readers have shown interest in. The bean protocol is said to improve the liver's ability to clear toxins, thus preventing them from circulating in the body on an ongoing basis. Today I'm going to discuss where it fits in a primal eating plan.
Have you heard of this "bean protocol"? For all I can tell, people eat tons of beans and get great results. It's supposed to remove toxins from the liver or something else that only beans can do.
What do you think?
I've been digging around a bit. I've read coverage of the Bean Protocol at PaleOMG where Juli has been following the protocol for several months and getting great results. There's a Bean Protocol e-course that I haven't signed up for, but I think I've got a good handle on the subject.
How to do the bean protocol
Here's the gist:
- No caffeine
- No sugar
- No diary
- No processed foods
- No factory-grown meat; no fatty meat
- Eat 6-8 servings of beans or lentils with half a cup every day.
- Fill the rest of the food with lean meat, leafy green vegetables, allien (onions, garlic, leeks, etc.), and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower).
What should be done with the bean protocol?
The soluble and insoluble fiber in the beans binds to toxins, which the body can then more easily flush out. Without the fiber from the beans, your body cannot process and excrete the toxins. They just circulate, stay in the body, and sometimes manifest themselves in the form of acne and other diseases. Followers credit the bean protocol for fixing longstanding problems such as acne, Crohn's disease, and many other ailments.
Is that true? Are there any references to this in the scientific literature?
Well, there isn't much direct evidence that beans improve liver clearance of toxins, but there is some evidence. For one, prebiotic fiber is good for liver health. There are many studies to support this.
Synbiotics (a combination of probiotics and prebiotics) and BCAAs together improve hepatic encephalopathy, a feature of liver failure in which the liver fails to detoxify excess ammonia. However, this does not happen directly. The fiber does not necessarily "bind" to the lead and excrete it. Instead, it increases the permanent intestinal bacteria that bind and excrete them, support the intestinal lining so that lead cannot get into the circulation, increase the flow of bile acid, and the use of healthy essential materials increases metals (like zinc and iron). The bacteria are essential for the effect; Pre-treatment with antibiotics negates the benefits. So we cannot say for sure that the fiber itself "binds" to the toxins.
The bean protocol is also rich in allium vegetables like garlic and onions, another source of prebiotic fiber that has been shown to improve liver health and toxin clearance. For example, inulin administered to rats prevents acute cadmium toxicity. Inulin also increases the flow of bile. In addition, compounds found in garlic improve glutathione activity in the liver and its ability to metabolize toxins.
The bean protocol also emphasizes the consumption of cruciferous vegetables. The cruciferous vegetables, which include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, can have beneficial effects on liver health. Sulforaphane, one of the most well-known compounds in cruciferous vegetables, has known effects on toxin clearance. It can speed up the elimination of air pollutants and counteract the carcinogens that are produced when cooking over high heat.
Back to basics
By highlighting lean meats and eliminating sugar, alcohol, and industrial foods, you eliminate the main causes of fatty liver in the diet: sugar, seed oils, and alcohol.
I am not concerned with downgrading the bean protocol. I think it has some value. I want to point out that beans alone probably won't explain the benefits people are seeing. There's a lot more going on than just beans.
Lectins and Phytic Acid in Beans
Okay okay While beans aren't the only (or even necessarily best) way to obtain prebiotic fiber to modulate gut bacteria and improve liver health, and therefore toxin clearance and metabolism, they show promise. But aren't beans bad for you? Aren't they Neolithic foods full of lectins and anti-nutrients that are anything but original?
Lectins are anti-nutrients and beans have them. Studies show that they damage the lining of the intestine, falling prey to damaged lining, and preventing the body from repairing this damage. If they make it into the bloodstream, they can attach to cell membranes throughout the body, triggering autoimmune reactions and causing real chaos. People were actually hospitalized for lectin poisoning.
But here's the thing: cooking and soaking disabled the majority of legume lectins.
- In one study, navy and kidney beans showed 0.1% residual lectin after cooking.
- One study found that pressure cooking kidney beans for 30 minutes eliminated all hemagglutinin activity.
- In another case, a combination of soaking and cooking white beans completely eliminated the activity of the most harmful lectin responsible for kidney bean poisoning: phytohemagglutinin.
Most of the investigations that indicted legume lectins involved animals that consumed large amounts of raw lectins. The people who had lectin poisoning ate undercooked kidney beans. Don't eat raw or undercooked beans and make sure they are soaked overnight. Canned beans are also pretty well prepared.
Okay, what about phytic acid?
Phytic acid is the primary storage form of phosphorus in plants. When you eat a food that contains phytic acid, it can bind to several other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc, preventing their absorption. Diets that are based solely on foods rich in phytates can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Because legumes are one such high phytate food, people are rightly cautious when it comes to basing their diet on them.
Soaking legumes is really good at reducing phytic acid. In one study, direct boiling without soaking reduced phytate by 20%, boiling after soaking in the soaking water by 53%, and boiling after soaking in fresh water by 60%. Another study found that after 16 hours of soaking in fresh water at a water: bean ratio of 3: 1, boiling in fresh water eliminated 85% phytate. That basically takes care of the problem.
If you really want to eliminate phytic acid, then you can sprout your legumes. You can also buy pre-sprouted beans.
What about the carbohydrate content in beans?
Legumes contain more carbohydrates than many other staple foods, but are not as high as you might think. The legume's musicality partially offsets its carbohydrate density. All of those sugars and fibers that are digested by intestinal bugs and that produce farts are carbohydrates that you don't consume as glucose. If you pay attention to "net carbs", you will love legumes – at least when compared to potatoes or bread.
This is why legumes seem so helpful in the bean log.
Half a cup of cooked black beans contains 20 grams of carbohydrates, 7.5 of which comes from fiber.
Half a cup of cooked chickpeas contains 30 grams of carbohydrates, 5 of which come from fiber.
Half a cup of cooked pinto beans contains 22 grams of carbohydrates, 7.7 of which comes from fiber.
Half a cup of cooked lentils contains 20 grams of carbohydrates, 7.8 of which comes from fiber.
Keep in mind that much of this fiber is in the form of galactooligosaccharides, the same prebiotic that studies have shown to improve gut health and even increase lead excretion. But these are also FODMAPs that can be helpful or painful depending on the intestinal biome. Some people will not be able to handle the gas, others will become painfully bloated, while others will have tremendous prebiotic benefits. Your mileage may vary so find out what works.
Are Beans Really Nutritious?
Legumes are not nutritious compared to liver or oysters, but they are more nutritious than cereals and many other foods.
Again, half a cup of beans isn't very high in carbohydrates. Maybe 20 grams, only two-thirds of which is converted to glucose. You get plenty of nourishment for your intestines and a ton of important nutrients like folic acid, copper, magnesium and manganese. This half cup of black beans provides 32% of your daily folate needs, 20% copper, 14% magnesium and 17% manganese. Half a cup of lentils provides 45% of your daily folate requirement as well as 28% copper and 21% manganese. Not bad for a measly 20 grams of carbohydrates.
One plea: lenses
If you want to try the bean protocol and insist on making the 8 servings per day version, I recommend using lentils.
A cup of standard lenses will bring you:
- 40 grams of carbohydrates, almost 16 grams of fiber.
- 230 calories.
- 18 grams of protein. Legume protein can't replace animal protein, but it can make up for some of your needs.
- 90% folic acid.
- 28% vitamin B1 (thiamine), 25% vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and 21% B6 (pyridoxine). B vitamins are generally not a problem for people who eat Primal, but they can't do any harm.
- 55% copper.
- 17% magnesium.
- 43% manganese.
Lentils added to a meal provide slow gastric emptying that should keep a person full longer. This is in contrast to most sources of refined carbohydrates, which increase a person's hunger.
Another benefit is that lentils are easy to prepare. They contain less phytic acid than most other legumes, and require less soaking (or none at all) and cooking time than other legumes to reduce them. If you want to sprout lentils, they will sprout much faster than beans.
All in all, I'd say the Bean Protocol is worth a try if you're interested or intrigued. I don't know that the "8 servings of beans" are more important than the other things you eat or leave out, but I also know that sometimes things only work in one way, even when the hard clinical evidence hasn't been proven. After all, people said the same thing about primal or keto.
If you try the Bean Protocol, keep us all informed of your progress. I would be really curious to hear about it.
About the author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Marks Daily Apple, godfather of the Primal Food and Lifestyle movement, and the New York Times best-selling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, which describes how he combines the keto diet with an original lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is also the author of numerous other books, including The Primal Blueprint, which is credited with the growth of the Primal / Paleo movement in 2009. After three decades of researching and educating people about why food is the key component to achieving optimal wellbeing, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real food company, the Primal / Paleo, Keto and Whole30 friendly kitchen staples manufactures.
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