Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Why can't you have beans and grains?

This is one of the most common questions people ask when they learn of the new restrictions we've placed upon ourselves. Most people understand why we cut out wheat, but all grains? Even "healthy whole grains"? But beans seems to be the one that surprises them most.  Aren't beans healthy for us?

Unfortunately, most of the time when I am faced with this question, I don't know what to say.  I'm not very technical and science-y, and I realize people often need something more official than, "Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat the more you...."

Usually, I say something like, "Well, they make us feel weighted down, bloated, and sluggish," and that's all true, but why is that the case?

As you may recall, our family was once vegetarian, so our diet was pretty heavy in legumes and grains.  After all, those are major staples in most people's diets, regardless of whether they are vegetarian or not. For years, even with drastic changes in our diets, we continued to struggle with body pain, sluggishness, and brain fog. We knew it had something to do with our diets (which is why we kept trying new things and searching for answers), but we just couldn't figure out what! We cut out gluten for a while and observed some changes, but still experienced many gut issues and lack of energy. And, of course, my husband, even on a whole food, vegetarian diet, couldn't seem to lose much weight! This was especially confusing.  What was the dealio?

Let's talk about something called lectins.  Lectins are proteins found in pretty much everything.  They're in you, me, and the plants we eat, especially legumes, grains, and even nuts and seeds.  Lectins are basically body guards. 

Mark from Mark's Daily Apple puts it well,

 "Before Monsanto, Mother Nature had her own pesticide strategy. (Humans being among the “pests” to be warded off.) In order to avoid being completely decimated by insects, foraging animals and Groks, plant species evolved assorted anti-nutrients that would make said pests regret their gorges with a variety of mostly digestive related ailments. Low grade toxins, in a sense. A workable balance developed between plants that were able to safeguard their species’ survival and the “pest” patrons that were able to benefit from the plants’ nutrition but learned to partake more sensibly from their supply. Given that our primal forefolk foraged widely and ate a surprisingly diverse diet, the system worked. Lectins are essentially carb-binding proteins universally present in plants (and animals). Just as they protect plant species from Grok-sized predators, lectins also support other immunological functions within plants and animals (against pathogense, parasites, etc.) They also assist in other functions like protein synthesis and delivery in animals. They’re relatively sticky molecules, which makes them effective in binding with their sought after sugars but undesirable for our digestion, in which their binding powers can lead them to attach to the intestinal lining and wreak havoc."

Lectins in our body support the human immune function, and the same goes for lectins in grains and legumes. Except, these lectins don't transfer over to protect our body.  These lectins protect the grain or legume, which leads to intestinal distress in the consumer.

On top of that, they hinder the absorption of nutrients our bodies desperately need, as well as severely alter the gut flora.  (One reason why most Americans struggle with yeast (candida) issues!)

But it doesn't stop there.  That sounds pretty bad all on it's own but, wait a minute, it gets worse.  You see, lectin crosses the border of your intestines. Antibodies are created as a response to these invaders.  Unfortunately, lectins are really good actors. They look a lot like other cells in your body, so the antibodies, in all their confusion, begin to war against your body.  The result often displays itself in autoimmune issues like Fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, celiac sprue, diabetes, Crohn's disease, thyroid issues, IBS, and even arthritis to name a few.

That's still not all. Do you know what Leaky Gut Syndrome is?  It doesn't sound fun, right? I mean, we don't really like things that leak.  Dripping water faucet? Annoying!

But many people who suffer from Leaky Gut don't know they have it. Just what is LG? Remember how I pointed out that lectin makes a run for the border and escapes your intestines? Well, those sneaky little boogers have to get out somehow.  Like a thief trying to break into a secure home, lectins first have to cut through the fencing. Not only does this provide an escape for lectin, but also allows other food particles to cross the intestinal barrier.  Nice, right?

Then your immune systems starts having all sorts of crazy issues, becomes overwhelmed, and starts firing at all sorts of things like a  trigger-happy mad man.

People with many food sensitivities would greatly benefit from cutting out legumes and grains, allowing their gut to heal and their immune system to finally get some relief, even those who believe they don't "have a problem with legumes and grains".

There's more to this lectin thing, but that's the basic run down. I encourage your to do some research. Our family has suffered from many of these issues (Fibromyalgia, IBS, Celiac Sprue, Asthma, etc), and probably many other things we had just deemed as our "normal".

It is really hard to avoid these things if you're not on a whole food diet. Grains and legumes (think soy!) are in  almost everything, and you're not even safe on the health food aisle.  (Soy is all sorts of bad for you, so it really bugs me when people think it's some fantastic health food. BAD BAD BAD.)  It's time to start reading the ingredient list, y'all. You may be shocked by what you find!  (And do your research on soaking beans- it does not do as much good as you would think!)

And just so you know. I really like grains and legumes, but I like a healthy body better.  (But man, refried beans and some corn chips sound great.  That's pretty much what I think about when I consider Paleo cheats.)

No comments: