If you follow the Paleo diet, or if you’ve been reading our blogs, you probably know about what is and isn’t allowed on the Paleo diet. Legumes, like peanuts and beans, are not considered to be a part of the Paleo diet, while nuts, drupes, and seeds are. But you might be wondering - why aren’t legumes Paleo? Furthermore, are all nuts created equal? Plus, what the heck is a drupe? Let’s dive in.
For starters, how do you discern between legumes, nuts, and drupes? It all comes down to how they present. First of all, there’s legumes; which come in a pod, usually with other legumes within that pod. Peanuts, beans, lentils, and soybeans are all legumes because they grow within a pod before they are harvested. If you’ve ever eaten peanuts straight from the shell or edamame, you’ll know exactly what this looks like. Other examples include chickpeas and peas.
So then, what makes a nut? In this way, legumes and nuts are similar, but with a key distinction; rather than multiple nuts being inside a single shell, as with legumes, there is only one nut within a shell - and it’s usually quite a hard one, at that. A great example of this concept are chestnuts, which are renowned for their extraordinarily hard shell - though most nuts are sold without their tough exterior. Some examples of nuts include hazelnuts and acorns (though we really, really recommend against eating acorns. They might technically be Paleo, but that doesn’t make them edible).
Finally, what are drupes? Drupes are pretty easy to distinguish against nuts and legumes; the reason being that typically drupes will typically grow within or as part of a larger fruit, as opposed to a shell. In most cases, we eat the surrounding fruit instead of the drupe “pit” within, like mangoes and peaches - but there are some drupes that we eat, like almonds, cashews, and walnuts.
So why are nuts and drupes Paleo when legumes aren’t? A big reason is because of lectins. Lectins are toxins that plants make as a means of warding off predators from munching on their seeds. Lectins are the reason why most beans, like red and black beans, need to be thoroughly cooked before eating - they contain a lectin called phytohemagglutinin (or PHA), which can cause severe food poisoning if ingested raw. While other legumes like chickpeas and lentils don’t contain PHA specifically, all legumes carry a rather high amount of lectins compared to other foods which can have negative effects on the body. Over long periods of time, lectins can damage your intestinal lining, alter your immune system’s ability to respond, and can create inflammation.
Lectins aren’t the only nasty thing about legumes, though. Most legumes also carry a compound called saponins, which can have negative effects on your body similar to lectins. What’s especially bad about saponins is that they can’t be removed from legumes by cooking - but they can be reduced by fermentation. Saponin-rich foods still ought to be avoided, however, as they can cause symptoms such as gut inflammation and increased gut permeability, which can wreak havoc on our immune system.
In short, legumes carry far too many toxins and bad “nutrients” for them to be deemed as a Paleo-friendly food. Plus, the long-term complications of lectins and saponins, among other compounds like isoflavones and phytic acid present in soy, can really mess you up! So for that reason, if you’re thinking of eating some peanuts or soy products, snack on something that’ll satisfy your cravings while being good to your gut - why not try our Grain-Free Granola bars, for a change?