Read the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and you would think that everyone should go out and start eating beans, peas, soy products, peanuts, and other legumes. “A healthy eating pattern emphasizes nutrient-dense foods such as beans and peas.” “Foods and nutrient to increase: dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.” “Plant sources of protein include beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products.” “Beans and peas are unique foods. They are excellent sources of protein, dietary fiber, and other nutrients such as iron, zinc, potassium, and folate.”
With claims like that, what’s not to like! Unfortunately, such health claims are as libelous as saying there are “0 grams of Trans Fat per serving” in a product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. That’s just not true. The USDA allows products with less than 0.5 grams of Trans Fat per preserving to be round down to 0 grams of Trans Fat on the nutrition, but that rounding is a lie. Any product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils contains Trans Fats, which are known to raise cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease even more than saturated animal fats. To choose between two evils, butter is definitely better than any margarine containing Trans Fats.
Although things have improved when it comes to the use of hydrogenated oils in the food industry over the past five years, as consumers have become more educated and cities like New York have banned them altogether in restaurant cooking, we are hardly out of the woods. Here are the Top 10 foods that still contain hydrogenated oils and Trans Fats, many of which are derived from soybeans and other legumes:
- Most stick margarines
- Many cake mixes, like Bisquick
- Many soups, like Ramen noodles
- Most deep-fried fast foods like French Fries and KFC Original Recipe chicken
- Many frozen foods with crusts like Mrs. Smith’s Apple Pie and Swanson’s Chicken Pot Pie
- Most packaged baked goods, like donuts and pound cake
- Most fried potato chips and crackers like Wheat Thins
- Many breakfast cereals and energy bars like Quaker Granola bars
- Many cookies and candies like Chips Ahoy! and Baby Ruth bars
- Many nondairy creamers, dips, and toppings like Cool Whip
Any health claims associated with foods containing hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, or Trans Fats, in any amount, are not to be believed. Those foods should be avoided as much as possible and many have said the same when it comes to eating beans, peas, soy products, peanuts, and other legumes. These foods often masquerade as health foods, or as healthy alternatives to more dangerous foods, but those claims do not hold up to careful study and scrutiny.
All legumes contain antinutrients, such as phytic acid, allergens, lectins, saponins, protease inhibitors, and other health-risky toxins. That’s especially true when beans are eaten raw or undercooked. Undercooked red kidney beans are well known, for example, to cause severe gastrointestinal and even heart problems. That’s why imports of red kidney beans into South Africa were legally prohibited until about fifteen years ago, because of their “potential toxicity to humans.” The same goes for castor beans, from which the deadly poison ricin is derived (a dose as small as a few grains of salt can kill an adult human).
Perhaps that’s why humans had an aversion to legumes for most of human history. Our ancestors knew they were bad for us. Of all the foods people eat that have not been invented by modern science, such as those hydrogenated vegetable oils, beans and other legumes were the last to make their way into the human diet. It was only a few thousand years ago that people started fermenting and processing them in ways that made them palatable and apparently nutritious. But looks can be deceiving. Just because we don’t die right away, legumes still take a toll on our health and well being.
In last week’s Provision I wrote about Trojan Foods and explored these dangers, paying special attention to the high concentration of toxic lectins in grains and legumes. If you want to know more about that, I recommend Loren Cordain’s new book: The Paleo Answer: 7 Days to Lose Weight, Feel Great, Stay Young. While making the case for not eating legumes at all, Cordain observes that peas and lentils seem to be much less toxic than kidney, pinto, navy, and black beans, soybeans, and peanuts (to mention only a few). If you want to eat legumes, properly cooked peas and lentils would seem to be the way to go.
It may come as a surprise to see soybeans on the list of foods to be avoided or minimized. They are often promoted as healthy and many athletes use soy protein powders to supplement their protein intake. Yet the initial enthusiasm for soy as a health food has waned since multiple studies found unclear or insufficient evidence that soy can prevent heart disease, relieve menopausal symptoms, or prevent osteoporosis. Although the FDA has yet to withdraw its 1999 ruling that allowed such claims to be made on foods containing soy, that day may yet come. Even the American Heart Association has notified physicians, in 2006, that soy is unlikely to prevent heart disease.
If anything, foods like soy and other legumes might well come with warning labels as to their possible adverse health effects. Those effect may not be obvious right away, but they do cause incremental damage which builds up slowly over time. By the time we find ourselves suffering from a chronic disease, we may not even be aware that our diets have been contributing to our problems. We may just figure, “We’ll that’s the way it goes. It’s a genetic problem that I’m stuck with for the rest of my life, until it disables or kills me.”
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can clean up our diets and, in the process, we can save our lives.
What led to the FDA’s health claim was not that soy was so wonderful but that the meat people eat is so fatty and distressed. What’s the lesser evil? What has fewer antinutrients? Soy protein or commercial meat? It’s hard to say, but if I had to choose one or the other (and fortunately I don’t), I would go with the meat. Better still: I would go with wild fish, skinless, organic cage-free poultry, or lean meat from local, pasture-fat, and humanely raised animals such as buffalo. These proteins are much easier for human beings to digest and thrive upon.
One of the complications when it comes to soy protein is that most of the soybeans in the USA, and increasingly in the world, are of the genetically-modified or GMO variety. The four most common, genetically-modified foods are soy, corn, canola (for canola oil), and cotton (for cottonseed oil). Even though the FDA has banned some genetically modified foods from the marketplace, because they cause disease, disability, and/or death, the FDA has allowed other GMO foods to enter the food supply. It’s a grand experiment and only time will tell as to how that experiment will turn out. I read labels and avoid GMO foods altogether, when I become aware of them.
For vegetarians or or others who want to continue eating soy, the time-honored practice of fermenting soybeans before crafting them into foods such as miso, tempeh, and natto is probably the best way to go. Fermenting means that the soybeans have been predigested by bacteria, making them more digestible and deactivating some of the antinutrients. Tempeh can be crumbled into lightly-steamed vegetables to add more protein and taste. That said, we frequently stir-fry vegetables at our house and enjoy them just without any added protein at all.
non-fermented soy foods include edamame, tofu, soymilk, soy burgers, soy nuts, soy flour, soy grits, texturized soy protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, soy protein powder, and soy protein isolate. Many soy and tamari sauces are also non-fermented. These foods are best kept to a minimum or not at all.
That is especially true when it comes to infant formulas, which are often made from soy as an alternative to dairy. Infants are even more susceptible than adults to the antinutrients, allergens, and hormones in soy protein. Their perfect food, of course, is human breast milk. When that is not available, I would look for non-soy and non-dairy alternatives. I would also avoid feeding children a diet that is high in soy protein, for the same reasons mentioned above concerning the health-risks to adults, amplified by their young, developmental stage in life.
So when it comes to the LifeTrek Optimal Wellness Prototype, beans are pretty far down the list. They haven’t disappeared altogether, but their quantities are limited and their qualities are controlled. By staying with peas, lentils, and fermented soybean products, even vegetarians can get the protein they need with a minimum of risks and a maximum of benefits.
Coaching Inquiries: How many and want kinds of legumes do you include in your diet? How often do you eat them? When you eat soybeans, are they fermented or non-fermented? Do they come from genetically modified sources? What are your thoughts now as to any changes you might like to make? What other information do you want? Who would you want to talk with in the quest for wellness?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
I really enjoyed your last Provision on Trojan Foods. Gave me lots to think about! I have already forwarded it to several others. Keep up the good work. I read these every week.
Your new website for the work you are doing with schools and school leaders,www.schooltransformation.com, really looks great. Congratulations!
Your new website not only looks great, it is very well organized and very helpful to schools and anyone interested in working on school transformation. Thanks.
To Bob and the team at Center for School Transformation: Congratulations on a special website and project! I’ll be following and reading all new developments in your newsletters and emails.
Your new website is really beautiful — reflecting the beauty in you!
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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