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Legume sources, health risks

Thursday, October 05, 2017 by

Legumes are plants belonging to Leguminosae family that bear their fruits or seeds within pods. Though there are over 18,000 species of legumes, they’re generally placed under two classifications: grain legumes and forage legumes. While grain legumes are grown for human consumption, forage legumes are most frequently cultivated as livestock feed. On the other hand, some legumes such as clover and wisteria are cultivated for their flowers. The most well-known and readily available legumes are beans, alfalfa, peanuts, and peas.

Harmful effects that can be caused by legumes

Although legumes have an abundance of different nutrients, they’re full of substances that have negative health effects as well. The most notable ones are phytates, lectins, phytoestrogens, saponins, and protease inhibitors.

  • Phytates are most known for binding with minerals and preventing the body from properly utilizing them. These substances are especially dangerous for vegetarians since phytates can severely affect the absorption of plant-based or non-heme iron. Moreover, phytates can contribute to bloating, inflammation, flatulence, and bloating.
  • Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that are difficult to break down and can lead to indigestion, leaky gut syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and Crohn’s disease. One specific type of lectin, phytohemagglutinin, is toxic in high amounts and can cause poisoning. Phytohemagglutinin is abundant in raw and under-cooked kidney beans, making correct preparation with these legumes all the more crucial.
  • Phytoestrogens act similar to estrogen and can cause the body to over-produce this hormone, potentially causing disrupted reproduction and infertility. Soybeans are especially abundant in phytoestrogens.
  • Saponins are bitter compounds that can cause stomach irritation when present in the digestive system in large amounts. These can irritate the intestines of individuals struggling with intestinal complications such a irritable bowel syndrome, and can even bring about leaky gut syndrome.
  • Protease inhibitors help legumes escape digestion by neutralizing the digestive enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids. By preventing the degradation of proteins, protease inhibitors trick the body into producing more enzymes that can lead to chronic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, and allergic reactions of varying severity.

Legumes have a high purine content that can increase the levels of uric acid within susceptible individuals. The resulting elevated uric acid levels can lead to a gout attack.

Certain types of legumes should be avoided by individuals on particular medications. For example, people who are taking monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are recommended to avoid fava beans since these legumes have been shown to interact with these kinds of medication and elevate blood pressure.

In addition, legumes have been known to trigger migraines or similar allergic reactions in certain people. The precise reason behind this has yet to be identified, though it’s believed that the tannin content in legumes are to blame for this effect.

Peanuts are legumes that can become host to aflatoxins. This type of mold is an “unavoidable contaminant” that can increase the risk of chronic diseases, such as hepatitis B and cancer, with long-term consumption.

Canned legumes are known to contain bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical component that keeps the metal material of the can from contaminating the legumes. BPA sounds helpful at first, but it can leech into the food instead. Behavioral changes, heart problems, obesity, and hormone disruption have all been linked to BPA, so consuming canned legumes can place one at greater risk of all of these health conditions.

Body systems harmed by legumes

Legumes can greatly impact the digestive system and heart. Most notably, legumes can cause flatulence problems. However, flatulence and other potential digestive issues can be prevented by rinsing, soaking, or sprouting legumes to strip of them of the substances that bring about these issues in the first place.

Where to learn more


While legumes are generally healthy plant foods, they contain a diverse range of anti-nutrients that can make a person more susceptible to diseases like leaky gut syndrome, Crohn’s disease, bloating, and inflammation. Furthermore, legumes have been shown to detrimentally affect the digestive and cardiovascular system, especially when they haven’t undergone the necessary and appropriate preparations before cooking.

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