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Are Legumes & Dairy OK? Cutting Through The Confusion Left by Kresser and Dr Oz

Last week the Dr Oz show featured one of our favorite paleo-pushing health bloggers, Chris Kresser, who ended up pushing some quite un-paleo advice, recommending that we include some servings of both dairy and legumes into our weekly routines.

Both these groups contain produce that could fall into the “gray area”. However, many people are still compromised by them, either with obvious symptoms like stomach cramps, or with more subtle indicators such as tiredness, poor mood, or a few extra pounds that just won’t budge.

Are you satisfied with eating something that your body “tolerates”, or do you want only the best for yourself? How can you even know if you do tolerate these foods?

Let’s look into it, and decide for ourselves.

 

The Uproar

Anyone following Paleo bloggers on Twitter found their phone buzzing off the table last weekend as various rants tumbled through the Twittersphere.

The Paleo purists seemed to take a very personal issue with Kresser using the Paleo label to garnish his products, even when he advises non-Paleo foods:

gary-tweet-kresser

Kresser defended his right to advise whatever he likes by reminding us that we’re all different, and even admitting that he can’t eat legumes himself without symptoms: kresser-legumes-tweet

Robb Wolf eventually stepped in to call for a truce: robb-tweet-dr-oz

The health blogs also reacted, most notably with Loren Cordain, the original founder of the Paleo Diet, handing out a bit of scorn to Kresser in two articles attempting to debunk the supposed health benefits of dairy and legumes. Facebook also housed some longer responses that tried to keep their audience from going out and buying a tub of cream after watching the episode.

Eventually the excitement calmed down, and the point was made: Kresser’s advice is not strict Paleo, so is it right that he brands his products with the label?

Who cares?

What’s more important is whether or not his advice is going to help people.

And I think it will.

Remember that Dr Oz caters to an audience of mostly overweight or obese people. Chris focussed on the needs of the audience he was speaking to, and that was to drop the refined carbohydrates and fill up on better sources of calories, which dairy and legumes certainly are, as long as you can tolerate them.

It’s that question of tolerance and sensitivity that will cause problems for some people, but if there are people out there who need to hear that cheese and lima beans are fine in order for them to finally be persuaded to start moving towards a healthier future, then good for them.

The problem is that for some people, dairy and legumes are not going to be an option in a perfectly healthy future.

Let’s see why that is.

 

What Can Legumes Do To Hurt Us?

Legumes contain two of the anti-nutrients found in grains: lectins and phytates.

Suppose you cut out grains (my number 1 recommendation for improving your health), and feel the benefit of the reduced damage to your gut, brain fogginess, and mood swings.

But maybe you still suffer from:

  • gas?
  • stomach cramps?
  • fatigue?

Legumes are a likely culprit.

Lectin

Lectins form part of a plant’s defense system against predators. They’re found in tiny amounts everywhere in the plant kingdom, but they’re highest in legumes and grains.

Their sticky properties allow lectins to bind to the microscopic cells of your intestinal lining, causing damage that eventually leads to leaky gut.

If leaky gut sets in, look forward to chronic inflammation and large undigested molecules slipping through into the bloodstream. It’s too big a topic to get into here, but suffice it to say, it’s not good.

Phytate

Phytic acid (aka phytate) is a salt, which serves as a plant’s primary storage of the micronutrient phosphorus.

Surely little packets of a micronutrient would be a good thing? Well, maybe for cows and other ruminants that can digest phytate with an enzyme called phytase, which we don’t have.

So we can’t digest phytate. So what?

Left undigested, phytate binds to the following essential micronutrients, and renders them unavailable to the body:

  • Magnesium
    • Deficiency: Muscle cramps, muscle weakness, and dizziness.
  • Zinc
    • Deficiency: Low sex-drive.
  • Iron
    • Deficiency: Anemia, or weakening of the blood.
  • Calcium
    • Deficiency: Low bone density.

While eating a single bean won’t plunge you into severe cases of all of these deficiencies, legumes are easy to eat a lot of, and that’s when problems occur. I personally cannot find a soft spot for anything that makes essential micronutrients unavailable.

However, they do have potential benefits… 

Legumes have a high amount of protein for a plant food, explaining why many consider them almost essential for a vegan diet, (not that you should choose veganism for health reasons… hit me up in the comments below if you want a blog post explaining why that’s a bad idea).

In addition to the protein, they contain a lot of carbohydrate, gram for gram, and it’s absorbed at a slow and steady pace because of the high amount of fiber.

So protein, slow carbs, and soluble fiber all come in high amounts in these things. Nothing that you can’t get very easily in a good Four Pillar diet anyway.

Verdict: If in doubt, cut them out. They’re not worth the potential damage.  If you are auto-immune definitely cut them out.

 

How Bad is Dairy?

Dairy contains two troublesome molecules of it’s own. Lactose, and casein.

Insulin is also raised, but not to the same extent as grain, and is likely to be a problem only if you’re already insulin resistant. If you are, definitely avoid. Otherwise, the potential problems could come from intolerance to lactose or casein.

Lactose

As a simple sugar, lactose is the first carbohydrate we are ever exposed to. We all drink it as babies.

Infants digest lactose with an enzyme called lactase. In this branch of science, the ending -ose means it’s a carb, and the ending -ase means it’s an enzyme, which is a microscopic digesting machine that tackles the food in your gut.

To be lactose intolerant in a baby is a rare genetic disease. All mammals drink their mother’s milk from birth, and naturally wean themselves off and onto solids at varying ages. At around the same time they lose the ability to produce enzyme lactase. The lactase dries up, because the lactose has dried up, so to speak. For humans, that age is around four or five.

The only reason some of us can tolerate lactose is that humans are the only creatures on this earth that drink the milk of another species. We started doing this some 9,000 years ago, about a millennia after we started growing crops. Since then, some of us developed the ability to produce lactase into adulthood, meaning we could tolerate this new food source.

Today, 70% of the world’s population is completely intolerant to lactose as adults, and even amongst populations like ours, where that figure is closer to 5%, a lot of problems still occur.

Symptoms of lactose intolerance include

  • nausea,
  • diarrhea,
  • bloating,
  • flatulence.

I believe that even though 5% of us have a clinically diagnosed case of lactose intolerance, many more of us suffer symptoms that aren’t serious enough for a hospital visit, but still cause us irritation and embarrassment. If you experience anything from the list above, you might fall into that group.

Casein

Casein is a prevalent protein found in milk, and can cause symptoms similar to those of an allergy, though they differ in a few ways. If you’re sensitive to casein, exposure may cause either constipation or diarrhea, or perhaps tingling sensations in your fingers, joint pain, or a sudden bout of brain-fog.

These symptoms often take a little time to appear, which means identifying them as being caused by dairy will be difficult, especially as some of these symptoms match so neatly with those of grains.

 

The Gray Area

Dairy and legumes exist on a sliding scale.

Benign Legumes:

Green beans and peas, while legumes, contain a less toxic form of lectin, and only a little phytate which is lowered further by cooking.

In contrast, dried beans contain a high concentration of anti-nutrients, but they can be treated to make them less damaging. Soaking your dried beans overnight will reduce their toxicity, but something tells me not many of us like them enough to go through all that trouble.

Benign Dairy:

Fermented dairy seems to be perfectly acceptable even to people with acute allergies pertaining to it. On top of that, it’s a great source of probiotics.

Raw milk is also a great option for the majority of us, and well worth the effort of finding. It contains enzymes that help us to digest it, all of which are destroyed when milk is pasteurized. If you buy your milk form a typical store or from any main brand, it’s pasteurized, which gives it an unnaturally long shelf life, as well as an unnatural molecular profile.

 

How to Know if You Can Tolerate These Toxins

Dr Oz doesn’t give his guests much time to pontificate.

Kresser’s mistake was to give his recommendations on the condition that these foods are fine as long as you tolerate them well, without being able to elaborate on what that means.

How can I know if I tolerate these foods well, and what is well enough for me?

Only a reintroduction protocol or blood work that tests anti-bodies, my favorite cyrex labs,  can really help you uncover the truth.  Even then it is not 100%.

A reintroduction protocol means strict abstinence from a food stuff for three weeks to a month, before reintroducing the food into your diet. This gives the body time to heal, and to adjust to not having to deal with the potentially damaging substances in the food. If reintroducing it does nothing to how you feel, then you know you tolerate it very well, but if it suddenly makes you feel terrible, then you know that it was hurting you for all those years without you realizing it.

Many of my patients joke that I’ve made them intolerant to certain foods, because they’ve successfully re-sensitized their bodies, but it’s like I tell them, being numb to damage is not tolerance.

If you smack your hand really hard, over and over again without stopping, pretty soon it will stop hurting and go numb (at the same time as becoming pink and inflamed). It becomes desensitized to the damage. That’s what you’re doing to your body by eating foods that you’re intolerant to. Your body deals with the damage by becoming inflamed and numbing itself, reducing symptoms. The damage is still being done.

By following a reintroduction protocol, you’re not creating an intolerance, you’re revealing an intolerance.

 

Next Steps

If you were excited by Kresser’s opinion that dairy and legumes are okay for paleo practitioners, don’t worry. You can follow his advice without consequences if you truly are tolerant of these foods, but it’s likely they’ll hurt your results a little.

We’ve covered sticking to fresh legumes if you insist on having any at all, and keeping to full-fat unpasteurized dairy if you feel you need that, but please don’t forget that even the best of these foods might still be making you sick.

Bottom line:  The only way you can know for sure is by following a reintroduction protocol and or testing for anti-bodies with a reputable lab.  The main issue for most of the Paleo community is that Chris uses the word “Paleo” in all his teachings.

He admits he is not a “purist” but the up roar was a bit harsh knowing that he was speaking towards a specific audience that found the original segment of the Paleo diet too strict.  I definitely understand as this type of approach can confuse a lot of people.  If you have any auto-immune/inflammatory condition stick to the basics.  Whole protein, vegetables, low-gi fruit, and healthy fats.

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