What beans are paleo?

The paleo diet, also known as the paleolithic or caveman diet, is a popular diet that advocates eating whole, unprocessed foods that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have consumed during the paleolithic era. This means foods that can be hunted, fished or gathered – meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds. Legumes, dairy products and grains are excluded from the diet as they became widespread in human consumption more recently, with the advent of agriculture about 10,000 years ago.

Are beans paleo?

Most beans and legumes, including black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils, peanuts and soybeans, are not considered paleo. This is because beans and legumes are relatively new additions to the human diet that became widespread with the rise of agriculture. Proponents of the paleo diet argue that humans have not fully adapted to eating legumes, and that they can cause digestive issues in some people.

However, there is debate within the paleo community about whether certain types of beans and legumes can be included. Some people follow a “primal” version of paleo that allows occasional consumption of legumes if they do not cause adverse reactions. Others argue that beans and legumes should not be completely forbidden, especially if properly prepared through soaking, sprouting and fermenting methods to reduce anti-nutrients like lectins and phytic acid.

Reasons beans and legumes are excluded from paleo

Here are some of the main reasons why most beans and legumes are not considered paleo:

  • They contain lectins – Lectins are proteins that can bind to cell membranes and cause inflammation and damage. Raw beans and legumes have high lectin content.
  • They contain phytic acid – Phytates or phytic acid can bind to minerals like iron, zinc and calcium and reduce their absorption and bioavailability in the body.
  • Digestive issues – Because beans contain oligosaccharides like raffinose and stachyose, they can cause gas, bloating and discomfort in some people due to the inability to break down these sugars.
  • Toxins – Raw beans contain toxins like trypsin inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Kidney beans contain phytohaemagglutinin, which is toxic if undercooked.
  • Anti-nutrients – Beans contain other anti-nutrients aside from lectins and phytates that may impair nutrient absorption.
  • Recent addition to diet – Beans only became a widespread part of the human diet around 10,000 years ago with the agricultural revolution, so some argue the human body has not fully adapted to them.

Ways to make beans more paleo-friendly

If you do choose to incorporate beans into a paleo-style diet, here are some preparation methods that can help reduce compounds that negatively impact digestion and nutrient absorption:

  • Soaking – Soaking beans for 8-12 hours can help reduce lectins and phytic acid.
  • Sprouting – Sprouting beans starts the germination process which reduces phytic acid and digestibility-inhibiting factors.
  • Fermenting – Fermenting beans with live cultures helps break down phytic acid and anti-nutrients.
  • Cooking – Proper cooking denatures lectins and trypsin inhibitors that can survive soaking and sprouting.
  • Canning – Canned beans have already undergone lectin-deactivation through high heat processing.
  • Peeling – Peeling skins of some bean varieties like fava beans removes lectin concentrations.

Incorporating these preparation techniques before eating beans and legumes can help mitigate some of the concerns around digestibility and nutrient bioavailability.

Beans that may be included in a paleo diet

While most mainstream paleo programs exclude all beans and legumes, some people following a paleo-style diet may include small amounts of certain legumes if they are properly prepared and don’t cause negative reactions. Here are some beans that are sometimes included:

  • Green beans – Immature pods of the common bean plant. Lower in lectins and other anti-nutrients.
  • Snow peas – The flat edible pods of the snow pea plant. Tender and consumed along with the pod.
  • Sugar snap peas – Similar to snow peas, with crisp edible pods.
  • Peanuts – Technically a legume but sometimes allowed in moderation, especially if made into butter form which has reduced lectins.
  • Lentils – Quick-cooking and low in phytic acid compared to other beans. Should still be soaked before cooking.
  • Chickpeas – Can be sprouted and cooked well to reduce anti-nutrients. Hummus is a popular use.

Again, opinions vary on these types of beans. Some people avoid them altogether while others incorporate them in moderation if they are properly prepared and don’t cause digestive issues.

Health benefits of beans and legumes

Despite containing anti-nutrients, beans and legumes are very nutrient-dense foods. Here are some of the health benefits they can provide:

  • High in protein – Beans are a good plant-based source of protein. Soybeans have about 28g per cup cooked.
  • High in fiber – Fiber supports digestive health and feeds the gut microbiome. Beans have around 15g of fiber per cup.
  • Rich in folate – Helps produce and maintain new cells. One cup of cooked beans can provide close to or more than the RDA of folate.
  • Provides iron – Important for oxygen transport and metabolism. Beans have about 25% of the RDA of iron per cooked cup.
  • High in antioxidants – Contain antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress and lower disease risk.

Incorporating beans in place of some animal protein can also have sustainability benefits and lower your carbon footprint. If enjoyed without digestive troubles, beans can be a very healthy plant-based protein source.

Paleo bean replacements and substitutions

For those strictly avoiding all beans and legumes on paleo, there are many replacements that can provide protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals without the same concerns around digestibility and anti-nutrients. Here are some common substitutions:

Bean Paleo Substitutes
Black beans Cauliflower, sweet potatoes, beets
Pinto beans Squash, root vegetables, collard greens
Kidney beans Mushrooms like portobello caps
Navy beans Cuttlefish, palm hearts
Chickpeas/garbanzos Diced jicama, chopped cauliflower
Lentils Diced mushrooms, ground meat
Edamame Cauliflower florets, broccoli
Peanuts Walnuts, almonds, cashews
Refried beans Cauliflower rice, tapioca
Soybeans Natto, tempeh

Getting creative with non-bean foods and ingredients can allow you to mimic the texture and flavor of beans while staying true to paleo principles. Test different substitutions to find options that work for the recipes you enjoy.

Sample paleo bean-free meal plan

Here is a sample one day paleo meal plan without any beans or legumes:


  • Scrambled eggs with sauteed kale and mushrooms
  • Fresh berries


  • Tuna salad stuffed in tomatoes with broccoli slaw
  • Apple slices


  • Seared salmon over zucchini noodles with pesto
  • Steamed carrots
  • Walnut stuffed dates

This meal plan focuses on lean proteins, produce, healthy fats and nuts/seeds without any beans. You can substitute different proteins, veggies and fruits while excluding legumes.

Paleo bean-free recipes

Here are some delicious bean-free paleo recipes to give you ideas:

  • Breakfast: Frittata with kale and turkey sausage
  • Lunch: Thai chicken lettuce wraps
  • Dinner: Chipotle lime shrimp with mango avocado salsa
  • Side: Cauliflower fried rice
  • Dessert: Coconut milk chia pudding

Explore paleo blogs and cookbooks for meal ideas. Get creative substituting non-bean foods like cauliflower into traditionally bean-based dishes.

Potential benefits of including beans in a paleo diet

While most paleo programs restrict bean consumption, some people may choose to incorporate limited legumes if properly prepared and well-tolerated. Here are some potential benefits of including small amounts of beans:

  • Increased fiber intake for better digestive health
  • Higher protein intake which supports lean muscle mass
  • More iron, folate and antioxidants from a plant-based source
  • Promotes gut microbe diversity by feeding microbiome
  • Reduces inflammation which beans can help lower
  • Improves cholesterol levels as beans help lower LDL

For some people, minimizing exposure to anti-nutrients by preparing legumes properly while benefiting from their dense nutrient profile may provide advantages over fully restricting bean intake.

Potential drawbacks of including beans on paleo

Here are some potential downsides of allowing beans and legumes on a paleo eating pattern:

  • May impair nutrient absorption due to lectins, phytates, enzyme inhibitors.
  • Can exacerbate digestive issues in sensitive individuals who struggle to break down oligosaccharides.
  • May contribute to weight gain for some people due to carbohydrate content.
  • Contain proteins like lectins and saponins that interact with cell membranes and may have negative effects.
  • Heating and processing does not fully eliminate anti-nutrients like trypsin inhibitors.
  • Some argue the human body never fully adapted to digesting beans.

People who experience negative symptoms or health outcomes from eating beans may be better off fully excluding legumes rather than trying to soak, sprout or ferment them. Listen to your individual body’s response.


Many mainstream paleo diet programs exclude all beans and legumes due to their content of anti-nutrients like lectins and phytic acid, and because they are a relatively new addition to the human diet that occurred after the paleolithic era with the development of agriculture practices. However, there is debate within the paleo community about certain types of beans that may be better tolerated if properly prepared, such as green beans, snow peas, lentils and chickpeas.

If you do choose to include some legumes in an otherwise paleo diet, utilizing preparation techniques like soaking, sprouting, fermenting and cooking beans and legumes thoroughly can help reduce problematic compounds and may allow you to benefit from their dense nutrient profile. But many people still avoid them altogether to eliminate anti-nutrients completely. Instead they substitute non-bean foods like vegetables, nuts and animal protein to mimic bean dishes they enjoy.

In the end there is no definitive answer, and choices around paleo bean consumption come down to individual tolerance levels. Some do best with full elimination due to digestive issues and concerns around nutrient bioavailability, while others incorporate limited legume consumption with proper preparation and avoid symptoms.

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