Category: Nutrition

Can Patients with Autoimmune or Inflammatory Conditions Eat Legumes?

It is hard to wrap our minds around the idea that beans can be an “inflammatory food.” People routinely ask Attune Health nutritionist and research associate Natalie Fortune, “I thought beans were healthy for me!! Why can’t I eat them?”

They are generally healthy, they are a great source of fiber, have tons of nutrients and have been shown to help prevent diseases like heart disease and even control blood sugar. However, legumes can cause some people to experience inflammation, so it is important to determine if they cause you inflammation.


Why do legumes cause inflammation?

Legumes are high in saponins, lectins, phytates, and trypsin inhibitors, we can call these “anti-nutrients.” They are components of plants that are designed to protect the plant from being consumed from insects and other predators, but for us, they can make it difficult to absorb the good nutrients. All plants (including grains, nuts and seeds) have saponins and lectins, but they are usually concentrated in the seeds, beans are seeds. Lectins are found in all living things, even the human body.

Legumes can be problematic for the body for a few reasons. They are hard to digest and have the potential to feed the bad bacteria in our stomachs. They can interact with the gut barrier and can possibly create holes in the surface of membranes of our digestive tracts, making our intestinal cells permeable, also known as leaky gut. Leaky gut occurs when the cells that form the tight bond between of the intestinal walls are damaged. Then molecules that should not cross into the body can, and our immune systems are fired up.

Antinutrients like phytic acid, a phytate, binds to minerals and makes it difficult to absorb them. Phytic acid inhibits digestive enzymes amylase, trypsin, and pepsin [1 2]. Amylase breaks down carbohydrates while trypsin and pepsin breakdown protein foods.


What can we do to make legumes more tolerable for our bodies?

When we soak legumes (or even nuts, seeds and grains) for a set amount of time and they begin to sprout, this is called germination. This process neutralizes some of the saponins, lectins, phytates, and trypsin inhibitors. Soaking can take anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. Soaking beans for up to 18 hours can help reduce the phytic acid by 70p percent. Studies have shown that sprouting foods leads to increased enzyme activity, improved amino acid content, better absorption of B vitamins, and a decrease in antinutrients [3]. During germination, enzymes are generated that can help with digestion and nutrient absorption. The enzymes can help increase the good bacteria in your gut, thus helping reduce the inflammatory reaction that legumes, nuts, and seeds can sometimes cause. People who switch from unsprouted to sprouted foods usually see improvements in digestion [4].

Nuts and seeds also have some problematic nutrients. Soaking nuts and seeds can make them more tolerable to for our bodies. Even grains can be soaked and sprouted to help improve their nutrient value and our tolerance to them. It has also been found that sprouted grains had higher protein content, more amino acids, and less antinutrients [3]. Similarly, some seeds when sprouted have concentrated amino acids and become more absorbable [5]. Sprouted grains have also been shown to have a higher fiber content[6].


How to Soak and Sprout

The sprouting process is almost always the same, with only the time being a variable.

Basic sprouting (germination) includes a few steps:

  1. Soak beans on the counter overnight 6-12 hours. Make sure to cover them with enough water, as they are going to absorb a lot.
  2. In the morning, drain the beans in a sieve. Place the sieve over a large bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Set aside for 12 hours.  
  3. For the next 2-4 days rinse the beans 2 to 3 times a day, mixing gently, making sure to fully drain them every time. Take out any beans that look questionable, you don’t want one bad bean to ruin the whole bunch!
  4. When you can see the green sprout, and it is about a ¼ inch long they are ready. Store them in the fridge, but you should eat them quickly as they can go bad very easily!

*Note the timing of soaking and sprouting may change for different types of legumes, nuts and seeds.

The truth is, is that after Step 1, there will be an increase in enzyme phytase, helping to diminish mineral binding phytates, trypsin inhibitors, and lectins. The enzyme activity will continue to increase after step one, so if desired continue to the sprouting steps.

The beans can now be cooked into your favorite dish and have many more benefits than if you did not germinate them. If you are sprouting nuts and seeds and want to eat them as a snack you may want to dehydrate them over night on the lowest heat possible (117 degrees Fahrenheit or lower). This way they will get their crunch back.

What it comes down to is figuring out what works for you and finding your tolerance to legumes, nuts, seeds, and even some grains. If you want to eat a serving of beans, sprout it first!



  1. Torre M, Rodriguez AR, Saura-Calixto F. Effects of dietary fiber and phytic acid on mineral availability. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1991;30(1):1-22 doi: 10.1080/10408399109527545[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
  2. Zhou JR, Erdman JW, Jr. Phytic acid in health and disease. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1995;35(6):495-508 doi: 10.1080/10408399509527712[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
  3. Chavan JK, Kadam SS. Nutritional improvement of cereals by sprouting. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1989;28(5):401-37 doi: 10.1080/10408398909527508[published Online First: Epub Date]|.
  4. McCue P, Kwon YI, Shetty K. Anti-diabetic and anti-hypertensive potential of sprouted and solid-state bioprocessed soybean. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2005;14(2):145-52
  5. Gupta HO. Protein quality evaluation of sprouted maize. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 1994;46(1):85-91
  6. Chung TY, Nwokolo EN, Sim JS. Compositional and digestibility changes in sprouted barley and canola seeds. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 1989;39(3):267-78