Maybe you’ve heard about lectins and that you should avoid them, but what, exactly, are lectins?
These are a type of protein that binds to certain carbohydrates in the body. Not all lectins are bad for you, but some can be harmful to your health.
What foods contain lectins?
Lectins are found in a variety of regularly-consumed foods, such as peanuts, raw kidney beans, raw soybeans, and whole grains. Roughly 30 percent of the food we eat contains lectina BANT).
Here’s everything you need to know about lectins, as well as if you should eliminate them all from your diet. Is this really a good idea?
Why Are Lectins Called Antinutrients?
Lectins decrease the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients, which is why they’re referred to as antinutrients.
This is also why they can be harmful to your health. Interestingly, they have been said to have evolved as plants’ natural defense system to deter animals from consuming them.
When you consume a large quantity of certain lectins, these can cause damage to the gut wall, resulting in symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Lectins attach themselves to cells that line the digestive tract, which can affect the growth of intestinal flora. This can cause an autoimmune response in the body, which is why it’s thought that lectins play a contributing role in inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.
Lectins can be found in both animal- and plant-based foods.
Popular Foods Containing Lectins
There are many otherwise healthy foods that contain lectins.
Here’s a rundown of the most common ones. We’ll also look at how their lectin content can be removed.
Raw Kidney Beans
These beans are healthy because they contain a variety of nutrients, such as folate, potassium, and iron. That said, when they’re raw they contain a high amount of a lectin known as phytohaemagglutinin.
If you eat them in a raw or undercooked state, they can cause symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea, even if you consume a small quantity of them.
This is why you have to ensure that you properly soak and cook raw kidney beans. Doing this means you can still enjoy them in your diet.
Note: for other legumes, such as chickpeas, beans, lentils, and green peas, you should soak, sprout, and cook them properly to reduce their lectin content.
Soybeans are a great source of protein, as well as other beneficial nutrients such as riboflavin, copper, and magnesium.
As with red kidney beans, you have to ensure that you cook them well to prevent their lectins from affecting your gut.
You should boil soybeans for at least 10 minutes at temperatures as high as 212 degrees Fahrenheit to deactivate their lectins.
If it sounds alarming that wheat contains lectins, it’s good to know that while raw wheat, mainly wheat germ, is high in lectin, processing and cooking the wheat removes it.
Whole-wheat flour contains much less lectin. As for whole-wheat pasta, when it’s cooked it has undetectable lectin. So, when you purchase whole-wheat pasta from the store, you don’t have to worry about lectin because it’s not present in this food.
Note, however, that many grains contain lectin. These include quinoa, barley, wheat, rice, and rye. These should be soaked and then cooked to remove their lectin content.
Sometimes lectin can pass through the gut wall and spread through the body, which can be harmful. This is the case with peanuts.
A study found that lectins in peanuts can move through the gut and travel into the bloodstream, increasing the growth of cancer cells.
However, this was a test-tube study and to date no other research has been conducted to discover peanuts’ effects in humans.
The problem with peanuts, though, is that their lectin content is not reduced or eliminated via heating methods.
Tomatoes contain healthy nutrients, such as an antioxidant called lycopene that has been linked to a lowered risk of heart disease and cancer.
Although lectins are found in tomatoes, these have not been found to have any negative effects on health. For example, some animal studies have found that these lectins do bind to the gut wall but they don’t cause damage to it.
Still, when cooking tomatoes make sure you peel them, remove their seeds, and cook them well before eating them.
Potatoes are filled with fiber, which can help you stay fuller for longer and lose weight, but they also contain many antioxidants. Potatoes, like tomatoes, do contain lectins but they have not been investigated for their effects on human health.
Although some people have reported side effects after eating potatoes, and these could possibly be connected to lectins, more research is required.
That said, when cooking potatoes, make sure you cook them well.
What Is The Lectin-Free Diet?
Removing all lectin foods from your diet can be difficult to achieve.
This is because many lectin-rich foods are healthy, such as vegetables and beans. It’s especially difficult if you’re following a vegetarian or vegan diet because these foods are such a big part of it.
Dr. Steven Gundry is the person who first came up with the lectin-free diet. He’s a cardiologist and heart surgeon who wrote a book called The Plant Paradox Cookbook: 100 Delicious Recipes to Help You Lose Weight, Heal Your Gut, and Live Lectin-Free.
Dr. Gundry specifies the foods that should be consumed on the lectin-free diet as they don’t contain lectin, such as cruciferous vegetables, garlic, celery, onion, cooked sweet potatoes, pasture-raised meats, and A2 milk. This milk is a type of cow’s milk that doesn’t contain a protein called A1.
There are also fats that are allowed on the lectin-free diet, such as olive oil, butter, and avocados, as well as nuts, such as pecans, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, and pistachios.
The book also specifies the foods to avoid if you want to stop consuming lectins. These include legumes such as peas, lentils, and beans; fruit, grains, and nightshade vegetables, such as potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers.
Should You Eliminate All Lectin Foods From Your Diet?
If lectins worry you or you’ve experienced symptoms from lectin-rich foods, you might want to eliminate the foods that have caused those effects.
However, there are risks involved with removing all lectin foods from your diet. As we’ve seen earlier with foods containing lectin, they have many health benefits.
Foods that contain lectin, such as whole grains and nuts, reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Lectins themselves are not all bad news. They can behave as antioxidants to prevent damage to cells in the body that’s caused by free radicals, they slow down the digestion process, and they slow down carbohydrate absorption, which prevents dramatic increases in blood sugar.
Therefore, it can be said that consuming lectin-containing foods can outweigh the risk of negative side effects from lectin.
Who Benefits From A Lectin-Free Diet?
It’s worth mentioning that it’s still not clear how a lectin-free diet can be beneficial for most people.
That said, there has been research conducted on how this diet can help you if you have a specific health condition.
For example, a study has found that cutting lectin out of your diet can be useful if you have multiple sclerosis. Since increased intestinal permeability has been seen in people with multiple sclerosis, reducing one’s lectin consumption can help to reduce negative symptoms.
For people with health conditions that impair the digestive system, such as Crohn’s disease, lectins can enter the bloodstream and cause unpleasant symptoms.
For these people, small quantities of lectins can cause immune-related symptoms, such as joint pain, skin flare-ups, and intestinal inflammation, so they should reduce or eliminate lectins from their diet in order to prevent such symptoms.
As for the general population, although we can’t digest lectins, they just move through the digestive system. It’s also important to note that you’d have to consume a large amount of lectins in order to be adversely affected by them, which is a lot more than the quantity a typical diet would include.
Can The Lectin-Free Diet Help You Lose Weight?
Dr. Gundry has stated that he’s personally lost a lot of weight by cutting out lectin foods from his diet. He claims that lectin is an enemy to weight loss as it causes the body to store fat.
How this happens is that lectins move through the intestinal barrier, and this triggers the immune system to fight the lectins which it views as foreign bodies. This, in turn, causes inflammation. This inflammation is what can cause weight gain as it sparks the production of fat-storing hormones in the body.
The problem with this diet is that it’s highly restrictive. You’re removing many types of food from your eating plan, which can be difficult to maintain over time.
Therefore, this diet might be more of a short-term diet, not something you can maintain in the long run. You’ll also be missing out on the nutrients those foods contain, which can reduce your level of health.
It’s also important to bear in mind that many foods containing lectin have been linked to weight loss, such as whole grains and pulses, plus you’ll be getting healthy nutrients from them, which feels like more of a win-win situation.
Therefore, the lectin-free diet is not something to choose for weight loss.
Can You Be Sensitive To Lectins?
If you find that you eat foods containing lectin and then experience negative side effects, you might actually be dealing with a food intolerance or allergy that has nothing to do with the lectins specifically.
Therefore, it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider or dietitian who can help you discover the specific cause of your symptoms.
A dietitian might suggest that you eliminate some foods from your diet to see how you feel, and then slowly reintroduce them so you can identify the foods that are causing your symptoms.
This is a healthier, safer process than merely cutting out all foods containing lectin, which would eliminate many healthy ingredients and nutrients from your diet.
Does fermenting foods remove their lectin?
Fermentation causes hard-to-digest compounds, such as lectins, to get metabolized, but not all lectins will be eliminated via fermentation.
Is grain-fed meat okay on a lectin-free diet?
Grain- and soy-fed chickens, cows, and other animals contain lectins in their meat, eggs, and/or milk. This is because the lectins in the plants are eaten by the animals.
Lectins are sometimes referred to as the antinutrient, but are they all bad?
In this article, we’ve looked at what lectins are, what foods contain them, and how to follow the lectin-free diet. However, we’ve also featured information about why avoiding this restrictive diet is a more practical, healthier idea.
There are many foods that contain lectin, but avoiding all of them is unnecessary, especially since boiling and heating many of them will successfully reduce or remove their lectin content.