For the majority of us, the word lectin will be an unfamiliar term. It really shouldn’t be, because it refers to something that has an impact on us all in our daily lives. Lectins are simply sugar-binding substances that are found in plants. They have the ability to attach themselves to our cell membranes when ingested. A buildup of lectins within a person’s body can lead to weight gain and poor health even in cases where the person follows an ostensibly healthy diet. The fact that lectins are to be found in most edible plants means that you may find yourself fighting a continuous battle against weight gain and various other health issues even while on a whole food diet.
Lectins constitute one of the natural world's most well-hidden causes of weight gain and numerous other conditions. Many of them are cytotoxic, pro-inflammatory, neurotoxic, as well as being capable of causing disruptions in endocrine function, increased blood viscosity, and interference with gene expression.
The difficulty that comes with simply recommending a lectin free diet to minimize or eliminate their harmful effects is that most plants contain the substance, meaning a lectin-free diet would mean eliminating most plant foods from a person’s diet. To further complicate the matter, lectins in small amounts are actually good for the human body. The obvious solution is to arrive at some middle ground whereby we manage to avoid the most destructive types of lectins while minimizing the harmful effects of milder lectins through appropriate food preparation and cooking methods.
Negative Effects of the Lectins in our Diets
The eminent cardiologist, Dr. Steven Gundry, was the first to raise the alarm regarding the dangers associated with lectins. In his book, The Plant Paradox: Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods, Dr. Gundry informs readers that some lectins may be the cause behind leaky gut conditions that make it difficult for the body to absorb necessary nutrients through the small intestines. This anti-nutrient activity may then lead to further damage by negatively affecting the gut microbiome by destabilizing the delicate balance of bacterial flora within it. Some of the most dangerous identified lectins are the wheat germ agglutinins (WGAs).
High-Lectin Foods to Avoid
As we’ve established that it is nearly impossible to eliminate lectins from one’s diet, should one experience health problems whereby lectins are suspected to be the causative agents, Dr. Gundry suggests avoiding some of the more notorious lectin culprits should be considered as the first step. These would include casein A1 milk, corn, corn-fed meats, cashews, peanuts, as well as unfermented soya beans.
Moderate Lectin-content Diet Options
These foods, despite having high lectin contents, can be made relatively safer to eat through proper cooking methods which are able to reduce their lectin content, suggests Dr. Gundry. These include whole grains, legumes, nightshade vegetables, as well as fruits of the family such as zucchini, pumpkin, and squash.
We should, however, note that there are some beans among the legumes that have somewhat safer lectin levels than others, making them safer. These include rice beans, lupine seeds, broad beans, and cowpeas.
Safe Lectins Available
Another effective way to keep your lectin intake on the safe side is through only eating foods that are considered to have safe lectin contents. These include asparagus, garlic, onions, celery, and mushrooms. Additionally, cooked tubers, leafy greens, avocados, and cruciferous vegetables are also considered to be safe.
What else can be done to achieve a low-lectin diet?
· Removing or peeling the skins off the fruits and vegetables you eat
· Consuming white grains rather than brown ones
· Letting the seeds, grains, and beans you consume sprout as this helps deactivate the lectins they contain
· Allowing lectin-rich foods to ferment as this will help reduce their lectin concentrations
· Making use of pressure cookers in your cooking as this helps deactivate lectins in your food
Point of Note: Do not entirely remove lectins from your diet but limit the amounts you take.
You should remember that specific situations should be considered when determining the strictness of your lectin diet. For example, if you have an auto-immune condition, you may be more sensitive to the lectins found in particular foods.
As Dr. Gundry explains, because it is almost impossible to completely eliminate lectins from our diets, our best bet is to begin by eliminating the very worst culprits, preparing our foods properly to neutralize their lectin content and replacing high-lectin foods in our diet with safer alternatives wherever possible.