You may be eating lots of beans and grains because we’ve been told they are healthy and full of fiber, but this could be causing your health issues as well. You see, legumes and grains are full of a substance called ‘lectins’.
Lectins are a type of naturally occurring protein that is especially prevalent in grains and legumes. These lectins bind to carbohydrates, forming something called glycoproteins. Although all foods contain some lectins, only about 30% of the foods we eat contain them in significant amounts.
Lectins actually perform a number of healthy functions in the body including regulating the immune system, helping cells and molecules stick together, and fighting off bacterial, fungal and viral infections. Lectins are also known to have anti-cancer/anti-tumor properties as well.
Where lectins get their bad reputation is from eating too many of them—mostly in grains and beans. While lectins are in many highly nutritious foods, lectins can actually act more like a toxin in the body, and can contribute to health issues like leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune problems, and inflammation.
We humans have trouble digesting many of the lectins found in our food. Since lectins are “sticky” they can attach to the intestinal walls and cause digestive distress. Lectins can also separate the tiny intracellular junctions in the cells of the intestines, and cause a condition called ‘leaky gut’. This causes food substances like proteins to leak out into the bloodstream before they are fully broken down and digested. The result is widespread inflammation, and possible allergic reactions to these foreign proteins.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that lectins can also aggravate autoimmune reactions including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and fibromyalgia. This makes sense, as autoimmune conditions result when the immune system begins to attack healthy cells in the body. This creates fatigue, chronic pain, and painful joints.
Lectins also act as an anti-nutrient, meaning that they can interfere with digestion and absorption of foods, upping the risk of nutritional deficiencies, and creating digestive problems like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting. Uncooked beans can actually cause lectin poisoning.
Symptoms of eating too many lectins
Here are a few of the most common symptoms that may occur with excess lectin intake:
• Joint Pain/swelling
• Stomach pains
• Skin problems
Why are vegetarians and vegans at risk? In order to get protein from plant-based foods, most vegans and vegetarians have to rely heavily on grains and beans. In fact, combining grains and beans is one way that vegans can get all the amino acids for protein in their diets.
Legumes including peas, beans (of all kinds), soybeans, peanuts, and grains, contain the most lectins, followed by dairy, and plants in the nightshade family such as tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and eggplant.
Here is a list of the worst lectin foods:
1. Potatoes (regular white potatoes, not sweet potatoes)
2. Red Kidney Beans
6. Peppers (all kinds)
Why are lectins such a problem?
According to Dr. Gundry, M.D., who wrote the book, “The Plant Paradox” about dietary lectins:
“…our microbiomes are capable of eating lectins…We’ve killed off most of our good bugs [that would eat up lectins] with broad-spectrum antibiotics…and artificial sweeteners…Just one packet of artificial sweetener kills 50 percent of the bacteria in our guts.”
Lectins are controversial, but increased toxins in our environment, glyphosate in our foods, prescription medications and overuse of antibiotics, is definitely changing the shape of our microbiomes.
The ironic thing about lectins is that they are typically associated with foods that are nutrient-dense, so giving up lectin-containing foods means cutting out a large variety of healthy foods. For vegans and vegetarians, this would mean eliminating many foods that supply needed protein in a meatless diet.
Although lectins have been associated with a slew of negative side effects, you don’t need to totally eliminate all lectin-rich foods from your diet altogether. You can actually reduce the lectin content of foods you eat by changing how you prepare them and still enjoy their other qualities.
When prepared properly you can reduce the lectin content in foods. Legumes of all kinds (beans, peas, etc) must be cooked well to lower the lectins. One of the quickest and easiest ways to cook the lectins out of foods is to use a pressure-cooker or Instapot. Be sure beans are well-done. Kidney beans have one of the highest levels of lectins and even a few undercooked kidney beans can make you very sick!
Soaking and sprouting grains and seeds is also effective to lower lectin content. Seeds and beans can be soaked for 24 hours, rinsed and drained frequently and then sprouted. Sprouting decreases lectin content and other antinutrients and also increases the nutrition.
Fermentation is another excellent way to reduce lectins while increasing beneficial bacteria.
However, if you have serious health issues such as autoimmune, digestive issues or celiac disease—all of which are related to lectins in your diet, you may want to avoid them all together.
If you are giving up lectins to see if it improves your health, it may take some time. Most people notice a difference within two weeks, but it can take two, three, four, five, or even six months to really get your gut health back. If you rely on high lectin foods to supply your protein, you may be better off trying to incorporate some other naturally raised animal proteins into your diet.
And an additional note:
– Don’t confuse ‘lectins’ with ‘leptins’ or ‘lecithin’.
– LECTINS are a protein substance in foods that can irritate the gut.
– LEPTINS are a hormone that has to do with hunger and feeling full.
– And LECITHIN is a nutritional type of fat found in soy and other foods that is good for brain function