How You May Be Unknowingly Destroying your Digestive Health—Especially if You Are Vegan!

By: Cat Ebeling, RN, MSN-PHN, co-author of the best-sellers:  The Fat Burning KitchenThe Top 101 Foods that Fight Aging & The Diabetes Fix

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:

• Bloating
• Joint Pain/swelling
• Gas
Stomach pains
• Vomiting
• Constipation
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
3. Eggplant
4. Soybeans
5. Lentils
6. Peppers (all kinds)
7. Wheat/gluten
8. Peas
9. Tomatoes
10. Peanuts
11. Corn
12. Wheat

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


About The Watchdog

Mike Geary has been a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for over 15 years now. He has been studying nutrition and exercise for almost 25 years, ever since being a young teenager. Mike is originally from Pennsylvania, but has fallen in love with mountain life and now resides in the picturesque mountains of Utah. Mike is an avid adventurist and when he’s not spending his time skiing, mountain biking, hiking, or paddleboarding on the lake, he has enjoyed skydiving, whitewater rafting, piloting an Italian fighter plane (seriously), scuba diving, heli-skiing, and traveling all around the world, enjoying learning about different cultures. At the age of 40, Mike now feels healthier, stronger, and more energetic than when he was 20... All because of a healthy lifestyle and great nutrition!

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  1. Nutritionwatchdog, Your article is full of unscientifically based information. References weighing heavily using Dr Axe (a chiropractor) and Dr Gundry (his own book sites fraudulent references; his entire lectin theory has been proven WRONG!) tell the tale. Please spend some time reading and/or watching and learning from the following reputable and responsible physicians and scientists: Dr Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr Dean Ornish, Dr T Colin Campbell, Dr Neal Barnard, Dr Brooke Goldner and Dr Michael Gregor. From them and their scientifically proven studies and/or information, you will see that the whole food plant based or “vegan” diet is the healthiest diet in the world. We were meant to eat vegetables, fruits and legumes and we receive all the nutrients we need by eating from these foods for our entire lives. I also encourage you to read/watch Dr Doug Lisle and Dr Goldhammer. Fascinating info on why it is challenging to leave the standard American diet way of eating!

  2. Michelle Staples

    Millions of people around the world would argue that, Watchdog. Im over 70 and I’ve been vegan for over 10 yrs, and veg for 5 yrs before that, and I’ve avoided a hip replacement and still hike, kept my weight down, no longer have digestive problems, and, to me, because of my spiritual practices, I can sleep well at night knowing I’m not responsible for the terror, torture, mutilation, and death of fellow sentient beings. Our culture tells us that this planet, and all that’s on her, were designed for and are the sole property of humans …. mainly white humans. Not so. These fellow inhabitants have a right to live here in peace as much as we do. All your justifications about grass fed this and love my animals that are a specious argument to justify your actions. The vast majority of animal eaters are unhealthy, have heart problems, and mindlessly eat animals because “they taste good”. I’ll put my cholesteral numbers up against theirs any day.

  3. Pamela Griffin

    You should read Dr Barnars books. I have been a vegetarian most of my life. I grew up in the SDA church, and they are listed in the Vegan books. The only Americans who made it in the Blue Zone Book, are the SDA folks in Loma Linda Calif. These folks live over 100 years old. They are have a Spiritual side, and are Vegetarians.
    I had Endometriosis, and could not get pregnant. I gave up Dairy, and had our Son on Thanksgiving, and I thanked God for leading me to a Dairy free diet. Go the The Harvard study, The Dangers Of Milk. It contributes to breast cancer, and Endometriosis. Had I not given up dairy. We would not have our son, his wife, and our grandchildren. Hope you share this. Pamela Griffin

  4. Pamela Griffin

    I meant Dr Bernard’s Plant Based Book.Amazing book. You should read this book. Also, our Rainforest is being destroyed so folks can have cattle. I always say, I do not see a Slaughter house in Heaven. We could feed the children in the world if folks stopped eating meat. You should look to the oain for the cows.
    Please educate yourself..
    And read this with your heart and Brain. Pamela

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