Tiny anti-nutrients known as lectins are in the spotlight in nutrition and wellness communities around the world. Lectins have been outed as toxic and dangerous. But it might be tough for some to accept this news because dietary lectins are present in so many foods touted as healthy staples.
So, is it worth giving a lectin-free diet a try? Read here to learn all about dietary lectins and their potential to lead to digestive and overall health issues.
What Are Lectins And What Effects Can They Have On Your Digestive And Overall Health?
Now, the first thing you might want to know is… what is a lectin in the first place? Very simply, a lectin is a plant’s primary form of self-defense. Lectins are proteins that (when digested by a person or animal) discourage a plant predator from consuming that plant in the future.1
That seems contradictory to what you’ve heard about plant foods, right? Plant foods are supposed to be healthy foods (and many are). But the lectins in certain plants — like nightshade vegetables — can poison you. In fact, one lectin, ricin (which protects the castor bean plant), has even been used in biological warfare.2
Of course, different lectins have different levels of toxicity. And often the effect of a lectin depends on your lectin sensitivity. But, you don’t want to risk letting the lectins in legumes, nightshade vegetables and other popular foods negatively affect your immune response and digestive health.
Foods With Lectins That May Lead To Digestion Issues: Fruits And Vegetables To Avoid
When you consume too many lectins, they can pervade the cells that line your intestines. And that’s no good because your intestinal barrier cells are supposed to keep dangerous microbes and disease-causing pathogens out of your gastrointestinal tract.
So, if the intestinal barrier gets invaded, your immune system can become subject to certain health issues. In fact, in certain situations, people endure symptoms just like those associated with food poisoning.3 What does that look like? Well, consuming improperly prepared lectin-rich foods can result in serious abdominal discomfort, vomiting, and even diarrhea.4
So, what foods should you eliminate when pursuing a lectin-free diet?
Legumes – Legumes like lentils, peas, and kidney beans are seriously high in lectins. There are some tips and tricks that would make it possible to consume legumes, like beans, in moderation. For instance, pressure cooking your legumes may help reduce their lectin content. But, if you consume kidney beans that haven’t been cooked properly, you might increase your risk for digestive issues.5
Grains – Several cultures rely on grains as a staple in their diets, but did you know most grains are filled with dangerous lectins? For instance, wheat germ has a lectin called agglutinin.6 Grains don’t do you any favors, so it’s best to cut them out of your daily diet.
Most Cow’s Milk – This may seem silly since milk isn’t a plant-based food, but cows eat plants. Therefore, cow’s milk contains lectins. And there’s a protein in cow’s milk that is very similar to a lectin called casein A1. In fact, research has shown that when your body processes casein A1, the result can be pancreatic damage.7
Certain Fruits And Vegetables – As you now know, there are a plethora of fruits and vegetables that are filled to the brim with lectins. Most often, the lectin content in fruits is in the rinds, peels, and seeds. So, when you eat fruits or lectin-filled veggies, make sure you get rid of the peels and seeds. And only eat fruit when it is fresh and in-season.
When it comes to lectin-filled veggies, nightshade vegetables are the worst offenders. Steer clear of nightshade vegetables, like tomatoes and potatoes.8
Here’s a condensed list of fruits and vegetables to avoid when on a lectin-free diet —
- Bean sprouts
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
- Goji berries
- Green beans
- Lentil pasta
- Melons (any kind)
- Pea protein
- Soy protein
- Sugar snap peas
There are still a ton of vegetables you can enjoy. Leafy greens should be at the top of your list. But also, consider the following vegetables as your go-tos on a lectin-free diet —
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Hearts of palm
- Leafy greens
- Mustard greens
- Napa cabbage
- Nopales cactus
- Raw sauerkraut
- Swiss chard
- Water Chestnuts
And what’s the easiest way to enjoy so many of the foods listed above? Simple: dress them or cook them in olive oil. Olive oil consumption can support heart health quite a bit.9
Ways To Limit Your Lectin Intake — Pressure Cooking And Fermenting
Now, remember if you want to indulge in a lectin-rich ingredient, there are some instances when a simple procedure can help you reduce the number of lectins in a portion of plant food.
As mentioned above, pressure cooking is one way to reduce the lectin content in certain lectin foods, like beans and other legumes. Also, lectins are most potent when a plant food is raw. So, cooking (especially with wet and high heat, like when pressure cooking) can render most lectins ineffective. Pressure cooking won’t work on grains however, so its best to avoid these foods altogether.
Boiling plant foods in water is another way to get rid of a good amount of lectin activity. Why does this process work well? Because lectins are actually water-soluble.10
Fermentation is another great way to allow natural good gut bacteria to break down the substances in other foods, making digestion a bit easier. Fermenting certain foods can decrease lectin content by almost 95 percent.11
Talk With Your Doctor About Lectin Sensitivity And Starting A Lectin-Free Diet
Talk with your doctor about lectin sensitivity, and see if a lectin-free diet is right for you. You can start prepping your food in a better way and try eliminating the worst offenders, like nightshade vegetables.
Digestive issues can be uncomfortable, inconvenient, and downright painful. Of course, no two bodies are the same, but if a plant protein is specifically designed to make you feel sick so you don’t eat that plant… why would you continue to eat that plant? There are so many delicious, healthy lectin-free foods out there. Isn’t it time to put your health first?