People are often surprised when they learn that some “healthy” foods can actually damage their body. That’s right, some studies are now showing that some fruits and vegetables are not as good for you as originally thought due to a naturally occurring protein called lectins.1
If you’re at your wit’s end with gut health or weight loss issues, the lectin-free diet may be the answer you’re looking for.
Continue reading to find out what lectins are, which foods contain them, and which foods are safe. Also to answer the question of why are lectins bad for you?
What Are Lectins?
Lectins are a type of protein found in many animal-based and plant-based foods.2 They bind to carbohydrates, which can help cells interact and communicate with each other. Lectins are especially prominent in legumes, grains, and nightshade vegetables.
Lectins evolved as a natural defense in plants. Essentially, they are toxins that deter insects and animals from eating them.3 While this is great for plants, it’s not always so great for humans. The same features that help lectins protect plants may cause digestive problems in humans.
What Are The Most Harmful Lectins?
The lectin in red kidney beans is called phytohaemagglutinin, and it is highly toxic. It’s responsible for red kidney bean poisoning, which results from eating undercooked or raw kidney beans. According to the FDA, eating just four raw kidney beans can cause symptoms of severe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.4
Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA)
WGA is the lectin found in wheat products. It’s really good at mimicking insulin and blocking your body’s insulin receptors. This can lead to decreased muscle mass and a person who always feels hungry.5,6
How Do Lectins Affect The Human Body?
Humans can’t digest lectins. So when you eat foods high in lectins, they travel through your gut unchanged. Through the digestive process, some types of lectins bind to cells along the wall of your small intestine.7
This allows them to communicate with the cells, triggering a response from your body. The body’s response could be:
- Upset stomach
- Bloating and gas
- Weight gain8-10
People who eat a lot of raw, lectin-rich foods – those following a plant-based diet, for example – may be more likely to develop these symptoms.
Some types of dietary lectins can also interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Because of this, lectins are often called “anti-nutrients.”
Some people are more sensitive to lectins than others. If you have prolonged digestive issues or autoimmune conditions you may be extra sensitive to lectins.11 Speak with your doctor about starting an elimination diet that removes lectins. From there, listen to your body, and see if a lectin-free diet is right for you.
What Are The Benefits Of A Lectin-Free Diet?
It May Help Ease Gastrointestinal Issues
If you’ve been long suffering from digestive problems, a lectin-free diet may help provide relief.12
It May Help Certain Autoimmune Issues
If you suffer from an autoimmune issue, talk to your doctor about eating low-lectin foods. There is evidence a lectin-free diet might help in some cases.13
It Might Reduce Peptic Ulcers
Studies show that lectins increase the risk of peptic ulcers. If you’re susceptible, you may want to try eating a lectin-free diet, under the supervision of a doctor, of course.14
It May Help With Weight Loss
Some lectins, like WGA, block the action of insulin. This results in more sugar being pumped into fat cells, which can make you gain weight. Avoiding animal and plant foods that are high in lectins may help with weight loss.15
In addition to the insulin factor, the foods that you eat on a lectin-free diet: grass-fed protein, leafy greens, and a ton of vegetables, are very good for you.
A low lectin diet is also low in processed carbs, which has been shown to help with weight loss in numerous studies.16
Foods To Eat On A Lectin-Free Diet
All plant and animal products contain some lectins, but some contain fewer than others.
According to Dr. Gundry, here is a partial list of foods to eat if you’re trying to go lectin-free.
- Pasture-raised poultry
- Grass-fed meats, including pork, lamb, beef, and others
- Any wild-caught fish, including freshwater bass, canned tuna, and scallops
- Plant-based protein, including grain-free tempeh, hemp tofu, and mushroom-based meat substitutes
- A2 milk, which is easier to digest than conventional milk
- Southern European-style dairy products, including full-fat yogurt, goat’s milk cheese, triple-cream brie, and butter
- Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts
- Leafy greens, such as kale and chard
- Root vegetables, such as radishes, raw carrots, and raw beets
- Garlic and onion
- Resistant starches (in moderation)
- Berries that are in season (in moderation)
- Nuts and seeds, such as walnuts, pecans, and sesame seeds
- Dark chocolate, 72% or greater
- Oils like olive oil, sesame oil, and avocado oil
- All herbs and spices except for red pepper flakes17
Here is a print-friendly, comprehensive list of every Dr. Gundry-approved food to eat on a Lectin-Free diet.
Foods To Avoid On A Lectin-Free Diet
The foods highest in lectin that you’ll want to avoid eating are:
- Nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, goji berries, pepper, and eggplant. You can start by reading about goji berries side effects.
- Out of season fruits, and high sugar tropical fruits
- All legumes, including red kidney beans, chickpeas, peanuts, and lentils
- Grains and starches, including pasta, rice, and bread
- Non-Southern European cow’s milk dairy products, like Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
- Some nuts and seeds, like chia, pumpkin, or sunflower
- Fish, poultry, or meat that is corn or grain-fed
- Sugar and highly processed artificial sweeteners
- Processed foods, like cereal or crackers
- Sprouted grains, like quinoa and oats18
How To Reduce Lectins In The Food You Love
It’s best if you avoid foods that are high in lectins every day. But if a special occasion comes up where you must prepare foods that are high in lectin, here are a few strategies to reduce the lectin content.
Soaking. Soaking legumes and grains can help reduce plant lectins. Soak overnight and rinse well before you cook.19
Pressure-cooking. If you must cook with beans, tomatoes, or potatoes, the best way to prepare them is a pressure cooker. It won’t remove them all, but cooking with a pressure cooker can reduce some of the lectins in food.20
Peel and De-seed. High-lectin plant foods, like cucumber, eggplant, squash, and tomatoes are easier on your body if you remove the skin. Make sure to peel off the skin and take out the seeds – this is where most of those pesky lectins hide.21
Fermentation. Fermenting fruits, vegetables, and legumes allow good bacteria to break down some of the plant’s defenses. Fermenting doesn’t kill all lectins, but it does reduce them.22
Helpful Tips For Sticking With A Lectin-Free Diet
Studying up on high and low lectin foods can empower you to make good choices. Here are a few more tips for success:
If you’re ready to switch to a lectin-free diet, speak with your doctor first. They can test you for a lectin sensitivity and help you develop an eating plan that is customized to your specific health situation.
Your pressure cooker will be your new best friend. Lean on this essential kitchen tool to help reduce lectin and make easy, delicious meals.
Make sure you eat your fruits and vegetables – there are plenty to choose from on a low lectin diet. This will ensure that you get the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that you need.
*Main Image: Dr. Gundry’s Better Than Nutella Cookies. Recipe Here.