If you’re at all curious about nutrition, it’s no doubt you’ve seen the word “lectin” before. Research about how dietary lectins (aka binding proteins) negatively affect your immune response, cell growth, and intestinal permeability is growing every day. But if you don’t know much about lectin toxicity, let’s shed some light on the matter.
Plant lectins are found in all sorts of natural foods. Whole grains, nightshade vegetables, and fruit are all lectin-containing foods. So many foods, from the tiny red kidney bean to the hefty eggplant, can incite toxic lectin activity within your body.
Dr. Gundry wants to help. By avoiding certain foods that contain binding lectins, you can plan your diet to help you maintain a healthier immune system and ward off toxic lectins.
What You Should Know About Lectins
Now, the first thing you need to know is that while binding lectins can be toxic and have the power to mess with your body’s internal messaging system, humans have developed pretty efficient systems of defense to render plant lectins harmless (or at least decrease the severity of their effects). Here are the basics of how your body might fend off certain autoimmune diseases linked to lectin activity.
It starts in your mouth (the very spot where lectins enter your system). Turns out, the saliva in your mouth and mucus in your nose contain sugars known as mucopolysaccharides. Those sugars are there to help trap lectins since they like to bind to sugar. You know how when you eat something spicy, your nose starts to run? That’s your body’s first line of defense. The extra dose of mucus and saliva traps some of the lectins you just ate, but it can’t catch them all.
So then, the lectins that make it past the saliva trap will end up in your gut. But your stomach acid is there waiting to digest certain lectin proteins. But even your stomach acid can’t catch all of them.
This is where the bacteria in your gut comes into play. Your good gut bacteria can help your system consume some lectins before they can interact with your gut wall. But the lectins that make it past your good gut bugs run into one last layer of mucus in specific cell membranes throughout your intestines.
In the same way your saliva traps some lectins, the cell surfaces at your intestinal wall try to keep lectins from interacting with your blood cells and invading other systems in your body. But how exactly does it work?
Lectins And The Intestinal Wall
So as you can see, your body does a decent job of blocking, distracting, or rerouting the nasty lectins found in lectin-containing foods like legumes, raw kidney beans, castor beans, nightshade vegetables, or grains.
However, your body can’t catch every criminal lectin. And the more lectin-rich foods you eat, the harder your body has to work. It’s inevitable that if you bombard your system with lectins, some are bound to get through the protective barriers into other systems. You’re not equipped to battle all the lectins the food industry makes available because the more your saliva is used up, the less is available to help you fight.
So, when an abundance of lectins square off against the living epithelial cells that line your intestinal wall, they may win. Absorptive epithelial cells separate and regulate lectins in an attempt to keep the rest of your body healthy.1
The first thing lectins try to do is pry apart the tight junctions that link cells in your mucosal wall. Believe it or not, the lining of your gut barrier is only one cell thick. Though it protects your intestine which has a surface area similar to that of a tennis court.2
Of course, when the barrier functions as it’s meant to, it helps your intestinal cells absorb vitamins, minerals, fats, sugars, and simple proteins. But lectins are pretty large proteins. If you avoid lectin damage and keep your gut mucosal wall healthy, lectins shouldn’t be able to penetrate it. But if too many lectins in your system do attack your mucosal wall, they may be able to squeeze through holes in the barrier to enter your bloodstream.
And given that crystal structures in lectins are catalysts for cytotoxicity (that means they’re toxic to your cells), lectins in your bloodstream can cause severe health concerns. Because of their binding properties, lectins can cause different types of nutrient deficiencies. They can disrupt digestive processes. And they cause severe intestinal damage when consumed in excess.3
These effects of lectin consumption can also be followed by a disruption of your intestinal integrity. Why does this matter? Because your gut wall is essentially your gateway to various autoimmunities. When lectins get into your bloodstream, if they affect your t cells — the cells in your bloodstream that allow your immune system to fight off danger — you could end up in danger of other health compromises.4
This leads to the question…
Should I Avoid Lectins?
In a word: YES. While you can use a pressure cooker to reduce the lectin content in SOME foods, most are resistant to cooking. While lectins cause toxicity and swelling within the body, they can also penetrate the gut wall and make their way to other organs, tissues, and liquids.5
If you take the time to learn which foods contain lectins and which don’t, you can help your body defend itself.
There are certain foods that are highly problematic. And once you know which foods those are, you should really do your best to avoid them. Or, if you must indulge in lectins, consume them in moderation and only when pressure cooked.
Foods That Contain Lectins: Which Foods Should You Steer Clear Of?
Dr. Gundry has spent decades researching the lectin content in various foods. He’s prepared a sort of “do’s and don’ts” list for you. You can find the complete list here: Gundry Diet Yes and No List.
But here’s a preview of some selected lectin-rich foods which should be avoided:
Refined Starchy Foods
Pasta, Rice, Potatoes, Potatoes chips, Regular Cow’s Milk, Bread, Tortillas, Pastry, Flours made from grains and pseudograins, Cookies, Crackers, Cereal
Sweeteners And Artificial Sweeteners
Sugar, Agave, Splenda, Sweet n Low, Diet Drinks
Nightshade Vegetables, Out-of-Season Fruit, And Legumes
Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Peas, Sugar snap peas, Green beans, Chickpeas, Soy, Tofu, Edamame, Soy protein, beans, bean sprouts, lentils, squashes, melons, eggplant, bell peppers, chili peppers
Nuts And Seeds
Pumpkin, Sunflower, Chia, Peanuts, Cashews
Whole Grains, Sprouted Grains, Pseudo-grains, And Grasses
Whole grains, oats, quinoa, rye, rice, corn, cornstarch, corn syrup, popcorn
Grapeseed, peanut, safflower, sunflower, partially hydrogenated vegetable or canola
Note: It’s also highly recommended to avoid any grain-fed or soybean-fed beef, lamb, pork, shellfish, fish, and poultry.
Wrapping Up Everything You Need To Know About Lectin Toxicity
In the end, it’s good to know how lectin toxicity can affect your body. Be mindful of avoiding lectin-containing foods. Remember, when you steer clear of certain foods that contain binding lectins, you are doing wonders to support your overall health.