There are quite a few reasons rice has become such a popular dietary staple throughout the centuries. Rice may seem to complement every different flavor, vegetable, and animal product, but, whether you’re cooking wild rice, white rice, or any other variety, there’s something you should know —
There are loads of dangerous plant lectins in whole grains like rice.
So even if you’re using a pressure cooker to prepare rice, be mindful. It’s not quite the health food you once thought it was. In other words, rice is not nice.
But First: What Are Lectins?
Let’s take a quick look at lectins to see why they’re problematic.
Lectins are the plant kingdom’s major form of defense from predators. Lectins are toxic proteins that help keep humans and animals from repeatedly eating particular plants.1
It’s food intolerance 101: If it hurts when you eat it, don’t eat it. Here’s how lectins work: The lectin’s intention is to make the human consumer or animal sick. Think of lectins as ANTInutrients. So, if the lectin in a certain plant makes one uncomfortable, the plant’s logic is that the predator will know better than to return for more food later. Thus, the plant has protected itself from further attacks.
The thing is, in some cases, lectins can actually go as far as to poison those who eat them. They’re powerful because unlike other toxins, lectins cannot be easily broken down by your stomach acid or your digestive enzymes. Though small, these plant proteins are so powerful, they can disrupt your immune system.
Take ricin, for instance. Ricin happens to be a lectin that defends the castor bean plant against any creature who might want to eat it. In fact, the lectin ricin is such an effective toxin, it has caused serious harm to people acting, in a way, like food poisoning. Believe it or not, ricin has actually been employed as a biological weapon in some instances.2
While not all lectins are as harmful as ricin, they can still cause serious damage to your body over time. That’s why it’s best to avoid lectins altogether.
How Can Lectins Wreak Havoc On Your System?
Lectins bind themselves to the sugar molecules in your body — wherever those sugars can be located. Sometimes sugar molecules can be found in the form of blood sugar. Other sugars make they’re way through your digestive system or even your nervous system. When lectins latch on to these molecules in your cell membranes, they’re like little parasites and they can mess with your immune response and tear the cells in your gut lining.3
Your gut lining is there to help protect your digestive system from encountering dangerous microbes. But if lectins break down your gut barrier, your immune system can run haywire.
For many people, the experience of lectin consumption might lead to symptoms like bloating, vomiting, or upset stomach. It’s very similar to food poisoning.4 Lectin poisoning has also been linked to feelings of severe abdominal pain and even diarrhea.5
What Is A Lectin-Free Diet?
In the most simple terms, a lectin-free diet is one that consists of a variety of non-lectin foods. There is a massive variety of non-lectin plant food out there. Lectin-free living is all about learning which plant foods contain lectins and which do not.
So for example, you’ll want to focus on leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms, and carrots. But there are many more natural foods to enjoy while on a lectin-free food regimen.
Still, one food you’ll absolutely want to avoid on a lectin-free diet is rice. Let’s learn more about why rice should be avoided, or at least consumed in moderation.
Why The Lectins In Rice Should Be Avoided
When food processing practices changed throughout the world, about a thousand years ago, cooks learned they could eliminate the harder-to-digest fibrous parts of rice and other grains. This was the birth of a class of grains called refined grains.
Because the hulls of whole grains sometimes upset the stomach, higher class society consumed refined grains like not-so-good-for-you white rice or white bread. Whole grains were relegated to lower class members of society. But neither sect was really getting what they needed nutritionally.
The thing is, whole grains like brown rice and wild rice, are higher in lectins than the refined grains that have been stripped of their hull ( the hull is very lectin-heavy). But, the stripping process that refines grains like white rice happens at extremely high temperatures. These higher temperatures can seriously affect the quality of the rice.
Turns out, the heating process strips rice of most of its nutritional content and diminishes the number of amino acids in the grain depleting it of nutritional value.6 So all of the things that gave the rice its value — like iron, vitamin E, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and more — disappear when creating white rice.
This information may seem contradictory to you because the health food industry has peddled the idea that whole-grain products are healthy. But it’s just not so. Wheat germ agglutinin and other nasty lectins really should have no place in your diet.
Lectins like wheat germ agglutinin or the g protein found in rice can cause trouble throughout your system. They can damage the tissues in your body, even if you’re not officially allergic to them. For instance, many people who are allergic to gluten lectins in other whole grains believe they can consume rice without concern.
Scientists are learning more about these nasty little lectin proteins every day. One process of dissection proving useful in lectin research is called polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis. Using test tubes, the process recently uncovered that while there is no gluten lectin in white rice, there is in fact a gluten-like lectin in white rice.7
For reference, wheat germ agglutinin (commonly referred to as gluten) has been shown to disrupt metabolic processes and regular gut function.8 One can assume the gluten-like lectin in rice might be linked to similar types of compromised digestive function and discomfort.
So, even though the food industry would have you believe otherwise, refined grains are as much of a disaster as whole grains. That’s why it’s recommended on a lectin-free diet to completely avoid whole grain bread, sourdough bread, pastries, and rice. They’re nutritional no-nos. But they’re not the only ones…
Which Other Foods Contain Lectins?
Like rice, many grains are a staple of diets all over the world. But most grains contain potentially harmful lectins. The wheat germ in most grains contains the lectin agglutinin.9 With the exception of lectin-free sorghum and millet, you really should avoid grains at all costs.
Legumes also contain tons of lectins. Beans, lentils, and peas have more lectins than almost any other plant food. Kidney beans have extremely high lectin counts. The consumption of undercooked kidney beans is sometimes linked to severe digestive problems. The lectin in question when it comes to kidney beans is phytohaemagglutinin. Pressure cooking these legumes can help cut down on damaging lectins, but it’s better to avoid legumes altogether.10
Now, contrary to popular belief, there are tons of vegetables and fruits out there that are brimming with lectins. There is a camp of veggies known as “nightshades.” These should always be avoided. Tomatoes, zucchinis, and potatoes are nightshades.11 If you must consume these foods, make sure to take away the peels, rinds, and seeds and use a pressure cooker. But again, it’s best to avoid nightshades altogether.
Finally, when it comes to animal products like milk, you need to be careful too. Though milk isn’t derived from plants, the cows that produce milk eat one thing all day long — plants. Cow milk contains a protein that is eerily similar to the casein A1 lectin. When your body processes casein A1 it can sometimes be linked to pancreatic damage.12 If you must have milk, look for casein A2 milk, sheep, or goat milk.
Which Foods Are Free Of Lectins?
Again, not all vegetables and grains have lectins. Cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are amazing for your health. Plus veggies like celery, garlic, cabbage, and onions contain no lectins either. Plant foods like millet and sorghum grains are great when dining lectin-free.
If you think you’ll miss rice, try giving cauliflower rice a try. You can also load up on resistant starches like sweet potatoes, taro root, and jicama to satisfy your craving for rice-based comfort dishes. Baked and mashed, sweet potatoes are a great way to mimic dangerous starches like rice while avoiding the lectin consumption.
One of the best lectin-free plant foods out there is the avocado. Unlike almost all other fruit, ripe avocado is lectin-free and packed with good-for-you antioxidants. Plus, avocados are significant sources of fiber and healthy fats.13 Another food you really can’t go wrong with is olive oil. All the minerals and vitamins in olive oil are crucial and can be really beneficial. Olive oil is full of calcium, potassium, and vitamin E. Due to it’s no-lectin, high-vitamin content, olive oil has even been known to support your immune system.14
Getting Rid Of Rice: Ditch The Lectins In Rice
In the end, you really should replace your rice with something nice. It may be time to research some resistant starches like sweet potatoes and other lectin-free grains like millet.
Give yourself a couple of weeks without rice and see how you feel. You may just eliminate the food that is keeping you from living your healthiest and most comfortable life.