There are many bad-for-you foods out there; making it pretty hard to know where to begin when it comes to eating for optimal health. And the truth is, labels like “natural,” “healthy,” and “light” can be misleading. If these so-called ‘healthy foods’ contain plant lectins, their calorie content won’t matter because they’re still damaging to your health.
Dietary lectins are antinutrients found in all sorts of foods like wheat, whole grains, raw kidney beans, nightshade vegetables, and more. Familiarizing yourself with the lectin content of lectin-containing foods may help you lower your lectin levels and support your digestive tract.
But one question remains: Which plants have lectins? And can a lectin-free diet help address weight gain, autoimmune disease, bloating, and digestive tract issues?
What You Should Know About Lectins
Lectins are plant proteins that bind to carbohydrates and sugars on the surface of most of the cells in your body.1 Lectins are not part of the plant’s good-for-you vitamins or minerals. And though they are technically proteins, they have absolutely no nutritional value.
The problem with plant lectins is that your digestive enzymes can’t properly degrade them. Not only that, but lectins also typically like to attack your gut epithelial cells, and those types of attacks can bring about effects that make it feel like you’ve experienced food poisoning.2 They can also cause damage to your immune system, digestive tract, and heart health when consumed in high amounts.3
Some of the acute effects that might occur after you ingest lectins are —
Furthermore, lectins prohibit your body’s immune defenders, from proliferating or growing.6 Yet another vote in favor of eliminating lectins from your diet.
It’s also important to recognize that when animals eat (or are fed) high lectin level foods (and many farmed animals are), you’re not only ingesting the protein but the lectins the animal consumed before it ended up on your plate.
At this point, your best course of action should be clear: do whatever you can to avoid lectin-filled fruits, vegetables, animal proteins, and grains. But, for the purposes of this article, let’s focus on plant foods that contain lectins.
What To Eat And Avoid On The Lectin-free Diet
Let’s start with high-lectin foods to avoid on a lectin-free diet. The following foods are absolutely bursting with lectins and should be avoided as much as possible.
Nightshade vegetables are some of the worst lectin-offenders out there. These consist of the following plant foods:
- Potatoes (white/red)
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
- Hot peppers
- Curry powder
- Chili powder
- Cayenne powder
- Red pepper
- Goji berries
- Ground cherries
Along with lectins, nightshade foods also contain a significant amount of solanine, a natural chemical that some healthcare officials think could aggravate the swelling and discomfort connected to rheumatoid arthritis.7
Nuts and legumes make up another broad category of foods to avoid, though there are some lectin-friendly ways to prepare legumes (namely by using a pressure cooker). There are also a handful of lectin-friendly nuts. You’ll find those below. For now, try to avoid these nuts and legumes:
- Lentil pasta
- Pea protein
Grains are another biggie. When trying to consider the types of grains to avoid, it’s much easier to list the two grains you can have instead of the laundry list of grains (wheat, barley, rye, et al.) that you should steer clear of.
So, if you’re hungry for grains, you can allow yourself to consume millet and sorghum. Every other grain (and that means grain-based foods like cereals, rice, pasta, and bread or cakes) should be avoided. While this may make you wary of a lectin-free diet, rest assured that there are hundreds of recipes for lectin-friendly and lectin-free bread, desserts, and breakfast foods.
Diet Guidelines And Tips: Plant Foods To Enjoy On A Lectin-free Diet
Luckily, there are so many wonderful plant foods you can still enjoy. You’ll notice the list below is full of fantastic resistant starches, cruciferous veggies, and leafy greens.
Just look at all of the beautiful vegetables, plant oils, spices, herbs, and plant foods you can sink your teeth into, even while limiting your lectin intake. (Let’s start with the fun stuff).
- Champagne (6 oz /day)
- Red Wine (6 oz./day)
- Dark Spirits
- Dark chocolate (72%+ and 1oz/day)
- Millet Cereal
- Baobab fruit
- Celery root
- Green bananas
- Green mango
- Green papaya
- Green plantains
- Sweet potatoes
- Taro root
- Tiger nuts
- Bamboo Shoots
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Chinese cabbage
- Dandelion greens
- Fiddlehead fern
- Hearts of palm
- Jerusalem artichokes
- All leafy greens
- Mustard greens
- Napa cabbage
- Nopales cactus
- Raw sauerkraut
- Sea vegetables
- Swiss chard
- Water Chestnuts
- Hemp seeds
- Macadamia nuts
- Pine nuts
- Sesame seeds
If you’d like to see the entire list of Dr. Gundry-approved plant foods, click here.
Smart Plant Food Choices For Lectin-free Living
Once you familiarize yourself with lectin-heavy foods, you’ll know what to avoid. And again, lectin-free plant foods are everywhere. You just need to know where to look for them. The lists above is a great start.
No matter what your health goals are, a lectin-free life can offer support. If you’re struggling with weight loss, swelling, or stomach discomfort, try eliminating lectins and see how your body responds. You’ll likely be pleased you made an effort.