What’s The Deal With Lectins?
If you are submerged into the nutrition world, there’s no doubt you have heard about lectins. It has become a hot topic with health and wellness enthusiasts in North America because of harmful side effects it can possibly cause in the body. But before you make any rash changes to your current healthy food choices, do you even know what lectin is and why people are avoiding it now?
We’re going to break down what it is, what happens in the body when they are consumed and even tell you how to remove those foods!
Well, What Exactly Are Lectins?
Lectins are a type of protein that binds to carbohydrate molecules and sticks to the cell membranes. Imagine that the surface of a molecule has Velcro on it when certain molecules pass by, they attach itself to the Velcro. The “Velcro” parts are the lectins. Lectins can be necessary for certain physiological functions, but some harmful effects have recently come to light because even viruses and bad bacteria can stick to the lectins. (More on that later on in the article.)
Where Are Lectins Found?
Lectins are found in about 30% of food – seems like quite a bit doesn’t it?
The highest concentration is found in beans, legumes and grains, especially all those whole and ancient grains that all of us healthy individuals are consuming on the daily (don’t worry yet though…). It is also found in grain-fed animal and animal products such as ice cream, cheese, milk, yogurt, pretty much any food product that is made from animals.
The Effect Of Lectins In The Body
Most lectins can be toxic because they cannot be digested by the body. When we consume them, they eventually enter the gut and can wreak havoc. Naturally, our gut lining may have small tears or holes that are caused by certain food particles. However, normally these are fixed up quickly through natural cellular repair. But lectins can prevent this repair process from happening. If our gut lining cannot be repaired, it can cause leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome can be dangerous and cause lots of discomfort because that means undigested food particles are being leaked into the bloodstream, instead of eliminated through the body. Eventually, this can lead to improper absorption of nutrients and can cause autoimmune responses in the body. The body will see the undigested food particle that is in the bloodstream (remember that in a healthy person, they are not supposed to be there) and attack it as if it was an invader. This can cause skin rashes, joint pain and inflammation. Some people even believe that lectins are the causes of other autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes and Celiac disease, but there has not been enough research to confirm this.
Lectins usually cause digestive discomfort and if a high amount is consumed, the body may signal the gut to evacuate all its contents. That means vomiting, cramping and diarrhea. It has even been discussed that lectins may be the cause of food poisoning!
Why Are Lectins So Popular Now?
Dr. Steven Grundy is a former heart surgeon who recently popularized lectins, and why people should be avoiding them. He created what they call the “lectin-free” diet and has done research and written books saying he has discovered new facts about nutrition and what people need to be eating and avoiding. A lectin-free diet can be quite restrictive because it is in a lot of healthy vegetables, fruits and whole grains that are all necessary to provide fiber, vitamins and minerals. This can be somewhat worrisome that people are being told to eat less of these foods in a nation that already does not consume enough whole, natural foods.
According to Dr. Grundy, he believes people should avoid eating:
- all legumes
- nightshade vegetables (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes)
- all grains
Here is a list of foods that Dr. Grundy believes are good to eat and should make up most of the diet.
- Grass-fed animals and animal products (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.)
- Cooked sweet potatoes
- Leafy greens
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, asparagus)
- Garlic and Onion
- Olive and Olive oil
As you can see there is not much to work with there. Luckily, there are ways that you can remove most, if not all of any harmful lectins from all your favorite healthy foods.
Removing Lectins Naturally
When you sprout seeds, grains or beans it greatly decreases the number of lectins in the foods. The longer you sprout, the more lectins are destroyed. However, it has been said that sprouting alfalfa and lentils can actually increase the lectin content so that may be something to think about.
When it comes to whole grains in bread, sprouted bread is now being more and more popular. The grains are sprouted before the bread is made making it easier to digest and increases the nutrient content and decreases the lectin content.
The pre-cooking step of soaking beans and legumes has been around for years, as this is probably why! You would never eat a raw bean or legume so be sure to soak them at least overnight, changing the water often before boiling them.
Soaking nuts to reduce lectin content and make the nutrients more bioavailable to the body is also a popular trend. Some even say it makes them taste that much better! Don’t forget that you have to dehydrate your nuts until they are completely dry after you soak. If you leave nuts like almonds or cashews damp, it may cause mold to grow- defeating the whole purpose!
Fermented foods contain good bacteria that are essential for gut health. This is especially important because all the reasons we listed earlier in the article about how lectin may wreak havoc in the gut. Miso, tempeh, tamari and natto are popular fermented foods that you see on the grocery store shelves today.
All of these steps to avoid lectins may seem lengthy and time-consuming. Luckily, many food brands, especially in health food stores, are starting to carry products that are already pre-soaked, fermented or sprouted for you!
Before you go and stop eating everything that may contain lectin in it. Do your own research and talk to a healthcare professional. Removing healthy whole foods from your diet may do you more harm than good.
However, if you do want to cook a few lectin-free meals, here are some LFLC recipes you can try tonight!
This avocado egg salad is a perfect lectin-free lunch or dinner option. Just be sure to buy grass-fed eggs, yogurt and sour cream! Plus, it contains a high amount of healthy fats that will keep you fuller for longer.
A shrimp scampi dish made with two cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, is another great option. It’s even gluten-free!
This is an LFLC favorite recipe! Be sure to buy sprouted quinoa and think about soaking your almonds beforehand. Don’t forget to buy feta that is made from grass-fed cows!
If you’re craving a lectin-free burger, then this turkey burger salad is the perfect thing! It’s gluten-free and full of flavor!
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