What Are Lectins?If you have never heard of lectins, you are certainly not alone. The term has remained largely under the radar, even among the health-conscious.
Lectins are a protein found in plant foods that adversely affect the human body when eaten. Lectins are designed to cause harm to whoever eats them- they function as a defense mechanism for plants. As living beings, plants do not want to be eaten. Lectins are supposed to incentivize animals and humans to not eat the plants anymore by making them sick when they eat plants with lectins. The reaction should be that the human or animal no longer eats the food that made them sick. However, most humans simply pop an Advil or acid reducer and go on with their day, not even considering why they are feeling sick. Thus, people continue to eat foods with lectins, despite the negative effect the foods may be having on their health.
Diets high in lectins also cause inflammation. Excessive inflammation is associated with a myriad of chronic health conditions in the long term, including heart disease and cancer. Natural supplements without Lectins and the right nutrients can reduce inflammation. Learn More
In addition to physical symptoms, lectins may also negatively impact your mental health. In animal studies, rats who ate foods high in lectins became depressed. This is just another example of the brain-gut axis at work, and goes to show how what you put into your body affects more than just your physical health.
Lectins Should Not be Confused with Soy Lecithin
An important thing to note is that lectins are not the same thing as soy lecithin. Soy lecithin is an extract originally taken from egg yolks, but now derived from a variety of sources including cottonseed, soybeans, and sunflower. It is typically used as an added emulsifier to processed foods, as well as some medications and supplements. Though they are two different things, soy lecithin can cause some of the same side effects as lectins, such as bloating and diarrhea. To play it safe, try to steer clear of both lectins and soy lecithin if you regularly experience digestional discomfort.
Should You Be Lectin Free?No one wants a to hear a long lecture on what they should or should not eat. But, if you struggle with symptoms of food intolerance but have yet to find the source, you may benefit from a lectin-free diet.
If you have Celiacs disease or are gluten intolerant, you will most likely benefit from removing lectins from your diet. In fact, gluten is a type of lectin. But, lectins are found in more foods than gluten. Some people who think they are allergic or sensitive to gluten are actually having a reaction to lectins.
Is A Lectin Free Diet Harmful?Eliminating lectins from your diet is not harmful in itself. However, it is important to note that a lectin free diet is very restrictive, and eliminates some nutrient dense foods from your diet. So you do need to make sure you are eating enough nutritious, lectin free foods to make up for that loss. And, because not everyone needs to go lectin-free, you may be unnecessarily restricting yourself.
If you do decide to go lectin-free, stay on top of your health and nutrient intake by eating plenty of lectin-free plants like leafy greens, broccoli, and avocados. Regularly taking a nootropic supplement can also ensure that you feel your best even when transitioning into a new diet.
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What Foods Are High in Lectins?If you want to experiment with lowering the amount of lectins in your diet, these are the top foods with lectins to avoid.
Red Kidney BeansRed kidney beans are one of the most lectin-rich foods out there. Though they are high in fiber and plant based proteins, the high lectin content can cause negative consequences for many people. Red kidney beans become particularly problematic when they are undercooked. Even eating as few as five undercooked red kidney beans can cause extreme nausea and diarrhea.
SoybeansAlong with red kidney beans, soybeans are one of the higher-lectin foods to avoid. Soybeans do provide a solid amount of protein for a plant food, and are high in nutrients such as phosphorus and thiamine. Still, their high lectin content means they may not be the best choice for a healthy diet.
If you must keep soybeans in your diet, pay special attention to how they are prepared. The way to go with soybeans may be fermentation- one study found that fermenting soybeans reduced lectin content by 95%. Fermented soybeans can be found in foods like miso and tempeh. But, if possible, it is best to completely eliminate soybeans from the diet in order to see how you feel on a lectin free diet.
CornMany people turn to corn when trying to eliminate overly processed grains from their diet. Corn is a healthier source of carbohydrates because it can be eaten in its whole, natural form. However, the lectins in corn means it may not be as healthy as many people think. It is best to avoid corn when trying to go lectin-free.
Casein A1 MilkCasein A1 is a protein found in most store bought milks, and is high in lectins. Rather, focus on dairy products with casein A2 protein, like goat’s and sheep’s milk and the cheeses made from these sources. Casein A2 dairy is free of lectins and will not cause the same negative autoimmune response as A1 milk.
Despite the name, peanuts are not actually a nut. Unbeknownst to many, peanuts are actually a legume. As a legume, peanuts have high lectin content. And, unlike many other foods on this list, lectin content cannot be reduced by cooking because you do not cook peanuts before eating.
Peanuts are a particularly worrisome source of lectins, as studies have found that the lectins can cross from the gut into the blood, and, in one test tube study, even was associated with increased cancer cell growth. It is in your best interest to ditch the peanuts and stick with cashews and walnuts to get your nut fix.
Tomatoes have many health benefits, like their high lycopene content. Unfortunately, the savory fruit also contains lectins. The good news is that there is no evidence that lectins in tomatoes pass through the gut into the bloodstream. Still, all lectins can cause feelings of sickness.
PotatoesAlong with corn, potatoes are a popular starchy carbohydrate choice for people trying to follow a healthy, whole-foods based diet. But, like all nightshades, they do contain lectin. And, unlike some other foods on this list, the lectins in potatoes are resistant to heat. One study found that cooking did not eliminate 40-50% of the lectins found in potatoes.
SquashSquash are a healthy source of nutrient rich carbohydrates. But, the seeds and skin of squash are very high in lectins. When you eat squash in any of its forms, be sure to remove the skin and seeds. If you do so, you should be good to go.
Out of Season FruitLike squash, most fruits have high levels of lectin in their skin and seeds. Unlike squash, it is hard to avoid eating the skin and seeds of must fruit. In season fruit tends to be lower in lectins than out of season produce, so try to limit your fruit intake to in-season varieties, in moderation.
Many people already avoid wheat due to its gluten content and the highly processed nature of the products like bread and pasta. If you were not avoiding wheat before, you may want to start now. Because wheat has lectins in it, it may be causing health problems, even if you are not gluten intolerant. This may explain why so many people say they simply “feel better” after cutting out gluten, even if they do not have Celiac’s disease.
What Foods Are High in Polyphenols and Low in Lectins?Polyphenols are plant-based chemicals that have many health benefits, like lowered blood pressure and improved brain function. Unfortunately, some foods that are high in polyphenols are also high in lectins. Thus, when eliminating lectins from your diet, it is important to eat sufficient high polyphenol, but lectin-free, foods. Eating these foods ensures you will not miss out on the benefits of polyphenols when trying to avoid lectins:
If you want to experiment with eliminating foods with high lectin content from your diet, be sure you eat an adequate amount of nutrient dense, high polyphenol foods. If you do not think that going lectin-free is right for you, still try to eat a large variety of plant based foods, quality protein sources, and take healthy supplements in order to keep feeling your best.