What are Lectins?
Lectins are the plant-based proteins, naturally occurring in certain foods such as beans, legumes, nuts, tomatoes, pepper, and eggplants. They can also be found in grains, food, and animals fed with corn.
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that stick to the cell membrane of the digestive tract. It disrupts cell communication and increases inflammation leading to poor gut health including digestive problems. It is yet believed by many nutritionists that lectin-containing foods should not be actively avoided.(1)
Ricin is a type of lectin that is toxic, whereas others are not. Lectin is water-soluble and soaking food containing lectin, in water, can help eliminate it.
A study shows that 30 percent of foods we eat contain lectins and if these foods are cooked properly, they would not be of much trouble.(2)
Benefits of Lectin-Free Diet
- Lectin-free diet can be beneficial for health as it can help reduce gas and bloating, boost energy, improve mood, reduce the chances of getting sick, heal the gut, and help with weight loss. Although, there is no evidence supporting it.
- As the lectin sticks to the cell membrane of the digestive tract and causes stomach issues, it is good to be avoided by those suffering from colitis or Crohn’s disease.
- Lectins are known to cluster red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. This can deprive the muscle of oxygen, making them work less efficiently. Eating a lectin-free diet can help avoid it.
- Lectins are considered anti-nutrients, as they affect how the body absorbs calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and iron. A diet free from lectin is beneficial in this sphere as well.
Risk of Eating A Lectin-Free Diet
- Being on a lectin-free diet means you are avoiding a lot of healthy foods. It puts a cut on major categories of food such as grains and legumes.
- It may be a risk to carbohydrate in the diet that is essential for the body to function.
- Most of the lectin-containing foods are not eaten raw. In the raw state, these foods have the highest lectin levels. These foods also contain prebiotics which feeds the healthy gut flora (3). Eating a lectin-free diet or avoiding food containing lectin can lead to constipation.
- Missing out on whole grains, beans, and certain vegetables may affect gastrointestinal health as well as cholesterol management. It may be associated with the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A study supports that consuming whole grains lowers the risk of mortality form cardiovascular diseases.(4)
- Lectins provide proteins, healthy fats, fiber, minerals, and B vitamins to the body. Omitting lectins from the diet can make it difficult for the body to thrive.
Foods To Eat And Avoid When Following A Lectin-Free Diet
All plant and animal products contain lectins. Foods that are low in lectin scale and that can be taken are:
- Bok choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Nuts including pecans, pistachios, flax seeds, hemp seeds, brazil nuts, and sesame seeds
- Leafy greens
- Sweet potatoes
- Swiss chard
Certain foods contain high level of lectin and should be avoided. These include:
- Nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, goji berries, egg plant and pepper
- Legumes such as lentils, beans, chickpeas, and peanuts
- Peanut-based products
- Dairy products such as milk
- All gain and products made from grain such as grain flour that includes cake, cracker, and bread
There is no scientific evidence supporting that consuming lectin can be lethal. The lectin-free diet is beneficial for those with food intolerances and inflammatory bowel disease.
More research is required to make lectin-free diet a plan, that has well-documented support.