Lectins are a kind of protein which are found in plants. Lectins have been found to have a negative impact on health, but might have some benefits too. Scientists are of the opinion that plants produce them as defense mechanism, in order to keep insects away, and also to deter animals and humans from eating them. Some legumes, beans, certain vegetables and whole grains have a high Lectin content which is why some nutritionists are now advising people to avoid these foods as much as possible. If you feel ill after eating, but have not been able to find out which foods caused that, maybe you should avoid these high Lectin foods.
Why high Lectin content is bad for you?
A diet which is high in lectin is a major cause of inflammation. Inflammation has been associated with a host of health problems, including cancer and heart disease. If you suffer from inflammation, you may have to avoid foods which have a high Lectin content and follow a safe diet.
Lectins can be harmful for mental health too, according to some studies conducted on rats. Rats who ate foods which are very high in lectins, became highly depressed. This is one of the examples which also show the relation between gut and brain, and how the food that we eat has an effect on our mental health. Lectins have also been seen to make RBC (red blood cells) to cluster. So for better gut health you should perhaps stop eating high lectin food or reduce your consumption to a minimum.
If you suffer from diarrhea, nausea and vomiting after eating foods with high Lectin content, it is an indicator that you may be allergic to lectin.
Lectins are therefore categorized as anti-nutrients as they block the absorption of certain nutrients.
What does lectin-free diet mean?
This diet has been popularized by Dr Stephen Gundry, a heart surgeon formerly, who now concentrates on diet and on supplements. According to Dr Gundry, lectins are the main culprits of American diet. His book provides information about the lectin free diet, food to avoid for better health and alternative foods to eat.
The lectin free diet is actually quite restrictive, which might make it tough for most people to follow long-term, especially vegans and vegetarians, as they eat more of vegetables and legumes to stay healthy. The restriction on high fiber foods may cause constipation too. Besides, following a lectin free diet to the letter may be expensive for most people as it recommends expensive supplements, specialty milks and pasture raised meats.
Here are 6 foods which we include in our diet regularly, but which have a high Lectin content.
1. Red kidney beans
These beans are an excellent source of protein and carbohydrates. The carbs they contain have low glycemic value i.e. they release the sugar gradually into blood, causing gradual increase in blood glucose levels. They have resistant starch and insoluble fiber which helps in weight loss and leads to better gut health.
But red kidney beans have high content of phytohaemagglutinin, which is a lectin. If the beans are undercooked their lectin content which is around 20,000-70,000 hau may cause digestion problems and nausea. So if you eat these beans they have to be cooked thoroughly when the lectin content reduces to approx 200-400 hau.
Wheat may be a staple food for you just as it is for about 35% of people worldwide. Refined wheat is anyway avoided by many, due to high GI and almost no nutrients. Whole wheat has high GI too, but it is rich in fiber which is better for a safe diet. Eating whole wheat is desirable as it has many minerals and vitamins and anti-oxidants.
Raw wheat has a high content of lecithin. But it has been seen that cooking whole wheat properly can eliminate lectins almost completely.
Peanuts are also legumes and related to lentils and beans. Peanuts have high content of poly and mono-saturated fats, which is why they are considered as a very good energy food. They are packed with vitamins, antioxidants and also lecithin.
Unfortunately, the Lectin in peanuts is not eliminated by the process of heating. And scientists have found that the lecithin in peanuts may lead to cancer cells multiplying. But the evidence of peanuts being healthy is greater than their being unhealthy. If you feel nauseous or your gut feels uncomfortable, then maybe you can avoid peanuts.
Soybeans have high Lectin content which is eliminated when they are cooked at high temperature, fermented or sprouted. So eat all the soybeans you want, but only after you cook or ferment them.
Tomatoes are high in vitamin C, fiber and lycopene, an antioxidant, as well as lectin. Tomatoes are beneficial for health including providing protection from cancer. The lectin in tomatoes does not seem to harm human health.
Potatoes contain folate, vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants like chlorogenic acid. But they have high Lectin content which seems to be heat resistant. But the lectin in potatoes does not seem to cause any adverse effects and instead reduced inflammation.
Ways to decrease lectin levels
Cooking methods which use moist heat reduce lectins in food. Boiling, fermenting, peeling, sprouting, deseeding and pressure cooking helps to reduce/eliminate lectins.
Other foods which are not allowed on the Gundry diet
Lentils, peas, squashes, nightshade vegetables such as peppers, eggplant, off-season fruit, grains.
Foods allowed in the lectin-free diet
Dr. Gundry’s list of foods which can be eaten while following this diet are:
- Pasture raised meats
- Cooked sweet potatoes
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
- A2 milk
- Onion and garlic
- Extra virgin olive oil and raw olives
- Hemp protein
- Nutritional yeast/Brewer’s yeast
- Homemade bone broth
All foods are healthy in moderation, especially plants, beans and legumes which are the food to avoid in the lectin free diet. Cooking vegetables and beans which have a high content of lectin makes them safe for health and instead of avoiding these foods, you can perhaps follow the right way to eat them.