Integrative Nutrition Blog

Lectins – Love ’Em or Leave ’Em?

February 3, 2018

Image via Shutterstock.

Are lectins the newest trendy toxin or something you should actually consider removing from your diet?

What are lectins?
Lectins are a type of protein that bind to carbohydrates in the body and seem to play a role in immunity.

Why are people going lectin-free?
Lectins have been named the “next gluten,” and people are starting to experiment with reducing lectins in their diet. What you may not, though, is that gluten actually is a lectin. But unlike going gluten-free, to reduce lectins in the diet, you’ll have to remove more than just wheat, rye, and barley. You’ll also have to take out many dairy products, whole grains, most fruit, several varieties of seeds, soy, certain veggies, and all legumes and beans.
Lectins stay mostly undigested in the gut and can attach to its lining. Too much lectin may damage the wall and increase the risk of leaky gut. In turn, this can add inflammation and increase the risk for other things like obesity, autoimmune conditions, and irritable bowel syndrome. This is why many are starting to nix legumes and other high-lectin foods. In fact, in their raw form, beans and legumes can actually contain toxic amounts of lectins, which can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

What’s the controversy?
Before you give up lectins, you should know that they might not be all bad. Most of the research on lectins actually focuses on their good properties – like helping to shrink tumors. Lectins can seem alarming, but most lectins in the diet (excluding gluten) are nearly eliminated through proper cooking. In addition to cooking beans and legumes properly, soaking, sprouting, and fermenting them can also help to decrease lectins.
Lectins are found in highly nutritious foods, whose benefits are likely to outweigh potential damage for most people. Eating fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains – staples of the Mediterranean diet – has consistently been shown to increase longevity and decrease chronic disease risk. These foods are full of phytochemicals that help reduce inflammation and, in general, support a long and healthy life.
The CDC reports that only one in ten Americans actually meets recommendations for fruits and vegetables, and chronic diseases are at an all-time high. It seems that many aren’t currently eating enough of these whole foods.
Of course, at IIN, we know that there are a variety of diets that may work for people – what works for one person won’t necessarily work for someone else. What do you think? Have you tried reducing lectins in your diet? Share and post your thoughts!

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