A naturally occurring protein called lectin can be found in various vegetables, whole grains, beans, and legumes. Lectins recently became well-known when heart surgeon Steven Gundry, MD, singled them out in his book The Plant Paradox. He claims in the book that lectins are harmful because they worsen inflammation, lead to digestive problems, and result in chronic diseases. They can also make you fat, oh yeah. Yikes.
Many people have eliminated lectin-rich foods from their diets as a result of this (including Kelly Clarkson, who says she lost 37 pounds without exercising after reading The Plant Paradox). But does it actually pay off, and are there any drawbacks you should be aware of? What you need to know about eating lectin-free is provided here.
How do lectins work?
Plant proteins known as lectins bind to specific sugars. Plants may use lectins as a form of defence to deter animals and insects from eating them. Because they obstruct digestion and nutrient absorption, Dr. Gundry claims that they are frequently referred to as “antinutrients.”
Foods high in lectins
- Beans and legumes, including soy and peanuts
- Whole grains
- Nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers
- Cow’s milk and eggs (because dairy cows and commercial chickens are fed lectin-containing grains like wheat and corn)
Are lectins bad for you?
Some people believe that lectins have inflammatory properties. One of the allegations, according to Christine Palumbo, RD, a registered dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Nominating Committee, is that they incite “biological warfare” in the body, which can lead to weight gain, digestive issues, acne, arthritis, and brain fog.
Those are some serious accusations, and they aren’t entirely untrue. Phytohaemagglutinin is a particular kind of lectin found in red kidney beans. If you eat the beans raw, which you probably would never even consider doing, it can be toxic even in small amounts. According to the FDA, cooking them makes the lectin inert and harmless. (Dried kidney beans cooked in a slow cooker are the only exception; the temperature isn’t high enough to render the lectin inactive.)
Additionally, some studies have discovered that some lectins can harm the digestive system. The majority of experts concur, however, that humans cannot really benefit from the findings. They did not examine lectins in relation to food; instead, they examined isolated, purified lectins. And they have been carried out on animals or in test tubes, says Megan Meyer, PhD, the International Food Information Council Foundation’s director of scientific communication. “I haven’t seen anything that looks at lectins in the diet with human studies, or even in clinically relevant situations.”
How to maintain a diet free of lectins?
If you’re concerned about how lectin-containing foods are affecting your health, you can cut down on the amount of lectins in your diet by avoiding packaged or processed foods. They can also be plainly visible, such as in a jar of tomato sauce or a can of black bean soup. However, sometimes they are cunning: for instance, your store-bought salad dressing may contain a soy-based thickener or your breakfast cereal may contain a corn-based sweetener.
Dr. Gundry advises soaking beans and grains before cooking them to help reduce the amount of lectins because he is aware that eliminating lectin-containing foods entirely is difficult. Additionally, he claims that fermenting, peeling, and deseeding can be helpful.
What to eat on a lectin-free diet
According to the FDA, cooking the beans makes the lectin inert and harmless. (Dried kidney beans cooked in a slow cooker are the only exception; the temperature isn’t high enough to render the lectin inactive.) The FDA also suggests soaking beans for at least five hours in water, draining them, and then boiling them for at least 30 minutes in fresh water. This recommendation is based on British studies.
Nevertheless, there are lots of delicious lectin-free foods available. Check out this comprehensive list of foods free of lectins, which includes:
- Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower and Brussels sprouts
- Olive oil
- Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Romaine lettuce
- Herbs such as parsley, mint, basil, and cilantro
Are there risks of a lectin-free diet?
No, a lectin-free diet is probably not harmful to you. However, according to Palumbo and Meyer, it probably won’t help you either. Not only would it be extremely challenging, but there is also little solid proof that you might gain anything. According to Palumbo, “These fearmongers who want to sell books are charlatans.” They are searching for that tiny detail that they can exaggerate into a dramatic assertion. It’s based on some accurate information, but it’s not the whole picture.
Additionally, there’s a chance that you would skip out on some crucial nutrients. Fiber is abundant in whole grains, beans, and vegetables and is well known for helping people maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of heart disease, and support normal blood sugar levels. So, according to Meyer, the research suggests the opposite. “These foods benefit us, not harm us.”
The sole instance? According to Palumbo, there’s no harm in trying to eliminate lectins if you have digestive issues and haven’t found relief by doing so with other foods (like gluten or FODMAPs). Just be sure to collaborate with a registered dietitian, ideally one who focuses on digestive problems. They can keep an eye on your diet to make sure you’re getting rid of foods the right way while still getting all the nutrition you require.