Lectins have received a lot of attention over the past year or so, in part due to the book “The Plant Paradox” and the celebrity endorsement it has received.
The book highlights the hidden dangers in “healthy” foods that can lead to disease.
What are these so called hidden dangers?
The idea has been put out into the universe that lectins can cause or exacerbate (make worse) certain auto-immune diseases, allergies and cancer through causing inflammation in the body.
Where do we find lectins?
Although lectins can be found in most plant foods, legumes (beans) and grains contain the highest amount of them.
Lectin containing foods:
- Dry beans, peas and lentils
- Vegetables and Fruit
- Gluten containing grains (wheat germ in particular)
- Herbs and spices
- Peppermint, marjoram, nutmeg
So, what are lectins and are they really all that bad?
Lectins are naturally occurring proteins found in many plant foods that are known to bind to nutrients and the cells within our gut walls. Lectins are actually apart of a plants self defense system — imagine you’re a plant, minding your own business, wanting to grow enough to pass along your seeds so that future generations of you can grow — the lectins you contain help prevent animals or insects from eating you!
Lectins are why you would get extremely sick if you ate raw or under-cooked kidney beans (please don’t try this at home) and also what contribute to getting gassy after a bean-y meal.
The research on lectins and their benefits/consequences is still emerging. There are also many, many different types of lectins and you cannot blanket statement that ALL lectins have detrimental health consequences. In fact, several lectins have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties!
As you can see from the list above, lectin containing foods are nutritious, whole, plant foods! It is thought that the lectins found in fruits and vegetables are not harmful and do not have the same affects as lectins found in beans and grains for example! This is likely why you can eat a raw tomato and not get violently ill, like you would if you ate raw kidney beans.
Can you reduce the lectin content of foods?
Luckily, cooking, soaking, sprouting or fermenting legumes and grains helps destroy most lectins and weakens their ability to bind to cells or other nutrients found in food.
As a safe rule of thumb …
Boil your beans for a minimum 10 minutes, particularly kidney beans. Note that preparing dry beans in a slow cooker isn’t always the safest way — the temperature may not get hot enough to destroy a majority of the lectins. Germinating your beans i.e. placing raw beans on a damp paper towel and letting them sprout, is also not an effective means of reducing lectin content.
We have strong evidence that eating a diet centered around whole, plant-based foods and including a variety of fruit, vegetable, lentils, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds, reduces your risk of chronic disease, cancer and can actually help REDUCE inflammation in the body.
The research around lectins and adverse health effects is still emerging and there is some existing evidence that eating lectins can be beneficial to our health.
Be mindful of how you cook and prepare your food, particularly if you buy and prepare your own dried beans and lentils.
As always, eat what feels best for your body. If you find that eating some of these foods don’t make you feel good – work with a dietitian (hi!) to ensure that you are still getting adequate nutrition!