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Are Lectins Bad For You

September 04, 2017


In your journey toward better health and wellness, you may have encountered the topic of lectins. While there is a decent amount of literature about lectins, the topic has not received much in-depth coverage. Despite the lack of attention, it is essential to understand the impact of lectins on your health. Learn what lectins are, what their purpose is, how the human body reacts to lectins, what foods contain the highest levels of lectins, and discover the answer to the question “are lectins bad for you?”


What are lectins?

Before delving deeper into the subject of lectins, let’s first define what they are. Lectins are plant proteins. These carbohydrate-binding proteins are found in a surprisingly high number of plants. Many of these plants are edible, which results in frequent human and animal lectin exposure. Later on, you will learn which foods you should avoid to reduce your exposure to lectins.


What is the purpose of lectins?

Lectins serve an incredibly important role in the life of a plant. Plants containing the protein use lectins as a defense mechanism to preserve their survival. Lectins have even been referred to as “one of nature’s greatest defenses” because of their ability to thwart off predators. Why? Due to the uncomfortable symptoms that they cause, it is thought that lectins are intended to discourage consumption among both humans and animals. Lectins essentially attempt to produce a food aversion, which helps preserve the plant for future generations. While this incredibly smart design is wonderful for the plants lectins serve, it isn’t good for those who consume lectin rich foods. As discussed in the next section, the human body is not immune to the negative symptoms produced by lectins.


How does the human body react to lectins?

When considering if lectins are bad for you, it is essential to understand the full impact of lectins on the human body. How do the various systems in the body react to this specific plant protein? It turns out that we don’t process lectins well. In fact, lectins cannot be digested by the human body, and all people have antibodies to lectins. Instead of being broken down and used for a specific purpose, lectins pass through the intestinal tract. After making their way through the intestinal tract, lectins move into the blood stream.

Depending on the type of lectin(s) introduced to the body, specific symptoms and the severity of those symptoms varies. One concerning effect of lectins is the way that they block the absorption of nutrients within the body. Another major issue is the damage lectins cause to the lining of the gut. This damage can make you increasingly more allergic to various types of foods, causing a potential increase in related health problems. Additionally, research on plant agglutinins suggests that people with specific blood types are more susceptible to the damaging impacts of lectins.

So how do we answer the question, “are lectin’s bad for you? ” Some lectins are always bad, since they are toxic even in small doses. These specific types of lectins quickly produce scary digestive symptoms. Lectins such as castor bean ricin and white kidney bean agglutinins are highly toxic, and should not be consumed to prevent vomiting and severe digestive issues to start.

  are lectins bad for you infographic  

Symptoms of Lectin Exposure

As described above, the type and severity of lectin exposure symptoms varies depending on a number of factors. However, there is a list of common symptoms that are associated with lectin exposure. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms on a frequent basis you may wonder, are lectins bad for you. Without a diagnosed cause, lectins could be the root cause if you suffer with:

  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Leaky gut
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Many individuals (even those who are health conscious) don’t know if lectins are bad due to the lack of education about the subject. Media outlets, as well as healthy living websites and publications often focus their efforts on covering the “trendy” health topics of the moment. As a result, many people miss out on learning about the potential effects of lesser known substances. Since humans are unable to digest lectins, and the purpose of these proteins is to protect plants through resulting food aversions, millions of people across the globe could be suffering unnecessarily from the symptoms of lectin exposure.


Are Your Issues Related to Gluten or Lectins?

Individuals who experience digestive discomfort long after removing gluten from their diet may instead be suffering from a lectin intolerance. Lectins are present in many gluten free grains (such as rice and quinoa), which is why digestive symptoms persist for these individuals. While gluten gets the vast majority of the media coverage, lectins can cause similar digestive symptoms. Due to the lack of awareness, many people do not think to attribute high lectin exposure with their symptoms. The dangers of gluten are not the only reason to avoid grains, you also have to be aware of lectins. 


Are Lectins Bad For You?

After an extensive discussion on the subject, it’s finally time to answer the question asked in the title: are lectins bad for you? Due to the damaging (and sometimes toxic) effects of lectins, major exposure should be avoided when possible. Because of our inability to digest the protein, most people should be aware of lectins in their diet.

Humans have lived for many years without having a steady diet of high lectin foods. However, when considering if lectins are bad for you, it is still important to develop a customized health plan. Some people are more sensitive to lectins than others, and as a result, should significantly reduce their lectin intake. A low lectin meal plan should be just one tool of many that you use to reduce the negative impact of lectins.


What Foods Should You Avoid to Limit Your Lectin Exposure?

Now it is time to discuss how you can reduce your exposure to these proteins. Whether you suspect a lectin sensitivity or not, keep in mind that no one has the ability to properly digest them. If you are looking to avoid lectins in your diet, there are specific foods that should be avoided. Because lectins are found in a wide range of plants, there is a fairly long list of foods containing lectins.

Foods that contain some of the highest levels of lectins are as follows:

  • All wheat products
  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Spelt
  • Peas and legumes
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Oats

If some of your favorite foods are listed above, don’t feel too discouraged. Using a high-quality pressure cooker actually has the ability to eliminate nearly all of the lectins found in quinoa, rice, beans, and other foods. The only exceptions to this rule are oats and wheat products.

Are there any other foods you should avoid if you are looking to reduce your lectin exposure? Yes. Aside from the top foods listed above, there are unexpected sources of lectins that many people consume on a regular basis. Additional foods that should be avoided include the following:

  • Oils: Soy oil, grapeseed oil, corn oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, sunflower oil, canola oil
  • Meats: Chicken, beef, pork, and turkey (meat products are especially high in lectins if the feed used contained lectins)
  • Zucchini
  • Pumpkin
  • Melons
  • Squash
  • Eggplant
  • Tomatoes
  • White potatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cashews
  • Peanuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Final Word On Lectins

At this point, you may be wondering the following: “If lectins are bad for you, why were they never a health issue before now?” This is a great question, and there is definitely a reason behind the recent attention surrounding lectins. Lectins did not become a regular part of our diets until the appearance of modern agriculture. Now that our diets are heavy in lectins, health issues like the ones discussed earlier are beginning to emerge as a consequence. If you think that you are sensitive to lectins, remove all foods containing high levels of lectins for one month. Once you re-introduce your normal nutritional plan after the month is complete, you will be able to assess how bad lectins are for your body.

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