The Most Damaging Lectins to Avoid
Lectins are naturally occurring proteins found in most plants. Whether you know it or not, you’re definitely consuming them. So, what’s the problem, isn’t protein good for you?
Not necessarily! Some lectins are harmful to your health because they stimulate inflammation and damage your gut. On the other hand, not all lectins are bad for you. They also vary in their potency and how they act on your body.
There’s the good, the bad and how they work…it’s no surprise there’s been confusion on this topic, so let’s clear it up!
What’s the Problem With Lectin Foods?
Although lectins can be found in all parts of a plant, the highest concentration is in the seed. This protein acts as a low-level toxin when consumed. This is nature’s clever way of discouraging predators (including us humans) and helping the plant survive.
The most dangerous lectins are a common hidden source of health problems and weight gain. I refer to them as “hidden” because they’re found in plants that are seemingly healthy for you.
They are particularly dangerous if you already have an inflammatory or autoimmune condition.
Yikes! Just when you thought you were winning by eating more vegetables, now you have to look out for lectins. Like I mentioned earlier, only certain lectins are harmful so let’s go over those first.
The Most Dangerous Lectins to Avoid
1. Gluten and wheat germ agglutinin (WGA)
These are the kings of harmful lectins!
Both gluten and WGA are found in wheat, barley, rye and other grains.
Making the switch to gluten free grains is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t guarantee less lectins. This is because gluten free grains like corn, rice, quinoa and buckwheat are saturated with lectins too.
Gluten’s sticky texture makes it a useful component in so many products. The obvious high gluten foods include pasta, bread, and baked goods. It’s also used to make soups, sauces, and even cosmetics!
To avoid gluten, you’ll need to read labels diligently and look for its aliases.
This grain is so high in lectins that I crown it the queen.
Consider how livestock are fed corn to “fatten them up.” Corn and other lectins can create the same effect on humans by mimicking insulin, the hormone that promotes fat storage. You definitely don’t want anything in your body that mimics insulin!
The solution here is to avoid dairy or choose pasture raised meat and eggs instead of grain fed. If you don’t see the product labeled “grass-fed” or “pasture raised,” then assume it’s grain fed.
For better health, I recommend avoiding gluten (and corn) entirely, and here’s more on why! Keep in mind, grains were not part of our ancestor’s diet. They’re a product of modern agriculture and not a necessary component to a healthy diet.
3. Beans and Legumes
These are lectin bombs!
- Green beans
- Peanuts and Cashews (actually legumes and not nuts!)
4. Nightshade vegetables
Certain vegetables known as nightshades are loaded with lectins too.
- White potato
- Chili based spices (like paprika)
Although tomatoes (and its sauce) are full of the powerful antioxidant lycopene, I recommend eating them sparingly because of their lectin content.
TIP: The skin peels and seeds of nightshades are most concentrated with lectins. Avoid eating this part of the vegetable whenever possible.
If you want to consume dairy, choose raw (unpasteurized) from organic pasture raised animals. The pasteurization process destroys compounds that neutralize lectins.
Healthy Low-Lectin Plants you Should be Eating
Now that you know about the top 5 lectin containing foods, let’s go over what plants are safe. Thank goodness there’s plenty of low lectin healthy options!
This is my list of the most nutrient dense ones:
- Leafy greens (lettuce, chard, kale, spinach, collard, arugula, turnip and beet greens)
- Avocados – check out the incredible health benefits of avocado’s here
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
- Pine nuts
Strategies to Minimize Your Lectin Exposure
Eliminating harmful lectins from you diet is the best way to limit your exposure. If you’re going to eat high lectin foods, certain preparation methods can help neutralize these lectins. These techniques won’t completely zero them, but they will help to some degree.
I suggest always peeling and deseeding fruits and vegetables, especially nightshades. Soaking grains and legumes overnight before cooking them will also help reduce lectins.
For beans, potatoes and tomatoes, I advise using a pressure cooker. This cooking tool won’t work for grains though, those must be soaked.
Fermenting vegetables and fruits are a good way to reduce lectins too. You’ll also get the added bonus of the probiotics that come from the fermentation process.
Final Thoughts on Consuming Lectins
Eating small amounts of high lectin foods will probably not cause you a lot of harm. However, if you’re eating these foods in excess, you may really want to consider making some dietary changes. Remember, gluten is the king of lectins and it hides everywhere!
Excess lectins can cause extensive damage to your gut, and the condition of your gut sets the stage for how the rest of your body functions.
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