Lectins – Gluten’s Nasty Relative

By Dr Ernst
May 4, 2018

The detrimental impact lectins have on your health is becoming more well known and acknowledged in some health circles. Proponents of a holistic or “alternative” approach to health are more keen to discuss it, people like Dave Aspray or organizations like Mindbody Green are trying to warn people about the dangers of lectins–which is great. But it’s time I threw my hat in the ring.

What are lectins?

Lectins are a type of protein with several expressions. Their defining feature is that they come with a sugar molecule attached. They serve several functions in animals, some of which are helpful and necessary. For example, some lectins act as enzymes that are needed to activate the first line of immune defenses at the sign of an invasion. Other types of lectins promote bone growth in childhood and adolescence, and when bone healing is needed.

However, lectins can be very harmful when consumed in even moderate quantities (and depending on what type of lectins one consumes).

The health impact of lectins

The molecular makeup of lectins is such that they easily bind to the cells of the intestinal wall. This contributes to the prevention of cell regeneration and, when combined with processed foods, sugar, alcohol and medications, leads to leaky gut.

These foods wear away at the inner lining of the small intestine (which is somewhat normal anyway), but the lectins prevent them from healing quickly enough. Before you know it, there are spaces between the cells and particles from what you consume slips through and directly into the bloodstream.

Can I avoid lectins?

Of course, but it would be actually a bit difficult. Lectins are in every plant and seed. Again, some are good in moderation, others are quite dangerous.

The worse ones are in grains, seeds and beans. Does this mean you should completely avoid these foods? Not at all (even though avoiding grains for other reasons isn’t a bad idea). But you should be wise to what you can do to mitigate their power and effectiveness. So here are some tips.

For seeds, eating sprouted seeds rather than unsprouted reduces the lectin content dramatically.

If you must eat grains–and I highly recommend you don’t for GMO, gluten and carbohydrate content–then by boiling the grains, you reduce, but do not eliminate dangerous lectins. Baking grains doesn’t change the lectin content at all.

For beans, boiling them reduces the lectin content–which is almost always the most natural way to cook beans– which makes them one of the less dangerous foods with a high lectin content.

As all vegetables contain lectins to varying degrees, and boiling them is the best way to deal with that–but steaming and sautéing do the trick as well.

Tomatoes also contain a high amount of lectins. Tomatoes are very often eaten raw, so some health practitioners recommend avoiding them completely. However, the majority of the lectins in tomatoes is in the skin and seeds. By boiling tomatoes for 60 seconds, then soaking in an ice bath until cool, you can quickly and easily peel your tomatoes and avoid most of the lectins. What’s left will be in the seeds–but Roma tomatoes have fewer seeds, making peeled Roma tomatoes about the best you can do.

The bottom line

With so many chronic health problems cropping up and becoming ubiquitous these days, it’s difficult to point to an issue that would be a panacea for diseases. There is no such thing. But the closest thing to that MIGHT be leaky gut, as it’s the beginning of eventual autoimmune conditions–which range from thyroiditis, diabetes to arthritis and even cancer by some definitions. And avoiding lectins is a major step in avoiding and/or healing a leaky gut.

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