Lectins have received a lot of attention recently as they have been deemed an “anti-nutrient.”
Lectins are a type of protein that is present in nearly all plants, especially legumes and grains. In plants, lectins bind to selective carbohydrates as part of their immune defense. In humans, this mechanism has been shown to cause digestive problems in certain individuals.
As lectins bind to carbohydrates, they resist being broken down in the gut due to the fact they can remain stable in acidic environments. This is particularly true when lectins are consumed in their active state (meaning when they are consumed raw).
Some types of lectins are more likely to cause problems than others. For example, phytohaemagglutinin is a type of lectin that can cause red blood cells to clump together as well as induce nausea, vomiting, bloating, and other gastrointestinal issues.
Moreover, certain animal studies have shown that lectins not only interfere with the body’s ability to process carbohydrates but also minerals such as calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Legumes and grains frequently contain both lectins and the aforementioned minerals, disrupting the breakdown and absorption of these nutrients.
Research suggests that this gastrointestinal disruption can affect the growth and action of intestinal flora. A disruption in the balance of the gut microbiome can compromise a variety of bodily systems given that the gut is responsible for 75% of the immune system, 90% of serotonin production, the promotion of HDL cholesterol, and so much more.
In addition to binding to nutrients, there is also evidence suggesting that lectins bind to cells for prolonged periods of time, eliciting an autoimmune response (when the body attacks its own cells as they are recognized as foreign). Some experts believe this can lead to the development of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 1 diabetes.
Below are some foods that are known to have high levels of lectins:
Risk factors for developing a lectin sensitivity:
Symptoms of a lectin sensitivity include:
Although many may need to be mindful of their lectin intake, it is important to remember that eating foods high in lectin is rare. This is because lectins are most potent when raw and it is uncommon to eat foods such as dried or uncooked beans.
When eating foods with higher levels of lectin such as beans and lentils, it is recommended to soak them for several hours and then boil them to disable the binding action of the lectins.
It is important to note that just because a food is high in lectin does not mean it will elicit symptoms in everyone. Every body is different, which is why we recommend lectin sensitivity testing to understand your unique health state. There are also a multitude of health benefits associated with lectin foods. They can act as antioxidants and combat free radical damage, support stable insulin levels, and combat high blood sugar. In fact, there are studies covering large populations that have diets rich in lectin-containing foods such as legumes, whole grains, and nuts, which are associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Therefore, it is best to take a data-driven approach to your health with sensitivity testing to ensure you are optimizing your diet for your individual needs. To gain a more holistic understanding of what foods may be compromising your health, we recommend consider our Zoomer Plus Package that not only includes a Lectin Sensitivity Test, but also:
Ready to book your appointment or have questions about lectin and food sensitivities? Call or text us at: (310) 295-2075
Petroski W, Minich DM. Is There Such a Thing as “Anti-Nutrients”? A Narrative Review of Perceived Problematic Plant Compounds. Nutrients. 2020 Oct;12(10):2929.