What are lectins? And should you avoid foods containing them?
The lectin-free diet is becoming popular for people who want to lose weight, improve their gut health and digestion. But is it worth it? Should you really be afraid of lectins?
What are lectins?
Lectins are a type of plant protein that can be found in almost all foods, especially whole grains and legumes, and nightshades (tomatoes, peppers and potatoes).
There are different types of lectins, which have different functions in the body. Some lectins can make plant foods difficult to digest, while others are believed to stress the body and cause inflammation (although this hasn’t been proven).
Lectins have recently become villainized because of some claims that they can cause inflammation, weight gain, unpleasant digestive symptoms, and “leaky gut.” But these anecdotal accounts have never been substantiated in published studies.
Not much research on lectins
Since the 1970s, there have been some studies on lectins, but they are mostly test tube or animal studies that are difficult to translate to human nutrition.
Most of what we know about lectins is anecdotal—some people report that giving up lectins has helped them lose weight, improved their gut health or reduced digestive upset.
But there are no long-term studies that show how removing them will affect your health in the long term. There just isn’t enough research on the lectin-free diet at this point.
The Mediterranean Diet, however, is supported by lots of research. It’s the most studied diet for heart health and other inflammatory conditions. And some of the most-consumed foods on the Mediterranean Diet happen to be high in lectins, like whole grains and legumes, and nightshade vegetables like tomatoes—so it appears that foods that contain lectins must have some health benefits.
Health benefits of lectin-containing foods
Cutting foods that contain lectins from your diet would mean that you’re missing out on important nutrients. Here are just a few examples:
- Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which has been shown to protect the prostate, promote heart health, and contribute to healthy skin.
- Squashes and pumpkins contain a range of phytonutrients with strong antioxidant activity, and also appear to be beneficial for a healthy intestinal ecosystem.
- Legumes are a valuable source of protein and a variety of phytonutrients. Nations with high intake of legumes have low rates of colon cancer. Plus, many preliminary studies support the gut-protective properties of legumes1,2.
Since lectins are found in foods that have are very beneficial for your health, it doesn’t make sense to cut the foods that contain lectins from your diet.
It makes more sense to eat a broad range of healthy foods, and to reduce the impact that lectins may have through these methods:
- Heat destroys lectins, so make sure to cook your beans, grains or legumes before eating them.
- Soaking your grains or beans in water before cooking can reduce lectins by around 20%.
But there’s a way to reduce lectins by up to 99.99%3,4.
Genuine Health has long been interested in the incredible process of fermentation. Fermentation unleashes the nutrients and health benefits in food, providing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties5. Fermentation can also provide gut protective-benefits, thanks to bioactive nutrients and postbiotics formed in the fermentation process. (Fermentation can remove lectins, too6.)
Genuine Health used all of these discoveries to bring the first fermented protein to market. fermented organic vegan proteins+ is thoughtfully formulated with 7 protein-rich plant foods, including hemp seeds, brown rice, pea, mung beans, spirulina, flaxseed and pumpkin—to provide 20 grams of highly absorbable protein with added gut health benefits thanks to bioactive nutrients and postbiotics.
Yes, you can have your lectins—and eat them, too!