Food With Low Lectins

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Learn about food with low lectins. This blog will teach you all about the foods that have a lower lectin content and how to make sure you are purchasing the best quality ones possible.

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Food With Low Lectins

 we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

What Is the Lectin-Free Diet?

Cardiologist Steven Gundry, MD, introduced the lectin-free diet in his popular 2017 book “The Plant Paradox.” He and other proponents of the diet believe that eating lectins (a type of protein) can lead to weight gain, brain fog, chronic inflammation, poor digestion from a disrupted microbiome, and other adverse symptoms.

On a lectin-free diet, you’ll eliminate foods that contain lectins, such as wheat and other grains, dairy products from cows, beans and lentils, almost all fruits, and many vegetables. Many health professionals have expressed concern that eliminating such a large swath of foods could mean you’ll miss out on valuable nutrients, and the harmful effects of lectins have yet to be proven definitively.1

What Experts Say

“Advocates of a lectin-free diet believe that you should avoid foods that contain lectins, such as legumes and whole grains. But these plant-based foods contain important nutrients, including fiber and a variety of micronutrients. Studies have found that those people who consume more plants have many health benefits, including a reduced risk for heart disease. Soaking, cooking, sprouting, and fermenting these foods destroys most lectins. If you are trying a lectin-free diet for medical purposes, consult with a registered dietitian to ensure your eating plan meets your nutrient needs and goals.”

The 7-Day Diet Plan

While a lectin-free diet includes approved and unapproved foods, unlike many diet plans, it doesn’t specify when you must eat your meals or where you need to purchase ingredients. It also doesn’t restrict calories or portion sizes, so you’re free to eat to your level of fulness. In fact, Gundry claims in “The Plant Paradox that “you can actually eat far more than you used to eat and still lose weight.”2

Below is an example of 7 days on the lectin-free diet, beginning with phase one, which is the most restrictive and lasts three days. Keep in mind this is an example of a diet that is not recommended. Consult your doctor before considering this diet.

  • Day 1: Spinach smoothie with avocado, mint, romaine lettuce, lemon juice, stevia extract; 3 ounces pastured chicken, sauteed mushrooms and mustard greens with coconut oil; 2 ounces wild-caught salmon, butter lettuce with lemon and olive oil, steamed asparagus
  • Day 2: 2 ounces wild-caught halibut with lemon, avocado, sauteed spinach in coconut oil; spinach smoothie with avocado, mint, romaine lettuce, lemon juice, stevia extract; cabbage, broccoli and carrot stir-fry, kimchi
  • Day 3: Avocado, cooked asparagus, raw sauerkraut; beet greens, avocado, beet and lemon smoothie; 3 ounces pastured chicken, kale cooked with garlic, lemon, olive oil
  • Day 4: Bok choy, coconut oil, carrots; 3 ounces wild-caught salmon, beet greens, avocado, lemon juice, coconut oil, walnuts; 3 ounces pastured chicken, shredded cooked Brussels sprouts and raw sauerkraut salad, 1 ounce dark chocolate
  • Day 5: Green mango, walnuts, avocado, 1 ounce dark chocolate; leafy greens, hemp protein powder, water, mint and lemon smoothie; 3 ounces wild-caught cod, raw beet salad with basil and pine nuts
  • Day 6: Coconut milk, almond butter, spinach and hemp protein powder smoothie; avocado and raw beet salad with mustard greens, olive oil and lemon dressing; 4 ounces pastured chicken, asparagus, Napa cabbage, 1 ounce dark chocolate
  • Day 7: Gundry MD Bar, 1 ounce dark chocolate, walnuts; avocado and 2 ounces pastured chicken salad on leafy greens with lemon and olive oil dressing; 3 ounces wild-caught salmon, hemp seeds, lemon, asparagus

What You Can Eat

On a lectin-free diet, you will, of course, cut back on (or completely eliminate) foods with lectins. But many common foods are approved on the diet. Dr. Gundry’s website provides a comprehensive list of “yes” and “no” foods for reference.

Foods With Low or No Lectins

  • Grass-fed meats
  • Fish and seafood
  • Pasture-raised poultry
  • Plant-based meats without soy
  • Buffalo, goat, or sheep dairy products
  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Some nuts and seeds
  • Olive, coconut, and avocado oil
  • Coconut or almond flour
  • Dark chocolate

What You Cannot Eat

Foods not allowed on the lectin-free diet are those containing a large amount of lectins, according to Gundry.

Foods Containing Lectins

  • Grain-fed meats, poultry, or seafood
  • Most starchy foods, such as potatoes, rice, and grains
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nightshade vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers
  • Fruits except for in-season berries
  • Cow’s milk dairy products
  • Sugar and sugar-sweetened products
  • Soy foods
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What Foods Contain Lectins

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And What to Do About It

Now, for anyone struggling to lose weight, dealing with autoimmunity or digestive issues, or simply frustrated with a stubborn health problem, then it is worth considering that lectins may be holding back your journey to better health.

Lectins are found in a wide variety of foods making it impossible to eat a lectin free diet. Not all lectins are bad (see Tip #5 below), however there are many lectins that are quite harmful, and there are some foods that contain high levels. It is important to think about the cumulative impact since you may be eating a combination of high lectin foods that result in considerable toxicity.

Foods with the Highest Lectin Content – Best Avoided

Corn – One of the very highest in lectin foods, corn lectins are also very resistant to heat and, therefore, are difficult to reduce through cooking.  Pervasive in the American food supply, corn is also genetically modified (unless organic) and one of the highest allergenic foods.

Corn-fed Meats: This includes most meats sold in grocery stores and restaurants. We are what we eat, and this applies to animals, too.  They are raised on corn and soy, two foods that are high in lectins. The purpose is to make them fat for market.  Lectins make us  humans fat, too.  The best way to avoid them is to buy certified grassfed meat. The American Grassfed Association is a good place to learn more. Look for “100% Grass Fed and Finished” on the label.

Casein A1 Milk: Because of a genetic mutation in cow populations, some cows produce milk containing casein A1 protein, which is a lectin-like protein called beta-casomorphin. It attaches to the pancreas’ insulin-producing cells, prompting an immune attack on the pancreas of those who consume milk and cheeses from these cows.  Most cows today are casein A1 producers, and this is the milk and cheese found in store-bought dairy. Many who believe they are lactose intolerant are responding to the casein A1 in the milk. If you are going to consume dairy, opt for only casein A2 dairy products which come from goat, sheep, water buffaloes or specifically Belgian Blues, Guernsey, or Brown Swiss cow breeds. Holsteins are the most common breed and their milk is casein A1. Jersey cows may produce either, so checking the source and verifying is critical.

Peanuts and Cashews: Commonly called nuts, peanuts and cashews are legumes and both are very high in lectin content. The shell around the cashew is such an irritant that cashew workers must wear protective gloves to harvest them.  Cashews are in the same botanical family as poison ivy and dramatically increase inflammation.

Unfermented Soybean Products: Examples include tofu and edamame, the green soybean where lectins are highest and best avoided.  Traditionally fermented soy products such as miso or tempeh, if organic, have a much lower lectin content due to the fermentation.

High Lectin Foods to Eat Sparingly and Prepare Properly

Legumes: This pulse family includes any plant seed that is found in pods, such as peas, green beans, lentils, split peas, and all other beans (e.g. red kidney, black, white, garbanzo). Proper soaking and cooking, as well as choosing some of the lower lectin options like Great Northern beans, green beans and lentils, can make these a reasonable option when used sparingly. Most canned beans have not been soaked or cooked properly to reduce lectins. White kidney beans and soybeans are highest in lectins.

Grains: Just when we thought whole grains were best for us, we are learning that the lectins are highest in the outer sheath. Most earlier cultures seemed to understand that removing it made digestion easier. Traditionally, the Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian people have not been plagued with obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, yet they have been eating rice for thousands of years, always stripping away the hull where the lectins exist.  WGA or gliadin attached to gluten in wheat, oats, rye and barley are two other damaging grain lectins. Is it any surprise that many traditional European breads are made using the process of fermentation to make sourdough bread? The process of fermentation deactivates lectins. This traditional process is not used in bread manufacturing by the food industry.  There are many other health concerns when it comes to grains, such as pesticides and genetic modification.  Careful selection, preparation, and minimal consumption, however, make some grains a viable choice from time to time.

Nightshade Fruits and Vegetables: Included are tomatoes, potatoes (excluding sweet potatoes), eggplants, bell peppers, and goji berries among others. The highest lectin content is found in the skins and seeds, so simply peeling and deseeding can significantly reduce the lectin content, as well as reducing frequency and portion. Potato lectins are quite resistant to cooking and will only reduce by 50-60%.

Gourd Family Fruits: Normally called vegetables, the gourd family are fruits and include all squash varieties, pumpkin and zucchini. As with nightshades, some of these can be peeled and deseeded well and cooking will also help reduce lectins.

Preparation and Cooking Tips to Reduce Lectin Content

Research demonstrates that sprouting, fermenting, soaking overnight and cooking high lectin foods does dramatically reduce the lectin content, making them safe for most people. In addition to removing seeds and peel, here are some other tips to help reduce lectins.

Tip #1 – If you choose to eat beans, be sure to prepare and cook them properly, and NEVER eat raw or undercooked. They can have acute and toxic effects. Be sure to soak beans in water for at least 12 hours before cooking, changing the water frequently. Rinse the beans well, discarding the water used for soaking. Cook for at least 15 minutes on HIGH heat, ideally using a pressure cooker like the InstaPot™.

Tip #2 – If consuming grains, keep in mind that the only way to make bread safe is to buy organic AND raise the bread using traditional methods of yeast or sourdough, which breaks down the gluten and other harmful lectins.  You would be hard pressed to find this in our grocery stores. You will need to make it yourself or purchase it from a traditional artisan bakery.

Tip #3 – Many beans, seeds and grains can be sprouted to deactivate lectins. There are some exceptions, such as alfalfa, where sprouting increases lectins. We recommend the cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon for all forms of traditional food preparation including sprouting, fermentation, and cooking methods that reduce harmful lectins.

Tip #4 – Consider investing in a pressure cooker.  Plant lectins are most effectively neutralized when cooked under pressure relatively quickly. This method is ideal for beans, legumes, quinoa and rice, for example.  Avoid slow cookers for plant foods, as they will increase lectin content because of the low temperature used.

Tip #5 -There are some safe lectins in many foods. The lowest lectin content options are asparagus, garlic, celery, mushrooms and onions. Cooked root vegetables like sweet potatoes, yucca and taro, along with leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, avocados, olives and olive oil are all examples of healthy foods that do contain some lectins.  They can be eaten without restrictions.

Remember, while lectins can wreak havoc on health, it is not possible nor ideal to eliminate them from your diet.  The key is to identify the worst culprits, cut those out, and make sure you are preparing food in ways that minimize or reduce lectin content.  How strict you need to be will be determined by your health status, genetics and willingness to explore the possibility that lectins are standing in your way of better health.

Lectins

legumes
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Lectins, or hemagglutinins, are an “anti-nutrient” that have received much attention due to popular media and fad diet books citing lectins as a major cause for obesity, chronic inflammation, and autoimmune diseases. They are found in all plants, but raw legumes (beans, lentils, peas, soybeans, peanuts) and whole grains like wheat contain the highest amounts of lectins. Is there truth behind these claims?

The Problem With Lectins

Lectins are defined as proteins that bind to carbohydrates. The same features that lectins use to defend plants in nature may cause problems during human digestion. They resist being broken down in the gut and are stable in acidic environments, features that protect lectin-containing plants in nature.

When consumed, lectins in their active state can cause negative side effects. The most publicized accounts report severe reactions in people eating even small amounts of raw or undercooked kidney beans. They contain phytohaemagglutinin, a type of lectin that can cause red blood cells to clump together. It can also produce nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, and diarrhea. Milder side effects include bloating and gas.

Animal and cell studies have found that active lectins can interfere with the absorption of minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Legumes and cereals often contain these minerals, so the concurrent presence of lectins may prevent the absorption and use of these minerals in the body. Lectins can also bind to cells lining the digestive tract. This may disrupt the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, and affect the growth and action of intestinal flora. Because lectin proteins bind to cells for long periods of time, they can potentially cause an autoimmune response and are theorized to play a role in inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.

These theories have fueled the profitable anti-lectin movement, spawning bestselling books and enzyme supplements to prevent lectin activity in the body. However, there is very limited research in humans on the amount of active lectins consumed in the diet and their long-term health effects. Anti-nutrients including lectins are most often studied in the diets of developing countries where malnutrition is prevalent, or where food variety is very limited and whole grains and legumes are important daily staples.

How To Reduce Lectins In Food

It is important to remember that eating foods with a high amount of active lectins is rare. One reason is that lectins are most potent in their raw state, and foods containing them are not typically eaten raw. Cooking, especially with wet high-heat methods like boiling or stewing, or soaking in water for several hours, can inactivate most lectins. [6] Lectins are water-soluble and typically found on the outer surface of a food, so exposure to water removes them.

bowl of submerged chickpeas
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An example is dried beans. To prepare them for eating, they are soaked for several hours and then boiled for several more hours to soften the bean, which disables the action of lectins. Canned beans are cooked and packaged in liquid, so they are also low in lectins. However, raw beans simmered at low heat such as in a slow-cooker or undercooking the beans will not remove all the lectins.

The body can produce enzymes during digestion that degrades some lectins. Other processes that deactivate the compounds are sprouting grains and beans, and mechanically removing the outer hull of beans and wheat grains that contain the most lectins.

There are different types of lectins in different foods, and the reactions people have to them vary widely. It is possible that one who has an underlying digestive sensitivity, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may be more likely to experience negative symptoms from eating lectins and other anti-nutrients. Because the reported symptoms of lectin sensitivity are recognizable with physical discomfort, a reasonable solution may be to eat less of or less often the foods that cause digestive problems.

The Benefits of Lectin-Containing Foods

a variety of grains and legumes, including brown rice, lentils, peas, sunflower seeds
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Lectins can act as an antioxidant, which protects cells from damage caused by free radicals. They also slow down digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates, which may prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and high insulin levels. Early research is also looking at the use of non-toxic low amounts of certain lectins to help stimulate gut cell growth in patients who are unable to eat for long periods, and in anticancer treatments due to the ability of lectins to cause cancer cell death.

In many large population studies, lectin-containing foods like legumes, whole grains, and nuts are associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, weight loss, and type 2 diabetes. These foods are rich sources of B vitamins, protein, fiber, and minerals, and healthy fats. Thus, the health benefits of consuming these foods far outweigh the potential harm of lectins in these foods.

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