Learn about food with no 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.
Food With No 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
Worst Foods High in Lectins
A lectin, also known as the “antinutrient” is a type of protein that binds to certain carbohydrates. Just about every organism in the world, from plants to animals to microbes, contains lectins.
There are many types of lectins, and some are completely safe, while others may pose health risks. The difference depends on the amount of lectins present and what type of carbohydrates bind to them.
Not every lectin is dangerous in the same way. In fact, many types of lectins pass through your digestive system unchanged. And, while the lectins found in plants are considered edible and are usually harmless, they can sometimes still affect your health.
Further, while lectins aren’t affected by digestive enzymes, they are easily broken down by heat. Boiling sources of lectins for just five to 10 minutes appears to reduce lectins’ abilities to bind entirely.
Why You Should Avoid Lectins
Lectins are sometimes dangerous because of how they bind to carbohydrates like sugar. You should avoid certain types of lectins due to a risk of:
Certain types of lectins can prevent your body from absorbing other substances that have nutritional value. This can eventually lead to serious problems such as malnutrition.
Some sources of lectins are considered seriously poisonous. Castor beans, for example, contain a potent lectin poison called ricin.
Damage to the Digestive System
Certain types of lectin may bind with the walls of your digestive system which can lead to serious problems. Eating one particular lectin, phytohemagglutinin, can lead to severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Potential Risk of Auto-immune Response
Some proponents of lectin-free diets claim that lectins can cause symptoms of auto-immune disorders. However, studies are still being done to confirm or deny this idea. Currently, there is no scientific consensus backing up the idea that lectins are connected to any health conditions outside of acute lectin poisoning.
Foods With Lectins
Lectins can be found in many foods that are part of the average American diet. Many sources of lectins are also good sources of important nutrients. Understanding what foods may be dangerous raw can help you remain healthier, longer.
These six foods are some of the worst sources of lectins in the American diet when consumed raw.
1. Raw Kidney Beans
Red kidney beans are a great source of plant-based protein and they are a low-glycemic-index food. However, it’s critical that you boil them thoroughly before you eat them. Eating raw or undercooked kidney beans exposes you to an incredibly high level of phytohemagglutinin. Cooking beans thoroughly reduces the activity of this lectin to undetectable levels.
Peanuts are another form of legume, and like kidney beans, they contain lectins. Peanut lectins can be detected in the blood after eating peanuts in large amounts. While no studies have been done to determine whether this has health effects, it does show that peanut lectins are absorbed by the body.
3. Whole Grains
Raw wheat and other whole grains are high in lectins. Raw wheat germ, which is often sold as a source of fiber, can contain as much as 300 mcg of wheat lectins per gram. If you’re trying to avoid lectins, do not eat raw whole grains.
4. Raw Soybeans
Soybeans are another legume that’s full of lectins. However, unlike some other legumes, soybeans are often eaten toasted or roasted. This type of dry heat does not appear to be as effective at breaking down lectins as boiling. Be cautious when eating raw or toasted soybeans if you are avoiding lectins.
5. Raw Potatoes
Potatoes are part of the nightshade family and contain high levels of lectins. Raw potatoes, in particular the skin, appear to contain potentially harmful lectins that may affect your health.
More studies need to be done to see whether these lectins are the cause of health problems after eating raw potatoes in humans.
All of the above foods have associated health benefits as well as lectins. In most cases, cooking these foods with “wet” heat, such as stewing, boiling, cooking in sauce, or mixing into dough and baking, breaks down lectins to negligible levels. Simply avoid eating raw legumes, grains, or potatoes, and eat these foods cooked instead.
What Exactly Is a Lectin-Free Diet?
The lectin-free diet is one of many popular diets trending recently. Naturally, this diet recommends avoiding lectins, a naturally-occurring group of carbohydrate-binding proteins found in almost all food. Typically, when we think of protein, especially protein that occurs in nature, we think healthy. So why would we want to remove these from our diets? According to the founder of the diet, California cardiologist Steven Gundry, M.D., a diet containing lectins leads to inflammation and weight gain. But, again, lectin is found in many good-for-you fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Here we discuss who, if anyone, should consider going on a lectin-free diet. To help us understand more about it, Aaptiv turned to top registered dietitians to set the record straight.
What is lectin?
Lectin is a carbohydrate-binding protein found in a myriad of plant and animal foods. These include legumes, grains, milk, eggs, and vegetables, such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and potatoes. Though naturally occurring, Miriam Amselem, holistic nutritionist, fitness trainer, and yoga instructor, explains that lectin binds to the cells on the gut wall. In large amounts, lectin can damage the gut wall. This prevents the gut from absorbing nutrients and causes irritation that can result in vomiting and diarrhea. However, she and many other nutrition experts agree that there are good nutrients in most of these healthy foods that outweigh the bad. This includes beans and grains that are sources of fiber and help regulate blood sugar.
What is the lectin-free diet?
The lectin-free diet calls for the removal of high-lectin foods from one’s diet. This includes grains, quinoa, legumes, nightshade vegetables, dairy, out-of-season fruit, and conventionally raised meat and poultry. The food that gets the green light includes leafy greens, nuts, seed, millet, pasture raised meats, and wild-caught fish. The goal of a lectin-free diet is to shed pounds and reduce inflammation. In fact, Dr. Gundry himself claims to have lost 70 pounds on the plan.
Another way to reduce inflammation and promote weight loss is with a regular exercise routine, and Aaptiv can help.
There is evidence to back up the benefits, including one 2006 study that linked consumption of a lectin-free diet to positive effects on those with cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Still, many experts are left unenthused.
The controversy over the lectin-free diet
According to Scott Schreiber, R.D., chiropractic physician and rehabilitation and clinical nutritionist, a lectin-free diet may actually cause more harm than good. You can find many vitamins and minerals in foods that contain lectin. “It is theorized that lectins are present in plants to discourage animals from eating them. Lectins can cause an upset stomach, which causes the animal to not eat that plant again,” he explains. “Translated to humans, it causes an inflammatory response. [This] can lead to other conditions, such as weight loss and IBS, and diseases including celiac disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.” The bottom line, he points out, is that there’s not a lot of research that shows lectin is bad. “The diet is based on theory as opposed to fact.”
Christen Cupples Cooper, Ed.D., R.D.N., assistant professor and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the College of Health Professions at Pace University, agrees. She adds that there’s nothing in the scientific literature on humans that would indicate that lectin is a villain. In fact, she believes the lectin-free movement is just a classic example of a how these trends begin in the first place. A profit-driven handful of individuals promote a diet and supplements with no evidence to back them up. “As a registered dietitian with training on food chemistry, I’ve observed physicians (who receive no nutrition instruction in medical school) who try to popularize falsehoods,” she says. “Anytime you come across a diet that seems to cut out common-sense healthful foods, run the other way and save your money.”
Cook foods high in lectin.
The best thing to do, if you’re considering trying to reduce your lectin intake, is to cook any high-lectin foods you consume. This degrades most of the lectins in food, according to Becky Kerkenbush, M.S., R.D., Media Representative for the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For example, boiling legumes in water eliminates almost all lectin activity. Other ways to degrade lectins include soaking or sprouting grains and seeds, as well as fermentation.
For those with severe gastrointestinal issues, reducing dietary lectin may actually be helpful to reduce diarrhea and enhance nutrient absorption, adds Erin Palinski-Wade, R.D., author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet. If you suffer from inflammation, she recommends consulting a nutritionist who specializes in digestive issues. They can oversee your diet in order to make sure you still get the nutrients necessary.