Why You Need to Run – Not Walk – From Lectins
If you think about it, a plant is almost entirely helpless. It obviously can’t run from a predator, and it doesn’t have teeth to fend off an attack. There are some plants, however, that have built-in defenses against predators, ones that make them sorry they ate them in the first place. These are proteins known as lectins, and they’re found in a lot of the most common plant-based foods we eat. Here are just a few reasons why you need to stay away from them.
What Are Lectins?
Lectins are proteins that are found in not only plants but animals as well. While they do play a role in helping cells and molecules bind to each other, they can do a lot of damage as well. Many plants use them as a sort of survival mechanism. They contain a lot of lectins, which discourage predators from eating them in large amounts. One form of lectin found in the castor oil plant, ricin, as actually poisonous and can be fatal if ingested.
But predators in the wild aren’t the only creatures that are susceptible to lectins. Humans can suffer damage as well if they consume lectins in large enough amounts. These are just a few of the health problems associated with these proteins.
- Digestive issues – Lectins are very sticky, and attach themselves to the walls of intestines in a way somewhat similar to how barnacles stick to the bottom of a boat. This can cause a major disruption to the way the body maintains cells, leading to increased wear on the cells in the intestines.1As a result, this can lead to severe digestive distress. If you consume too many lectins, one of the side effects is lectin poisoning. The symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting and severe pain in the abdomen. When people eat uncooked kidney beans, for example, they often suffer acute gastroenteritis, likely due to a form of lectin known as haemagglutinin.2
- Immune system problems – The immune system is the part of the body that helps to protect us from several different types of serious disease. Lectins interact in a negative fashion with many of the antibodies that make up the immune system. For example, lectin consumption can set off an immune reaction that not only attacks lectins, but also the tissues to which lectins attach themselves. This is one example of an autoimmune reaction, where the immune system attacks parts of the body by mistake.3
- Leaky gut syndrome – Lectin exposure can damage the intestines to the point to where harmful bacteria and microbes can pass through the intestinal wall, a condition known as leaky gut syndrome. Many of the symptoms associated with this issue, such as pain, diarrhea and vomiting, are the same as with lectin poisoning.
Lectin-Rich Foods to Avoid
It’s vital that you stay away from foods that contain a lot of lectins. These include all beans and grains, and vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes. Lectin is also found in the seeds and peels of fruits, so stay away from all of them unless they’re in-season. But even then, you have to be careful to throw away all peels and take out all seeds.
There are, however, a lot of healthy, delicious alternatives that you can turn to in order to get away from lectins. Here are some of them.
- Olives – Olive oil is packed with vitamins and minerals that are critical to our overall health. These include vitamins E and K, iron, potassium and calcium. It has been associated with many health benefits, such as helping to reduce inflammation in people with compromised immune systems.4
- Avocados – Avocados are better classified as a fruit, but they’re fine to eat as long as they’re ripe. They are rich in fiber as well as good fats, and also help the body absorb antioxidants.
- Broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower – These vegetables are free of lectins and filled with beneficial fiber. Other vegetables you should eat include celery, onion, asparagus and garlic.
The bottom line is that lectins are extremely bad for you when you eat too many of them. Your best bet is to simply avoid them entirely.