Lectins are a form of protein, which binds to sugar to form glycoproteins. They are found in abundant portions in grains, legumes and certain dairy products. Lectin has evolved as a defense mechanism in plants deterring animals from consuming the plants. Lectins form a defensive mechanism for plants against predators such as pests, insects and microorganism. Once the plant is ingested, the lectin triggers a reaction, which makes the predator to believe that the food is harmful.
They are commonly referred to as anti-nutrients due to their potent ability in reducing the body’s ability in absorbing nutrients. Lectins are indigestible and passes through the digestive tract without being absorbed. Unfortunately, their ability to bind to the cell membranes of the digestive tract renders them dangerous. Heavy consumption of lectins leads to the following symptoms.
- Diarrhea Hormones alteration
- Luminal membranes damage
- Brain fog and fatigue
- Disruption of carbohydrates, protein and lipid metabolism
It is imperative to take extra precaution if you are suffering from the following conditions since lectin consumption can cause them to worsen.
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
High concentration of lectins is found in common healthy foods, which include:
- Fruits and vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, nightshade, berries and eggplants
Given that our meals are plant-based, it is necessary to have adequate knowledge of the foods so that we can make well informed meal choices.
Beneficial effects of lectins
Though lectins lead to negative reactions in our bodies, they have a myriad of health benefits. Certain types of lectins help decrease the incidence of particular diseases such as lung and heart conditions. In addition, they help in programmed cell death, cell-to-cell adhesion, and inflammatory modulation.
Ways of neutralizing or reducing lectins
Unrefined legumes and grains are more nutritious when compared with the refined versions. Since these foods are heavily laden with lectins, overtime people have come up with ingenious ways to reap maximum benefits from the foods while reducing their adverse effects. A lectin- free diet tends to be very restrictive plan and difficult to follow for a long-term. This plan also cuts one of health and nutrition benefits of foods like beans, whole grains and certain vegetables.
First, adherence to a lectin free diet is an easy way of avoiding lectins. There are wholesome diets, which are nutritious, and lectin free such as:
- Pasture raised meats
- Wild caught seafood
- Cruciferous vegetables
- In season fruits
- Egg from un-caged chickens
- Leafy greens
Since it is completely impossible to eliminate lectins in our meals, people have devised various means of reducing our lectin intake. Such as methods, include:
Sprouting beans, grains and seeds helps decrease their lectin content. In general, the longer the sprouting duration, the more lectins get deactivated. Lectins are found in high concentrations in the seed coats, when they germinate, the coat gets metabolized eliminating the lectins in the process.
Many people may not know the reason behind fermenting foods such as miso, tofu, tempoyak, natto and kimchi. It is surprising to note that, besides making the food tasty, fermentation boosts the digestive process. Fermentation allows the beneficial bacteria to digest and eliminate harmful substances in our meals. It also reduces the number of anti-nutrients in the meals. Though this process does not destroy the lectins completely, it helps reduce the stubborn lectins reducing their negative effects significantly.
Soaking grains and beans before cooking them significantly reduces lectins level. Overnight soaking reduces the toxins hence reducing their ability and potency to cause undesirable effects in our bodies. After soaking, rinse the grains properly and cook them for the required time.
Cooking Foods rich in lectin levels can be made safe for consumption by properly cooking them. Lectins are almost eliminated through cooking and proper processing. As a rule, stick to eating properly cooked meals unless it is safe when eaten raw. It’s advisable to avoid fads that advocate for consumption of raw diet since proper cooking helps reduce the levels of lectins in many foods
While lectins have caused considerable health damage, there is evidence that lectin rich foods are beneficial to our overall health and we can’t avoid them completely. It is advisable to consult your doctor in the event you notice adverse effects, especially while on a new diet. Ensure you make informed decision to enhance your health by reducing your lectin intake.