Q: I’ve heard some people say you shouldn’t eat beans or grains because of lectins. Are lectins actually bad for you?
A: Foods that contain lectins are not necessarily all bad for your health. There is some evidence, however, that suggests limiting your intake may be beneficial—especially if you’ve got a lot of GI issues.
Here’s what you need to know.
What Are Lectins?
Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrate molecules. They’re found in a variety of foods but are at their highest concentrations in raw beans and grains (especially the healthier, unrefined ones like whole and ancient grains). There are many different kinds, some of which are actually beneficial, that the body uses to carry out basic functions.
However, certain lectins are considered toxic or “antinutritional”(sounds scary, I know, but don’t panic!) mainly because of how they act in the gut. Basically, your body can’t digest them, so they get into the GI tract and start causing trouble. They can mess with the regeneration of cells that protect the gut lining, which means bad stuff can slip through into the bloodstream. That can trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation, the process at the root of so many diseases.
Consuming way too many lectins can lead to digestive issues like cramping and bloating and may also prevent effective absorption of important nutrients like protein.
Should I Avoid Lectins?
Followers of the Paleo Diet say you should cut foods that contain lectins from your diet altogether. It is true that most people overdo it when it comes to the amount of grains in their diet, but especially if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll likely need the healthy protein and fiber (not to mention vitamins and minerals) beans and whole grains provide.
The most important point, no matter your diet: You can significantly reduce the amount of lectins in beans and grains via a few processes: soaking, fermenting, sprouting, and cooking. (Yes, simply cooking!) So assuming you’re not eating raw quinoa or lentils (ew), you’re probably already ahead of the game.
If you find that your stomach is still upset every time you eat foods high in lectins, try swapping that extra serving of bread with, say, some roasted artichokes.