If you have been tuning into functional medicine, you may be aware that adopting a lectin-free meal plan has provided many people with relief from digestive symptoms and other disorders.
But, what the heck are lectins, and who should avoid or limit them? Let’s take a look at the topic of lectins in more detail to find out if you would benefit from a low-lectin diet.
One important thing to remember is that following a lectin-free diet has preliminary, but not conclusive research to support its benefits.
Still, functional medicine doctors like Dr. Steven Gundry have helped many patients feel better, improve their gut health, and gain their health back by following his plant paradox diet, which happens to be a low lectin diet.
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Table of Contents
What are Lectins?
Lectins are a type of protein that is found in many plant foods, especially grains, nightshade vegetables, and legumes. They are also found in some animal foods like conventionally-raised eggs and milk.
A type of lectin you may be familiar with is gluten, but there are many more in foods like peanut lectin, wheat germ agglutinin, low mannose-binding lectin, and phytohemagglutinin.
These proteins called lectins are found in nature and their role is to protect the plants that they are found in. When we eat lectins, however, they can irritate our tissues because they bind to various forms of carbohydrates in our bodies.
Research shows that lectins stimulate antibodies in the body that may damage tissues in susceptible people, such as those at risk for diabetes, stomach ulcers, some kidney diseases, Parkinson’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis [R].
Common foods containing lectins
Foods that are otherwise considered healthy can contain lectins that can have unfortunate side effects for many people.
Here are the most common lectin-containing foods. The good news is most of the following foods can be prepared in certain ways to greatly reduce their lectin content with the exception of the foods with an asterisk next to them.
- Wheat germ
- Brown Rice
- All whole grains
- Nightshades like peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant
- Beans (especially kidney beans)
By soaking, fermenting, and pressure cooking most of these foods, you can greatly reduce the lectin content with the exception of wheat, barley, rye, and oats. These grain lectins don’t break down with cooking or fermenting methods like the other foods do.
A person on a low-lectin diet should avoid those four foods with asterisks* altogether.
Some people choose to avoid all lectin-containing foods in an effort to get to the root of their symptoms too.
Other lectins that you may know
Lectins that are well-known to cause irritation or damage in the body include latex, ricin from castor beans, and phytohemagglutinin from red kidney beans.
Red kidney beans contain phytohemagglutinin, which is a toxin that can cause severe food poisoning if only a few raw beans are eaten. Other beans and lentils also contain phytohemagglutinin, but a smaller amount.
Luckily, most of this toxic lectin compound is reduced by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, and pressure cooking (preferably do all 4!).
As you can see, lectins are not benign and certainly can be a problem for some susceptible individuals.
Lectin Intolerance Symptoms
Lectins irritate tissues, so symptoms can be wide and varied. It is important to know that high intakes of lectins result in sensitivity symptoms in virtually everyone. Naturally, the level of sensitivity will vary from person to person.
- Chronic fatigue
- Altered mood
- Brain fog
- Skin rashes
- Dry skin
- Joint aches and pains
- Nerve conditions like numbness and tingling
- Belly upset
- Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and colitis
- Impaired immunity
- Celiac disease
Certain diseases like Parkinson’s disease have connections to lectins too. For example, lectins may impair the function of dopaminergic neurons by binding to them [R].
Lectins bind to vitamins like vitamin B12, making them unavailable for absorption, so this explains why some people may get nerve symptoms like tingling in the body when they eat a lot of lectin-rich foods.
As you can see, these symptoms are often sneaky and are often blamed on genetics. It may be time to take a look at your diet to see if lectins are at the root of some of your ailments.
Lectins trigger histamine
One reason that lectins are irritating to tissues is that they can trigger the release of histamine from cells [R]. The end result is inflammation and an amped-up immune response.
Histamine is a necessary neurotransmitter, but it also causes a lot of discomfort, such as allergic-type symptoms like congestion, asthma, runny nose, sinus pressure, brain fog, digestive symptoms, and more.
This is part of the reason that people can feel so much better when they begin an elimination diet-their histamine levels may normalize. Some people may have weight loss for this reason too, although I suspect the weight loss happens due to an improvement in the microbiome and ditching the junk foods.
Lectin free meal plan
A lectin-free meal plan will be one that avoids all of the foods high in lectins listed above and people doing so should visit Dr. Gundry’s website to learn more.
Lectin-free foods include:
- Wild-caught fish like salmon and sardines
- Grass-finished meats
- Wild game
- Free-range eggs and chicken (not fed grains)
- Goat cheese
- A2 cheeses
- Hemp hearts
- Cooked millet
- Almond flour, blanched
- Coconut flour, coconut milk, and coconut oil
- Sweet potatoes
- Tiger nuts
Vegetables and Fruits:
- Root vegetables (except potatoes)
- Green vegetables (except cucumbers and peas)
- Berries (except Goji berries)
- Fruit (except melons)
Nuts, Seeds, and Fats
- Nuts and seeds (except peanuts and cashews)
- Sesame seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Dark Chocolate
- Heavy cream from A2 cows
- Grass-fed butter
- Avocado oil
As you can see, you can maintain a healthy diet with lots of healthy fats, protein, and fiber-rich foods on a lectin-free diet. If you first want to try a low-lectin diet where lectins are reduced in foods, you can use the following tips to help remove lectins from your meals.
How to Remove Lectins from Foods
There are 5 ways to help remove lectin content from your foods. Remember, this applies to all lectin-rich foods except wheat, barley, rye, and oats, which have stubborn lectins that won’t change with these methods.
By using these methods, you will still have a small amount of lectins in your foods, but there may be enough reduction in lectins to reduce lectin sensitivity symptoms in some people.
By soaking many types of grains and beans, you can help begin the process of lectin breakdown in foods. Do not ever skip the soaking step, and preferably soak your grains and beans for as long as possible.
Sprouting helps to further reduce the lectins, so foods like lentils, beans, and rice can become low-lectin foods with this step. Typically, you will want to soak your beans and grains first, then sprout them for 3-5 days by keeping them moist. For more tips on sprouting visit Nutrition Studies.
Pressure cooking your foods helps to continue to reduce the lectin content due to pressure and high heat.
Investing in a pressure cooker like this one can really help you if you want to be on a low-lectin diet.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to ferment your grains, quinoa, and beans.
For example, soybeans aren’t allowed on a low lectin diet, while fermented soy like tempeh and miso are allowed because the fermentation process helps to eliminate those irritating lectins.
Ancient Aztecs fermented their quinoa to help this pseudo-grain be more nutritious and healthy.
Peel or Hull
If you are wondering how to remove lectins from tomatoes and cucumbers, peeling them is the way to go. This will remove a good portion of the lectins. Cooking the tomatoes in a pressure cooker helps remove any remaining lectins.
Take it a step further and make a fermented salsa with them or pickle the cucumbers using fermentation methods.
To help remove lectins from rice, you should ideally choose white rice because, unfortunately, the lectins reside in the fibrous parts of the grain. Again, fermented rice is much better than non-fermented rice.
Lectin Free Recipes
- Autoimmune Protocol Recipes by The Healthy RD
- Lectin free lunchbox meal plans from Creative in My Kitchen
- Lectin-free recipe by Dr. Gundry
- Plant Paradox Compliant recipes by Human Food Bar
For more gut-healing recipes, low-lectin recipes, and gut-healing tips, get my book, Gut Fix.
Some plant compounds have the ability to help block the absorption of lectin, which can really help with digestive system health and may have health benefits beyond lectins. Common ingredients in lectin blocker supplements include okra, mucin, n-acetylglucosamine, D-mannose, and algae.
This may be why so many people have gut and joint health benefits when they take n-acetylglucosamine too.
Here are a couple of highly-rated lectin blockers that you can try. Be aware that if you are allergic to any of the ingredients, you should avoid them.
GoBiotix Lectin Defense
GoBiotix Lectin Defense lectin blocker gets great reviews and contains N-Acetyl D-Glucosamine (300mg), Bladderwrack (200mg), D-Mannose (100mg), Okra Powder (100mg), Gastric Mucin Powder (100mg), Sodium Alginate (100mg), VegPeptase (an enzyme) (50mg), Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) (50mg), and Larch Arabinogalactan (50mg).
GoBiotix is certified GMP third-party tested for quality and purity. Many people get relief from gas, bloating, and improvements in bowel regularity when taking this supplement according to reviews.
Gundry MD Lectin Shield is essentially the same ingredients as GoBiotix but developed by the expert in lectins, Dr. Gundry himself. This highly-rated supplement gets great reviews for improvements in digestion and some people state in their reviews that it helps them tolerate gluten much better. Made in a GMP-certified facility.
Whether you know it or not, lectins may be silently causing your body various digestive symptoms, body aches, and even mood changes.
By following a lectin-free meal plan, reducing lectins in your foods, and trying lectin blockers, you may be surprised how your health changes. Still, a low-lectin diet isn’t for everyone, and it’s best to seek out the help of a qualified practitioner who understands lectins and food sensitivities well, such as a functional medicine doctor.
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body is shared for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide medical advice. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.
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