To Lectin or Not to Lectin?

Do you know that around 30 percent of food contains lectins (cite)? Have you ever even heard of  lectins? An interest in lectin-free diets has been gaining popularity recently due to claims that they cause nutrient deficiencies, digestion troubles, and obesity. The tricky thing is there hasn’t been a lot of research done on the effects of lectins, but using the information out there, we’re going to break down what a lectin is, what foods they are in, and the pros and cons of eating lectins. 

Let’s get into it! There are different types of lectins in plants and animals, but all of them act as a defense mechanism for plants and animals to help prevent them from getting eaten since lectins can make you sick when eaten raw. Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins, but these proteins aren’t going to help you get ripped at the gym. They are resilient structures that bond cells together, while withstanding stomach acid, hence the reason they cannot be eaten raw (cite). This strong nature can lead to an interference with the absorption of nutrients, thus making lectins anti-nutrients (cite).

Nutrient deficiencies, nausea, weight gain? This all might make lectins seem scary, but there’s no need to fear. Although lectins can be found in grains, legumes, fruit, potatoes, and more, lectins are always in raw foods, and can be taken away if the food is processed correctly (cite). 

There are several ways to process high-lectin food to make it nearly lectin free. 

  1. SOAKING // Because most of the lectin properties are found on the outside of grains and legumes, and because lectins are water soluble, most of the negative effects can be fixed by soaking the food in water (cite).
  2. HIGH HEAT // The most common way to almost completely get rid of lectins is cooking them at high heat. When boiled in water (because they are water soluble) at a high heat, the lectin amount in foods like potatoes and beans reduces drastically. 
  3. SPROUTING & FERMENTING // Sprouting and fermentation are the last couple methods to reduce lectin. Sprouting helps mostly just with legumes as it helps to remove the outer skin where the lectin is held. Fermentation is the last method. Think of tempeh, which is a block of fermented soy beans. The chemical changes from the enzymes in the fermentation process can help to decrease the lectin content by 95 percent (cite).

Because of the digestion sensitivities that lectin can create, those who experience chronic digestion problems, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s Disease should try to avoid high lectin food. The methods to reduce the lectin content is not guaranteed, especially if it is not fully cooked or processed in the correct way (cite).

The lectin-free diet has been gaining popularity recently in part due to diet recommendations made by Doctor Steven Gundry. He offers one perspective on the potential harm from lectins, including noticing signs of lectin intolerance/sensitivity. Dr. Gundry has developed an outline of what foods to swap out if you choose to follow a “Lectin-Avoidance Diet” (cite).

There can still be benefits to eating  foods that contain lectin. Lectins can act similarly to antioxidants as they protect cells from damage, as well as preventing blood sugar spikes by aiding in the slow digestion of carbohydrates (cite). It is also found that foods that contain lectin, such as whole grains, legumes, and seeds also contain fiber, protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats that can lower cardiovascular disease risk and type 2 diabetes (cite). Because of these benefits, don’t be afraid of incorporating foods containing lectins into your diet. 

Beans and legumes are nutrient rich, but they aren’t always so digestible because of lectins. The great thing about chocho is it’s a legume and lectin free, the best of both worlds. Due to the alkaloid removal process or “debittering process” and the way we wash our chocho at MIKUNA, all of the lectins in our products are removed. 

We encourage you to listen to YOUR BODY and do whatever works for you! If you have specific dietary needs, please ask a dietitian or trusted healthcare advisor for advice.  Make sure high-lectin foods, like legumes, potatoes, and whole grains are fully cooked  to ensure you get the benefits from those foods. If you find that minimizing the amount of high-lectin food from your diet makes you feel better, then that’s awesome!  

The best thing you can do is to educate yourself as much as possible and eat healthy, nutrient rich foods that you enjoy which nourish your mind, body, and spirit!

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