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Lectins and the Plant Paradox

Could it be that the foods that we are constantly encouraged to eat more of are actually making us sick?

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #471

If you struggle with irritable bowl, I’d encourage you to try the low-FODMAP diet instead of the much more restrictive and less proven regimen promoted by Dr. Gundry.

Are Lectins Inflammatory?

Gundry claims that lectins drive inflammation. But studies show that diets that contain more beans, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains and less meat and refined grains (both of which are promoted on the low lectin diet) are associated with lower inflammation markers.

I’ve also written before about tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other so-called nightshade plants, which are on Gundry’s do-not-eat list. Some people appear to be especially sensitive to a substance in this family of plants called solanine (which is not a lectin). For those who are sensitive to solanine, eating nightshade plants can cause inflammation and joint point. For most people, however, these foods are not only healthful but potentially anti-inflammatory due to their antioxidant activity.

The only lectin you really need to worry about is the one found in kidney beans.

Can You Reduce Lectins in Foods?

And finally, I have written about the potential benefits of cooking, soaking, fermenting, and/or sprouting grains, seeds, and legumes. Not only is this a way to reduce the lectin content, but it can also increase the concentration of other nutrients, and inactivate phytic acid, which helps increase mineral absorption. However, I don’t believe it’s necessary to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid phytic acid or lectins. Both phytic acid and various lectins also appear to have beneficial effects in the body.

See also: Surprising benefits of phytic acid and Do whole grains fight cancer?

The Quick and Dirty on Lectins

For most healthy individuals, the amount of lectins that you get from whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetablesand even wheat germis unlikely to create problems. In fact, the proven benefits of including these foods in your diet appear to far outweigh the alleged dangers, which I think have been wildly overstated.

The only lectin you really need to worry about is the one found in kidney beans. Raw, ground, sprouted, or undercooked kidney beans can give you a walloping stomach ache. So be sure to thoroughly cook your kidney beans or to be completely on the safe side, use canned kidney beans.

But saying that you should avoid foods with lectins because the specific lectin in kidney beans is toxic is kind of like saying that you should avoid all foods containing minerals because mercury is poisonous.

As for Dr. Gundry’s book, it certainly has attracted a lot of attention. But, despite all his claims of rigorous science, I don’t think there’s much good evidence to support his thesis. In fact, following this diet may cause you to avoid a lot of healthy foods and make your diet less nutritious.

Image of beans with lectins © Shutterstock

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.