Lectin is a naturally occurring protein found in beans, legumes, whole grains and even some vegetables. Recently, lectin spent some time in the spotlight after a being discussed in a popular book authored by a doctor who called lectins dangerous, saying they increase inflammation, cause digestive issues and chronic diseases, and even make you gain weight.
Upon hearing these claims, many people wondered if cutting out lectins would make them healthier? In a recent Prevention article, Megan Meyer, PhD, director of science communications at the International Food Information Council, shares the low-down on lectin.
Why Is Lectin Perceived as Bad?
Lectins are a current popular topic because they are antinutrients – or compounds that can block the absorption of nutrients from other foods. Also, some claim that lectins are an inflammatory toxin. Although red kidney beans do contain a type of lectin, phytohaemagglutinin, that can be toxic, this toxicity would only occur if you were to eat the beans raw. Chances are, you’d never even think to eat them raw. Cooking the beans deactivates the lectin, making it harmless. There is, however, one exception to this rule. If cooked in a slow cooker, the temperature may not be high enough to deactivate the lectin in dried kidney beans.
There have been some studies which have found that certain lectins may cause damage to the digestive tract. If we look more closely, we realize that these findings cannot be applied to humans. Meyer explains the studies have only looked at “purified, isolated lectins,” instead of lectins in the context of food. Also, Meyer notes that these studies have been done in test tubes or on animals – not human subjects.
Lectins are found in many of the foods that are recommended for good health. If you were embarking on a lectin-free diet, you’d have to avoid the following: beans and legumes, grains, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes), cow’s milk and eggs. Not to mention, you’d have to avoid any processed or packaged foods that may contain these ingredients. Avoiding foods may also lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Should You Go Lectin-Free?
Following a lectin-free diet won’t hurt you, but it won’t help you either, says Meyer. It would be very difficult to avoid foods containing lectin, and you’d be missing out on some important nutrients. Whole grains, beans, and vegetables are sources of fiber. Getting enough fiber can aid in weight maintenance, lower the risk of heart disease and promote healthy blood glucose levels. Meyer emphasizes that these foods help us, they do not hurt us.
With this in mind, there’s no reason to cut out lectins from your diet. Instead, include foods containing lectins as part of a healthy eating pattern. Unless recommended by a registered dietitian or medical professional, you should not be removing important, nutritious foods from your diet.
This post includes contributions from Morgan Manghera.