All About Dietary Lectins-Are They Unsafe?
There are very few foods that can be called completely perfect on this planet. Every food has some good aspects and some bad ones. Lectins are one such bad aspect of food. Lectins are proteins found in most of the foods, particularly grains and legumes.
It is said that on consuming lectins the digestive system’s lining gets damaged. People say that this increases gut permeability and leads to autoimmune disease. Yes, lectins can cause harm but then it is easy to get rid of them with the right methods of cooking and preparing.
What exactly are lectins?
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins present in nature. It is found in all plants and animals. These proteins help cells and molecules stick to each other and have other immune system related functions. In spite of the fact that all food have lectin, only 30 percent of the foods we eat have them in large amounts.
Legumes and grains have the most amount of lectins followed by milk, seafood and plants belonging to the nightshade family.
How harmful can lectins be to humans in large amounts?
Lectins have a problem in getting digested by humans. They are resistant to the digestive enzymes of the body and can pass out through the stomach without getting changed.
Their sticky nature gets them prone to getting attached to walls of the intestine. They disrupt the routine maintenance of cells in the intestine, worsening the everyday wear and tear.
Certain lectins like phytohaemagglutinins that are found in legumes (kidney beans are the biggest sources) can lead to poisoning. If you eat kidney beans raw, you will get lectin poisoning and the symptoms include severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
But before you jump to conclusions let me remind you that we humans don’t eat raw legumes. They are cooked before being consumed.
Overexposure to lectins can lead to Autoimmune diseases and gut permeability
The gut wall can get damaged when there is repeated exposure to lectins. It can lead to a condition called ‘leaky gut’ where unwanted things enter the bloodstream by penetrating the gut. Lectins can interact with antibodies too causing an immune reaction not just against lectins but also against the tissues to which they are bound to. This is called autoimmune reaction, in which the immune system attacks its own structures by mistake. And this can lead to autoimmune diseases.
The lectin in foods is degraded by cooking
When you cook food, lectins get virtually eliminated. When legumes are boiled almost all the lectin activity is eliminated. The lectins in red kidney beans and soybeans are almost eliminated when they are boiled. So, you need not avoid legumes as you don’t eat them raw. They are always cooked! So, they are perfectly safe to eat.
Soaking, sprouting and fermenting can further reduce lectins
Soaking and sprouting grains and seeds can help in eliminating lectins and other anti-nutrients. Even fermenting the food works well as the friendly bacteria digests all the anti-nutrients. Whole grains prepared traditionally are way more healthier than they are prepared today.
The bottom line- Are lectins a matter of concern?
It is a fact that dietary lectins can be toxic when consumed in large doses, but humans don’t have them in large doses. Foods like grains and legumes that are rich in legumes are always cooked before being consumed leaving only a negligible amount of lectins. This makes the foods safe to eat for majority of the people.
People who suffer from digestive or autoimmune problems may respond well when kept on a diet free of lectins, and this includes dairy, eggs and plants that belong to the nightshade family such as potatoes.
The amount of lectin is way too low in foods and it should not be a real concern for healthy people. The lectin containing foods are high in fibre, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and many beneficial compounds. The benefits outweigh the negative effects of lectins that are present in trace amounts.
Did you find this post on lectins useful?
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