I’ve recently been on the hunt to find out why I’m still having some nagging pains and think I may have come across what it might be that is causing them. Lectins!
A couple of weeks ago, I tried to reintroduce green beans to my diet thinking it was about time. Well, I guess I was wrong! I’ve had nagging pain in my gut since starting and hadn’t realized that was the culprit. You see, green beans are part of the legume family of vegetables that contain a lot of lectins, and reintroducing them has taken me down a road I thought I had overcome. I guess cooking them wasn’t enough to allow me to eat them without issues.
OK, so you don’t know what Lectins are and I hope I can help you with that issue.
Lectins are in pretty much every food you eat. They are obviously higher in some foods than in others, and that seems to be what I’ve been experiencing. I’m not perfect (by any stretch) and love the foods I eat, but sometimes I find I still suffer a lot. So what are Lectins?
Here is a statement from the Paleo Mom (Sara Ballantyne): Lectins are a large class of carbohydrate-binding proteins found in all forms of life, including the human body. Many types of receptors embedded in the cells in our bodies are lectins. A group of proteins essential to our innate immune systems, called complement proteins (because they “complement” the activities of inflammatory cells by providing a rudimentary targeting mechanism for this otherwise non-specific part of the immune system), are lectins. In plants, the roles of lectins are still being identified, although they appear to be part of the plants’ natural defense mechanisms and to be important for seed survival (why lectins tend to be concentrated in the seeds of plants). Thus, no grains in my diet or I tend to suffer big time.
Also, Sara Ballantyne says that: they are hard to digest; they interact with the gut barrier and damage the cells that form it or open up the junctions between the cells causing “leaky gut”; and they can stimulate the immune system.
Dr. Josh Axe refers to lectins as “Antinutrients” and recommends getting some of them out of your diet completely. He identifies them this way – Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds found in a variety of foods — especially grains, beans, legumes and nuts — that interfere with the absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. They can even get in the way of the digestive enzymes, which are key for proper absorption. Antinutrients can also be found in plant roots, vegetables, leaves and fruits, although these are at much lower levels and usually have benefits as opposed to mostly harmful effects.
Many different types of “seed” foods contain antinutrients like phytic acid, leptins and saponins naturally, including some that you probably don’t even realize are seeds (for example, all grains are really the seeds of cereal grasses). The reason they contain these compounds that bind to vitamins and minerals, making them unabsorbable, is largely as a defense mechanism. Their antinutrients help repel pests, bugs and other predators so the seeds are able to live on and reproduce.
I know, that is somewhat technical, but it tells us that it’s not simple! There are bad lectins (gluten, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) and good lectins (soaked, cooked, and fermented foods). The top 8 allergens contain some of the highest amounts of lectins (dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish). Some believe that lectins could become the next Gluten issue.
Livestrong.com lists the following as lectin foods (not all of which are a problem):
Beans and Pulses
Beans are among the main sources of lectins. Soy, kidney, navy, pinto, lima, fava, wax, castor, jack, string and field beans all contain lectins. Sweet peas, green peas, cow peas and horse grams are other sources of these proteins, as are lentil, mung bean or soybean sprouts. Fully cook your beans before eating them. Cooking and digestion destroy some, but not all, lectins. For example, the lectins in navy beans aren’t fully destroyed during digestion.
Grains and Cereals
Barley, corn, rice and wheat, especially wheat germ, also contain lectins, as do cereals and other baked goods made with these grains. Wheat germ contains one of the types of lectin that isn’t destroyed during digestion.
Fruits and Vegetables
Tomatoes contain lectin, and so do potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, carrots, rhubarb, beets, mushrooms, asparagus, turnips, cucumbers, pumpkin, sweet peppers and radishes. Citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons and grapefruit, provide lectin. So do berries, including blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. Other fruit sources of lectin include pomegranate, grapes, cherries, quinces, apples, watermelon, banana, papaya, plums and currants.
You’ll also be consuming lectin if you eat nuts and seeds, even those that have been dry roasted. Walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and coconut all contain lectins. Chocolate, coffee and some spices, including caraway, nutmeg, peppermint, marjoram and garlic, are also sources of lectins.
Unfortunately, in large amounts lectins can cause damage to the gut wall, which in turn causes irritation perhaps resulting in diarrhea and vomiting (lectin poisoning). It also can prevent the gut from absorbing nutrients properly. When you eat lectins in excess or under-processed, they can cause digestive distress. Fortunately, we don’t typically eat raw legumes!
Healthline.com says that these six “healthy” foods are high in lectins – Red Kidney Beans, Soybeans, Wheat, Peanuts (not a nut, but a legume), Tomatoes and Potatoes (both are nightshades). Repeated exposure to large amounts of lectins may increase gut permeability. Some researchers believe that dietary lectins can raise the risk of autoimmune disease.
Since I stopped eating the green beans, I have noticed a significant change back to where I was before starting them! Some people’s bodies are simply far too sensitive to these things, and I guess mine is one of them. I’ve been on this journey for 3 plus years now (2018) and hoped I would be able to reintroduce more foods, but I guess that’s not going to happen as quickly as I thought. I have successfully reintroduced eggs and that has made a huge difference in what I can eat. However, other things I’ve tried over the past year have not been so successful and I’ve had to shelve them again. I know RAW anything (not including fruit) is not something I should or can eat. Small steps.
Take heart – not everyone has these issues and can eat anything they want. Lucky people!
Have a wonderful rest of your day and week ahead.