Over the past few years you may have heard about lectins and why you should avoid them. There is a lot of conflicting information and studies out there about if lectins are really bad for us or not. So, you might be wondering what are lectins and should I avoid them?
The Plant Paradox
If you’re like me, I have a laundry list of books on my must-read list. Although I may be about a decade late coming to the party, I finally got around to reading Dr. Gundry’s The Plant Paradox book.
As a physician who highly respects Dr. Esselstyn and other plant-based proponents, The Plant Paradox intrigued me because it recommends against eating many of the foods that have shown promise in preventing and adjunctively treating many illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and cancers. As such, I was eager to find out what the book was all about.
What are Lectins?
In sum, The Plant Paradox recommends consuming a fairly strict, low lectin diet. Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins, sometimes labeled as “anti-nutrients”. Foods high in lectins include legumes (beans and peanuts), grains, tomatoes and peppers. The Plant Paradox recommends removal of these high lectin foods. Unable to give up your spaghetti sauce? The lectin content can also be decreased with certain cooking procedures, like soaking, pressure cooking, fermenting, peeling and deseeding, and eating refined grains (like white rice instead of while grain brown rice). Dr. Gundry has had years of success treating patients with a variety of chronic diseases using a low lectin diet.
Truth be told, there is some research showing that certain lectins are correlated with worsening the symptoms of some autoimmune diseases, including Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. However, there is also a body of research demonstrating just the opposite, that some lectins actually have anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed increased serum levels of galectin in patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were in remission. Another study showed that increased serum galectin had anti-IgE properties, helping to decrease food allergy responses. Looking at cancer, the studies are conflicting. Increased expression of certain types of lectins are linked to poorer prognosis, while increased expression of other lectins has been associated with improved prognosis.
Adding to the confusion even more, some studies link lectins to increased angiogenesis (blood vessel growth) in cancer, while others link lectins to cancer cell apoptosis (death of cancer cells). Additionally, in a study just published this month, fava bean, lentil, and pea lectins were demonstrated to have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Should I Avoid Them?
So, should we avoid lectins, or should we increase their intake? I think this is where personalized medicine really shines. For people with autoimmune diseases, especially those with autoimmune arthritis, a wholehearted trial of a low lectin diet could prove beneficial. If symptoms improve, fantastic! Stick with it! But if after a few weeks you are not noticing any positive changes, you can go back to eating your grilled peppers. For others, I do not see a need to fear or avoid lectins. In fact, given their many potential health benefits, ample intake of higher lectin foods should be thoroughly enjoyed!
If you are avoiding lectins, here is a list of some of the foods that contain them:
- Legumes (beans, peas, soybeans, lentils)
- Nightshades (potatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomato)
As always, please consult with your doctor before making any dietary and lifestyle changes!