Reader Susan S. writes in part: “Gut health is finally being mentioned more often in the mainstream. But almost never: There are grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables with lectins that pierce tiny holes in our intestines. I thought you might want to check this out so that you can let your readers know. I know it’s not an easy subject. “
You’re right, Susan, this is not an easy subject. A recent review on the subject published by registered nutritionist Kristin Sementelli states, “As with many debates in nutritional science, there are indications that both support and oppose the inclusion of lectins in the diet.” fully understand all research before forming an opinion.
What are lectins? They are a type of protein found in most plants such as cereal grains, legumes, and fruits. These proteins are more concentrated in black beans, kidney beans, soybeans, and whole grains.
Plant specialists say lectins could help plant seeds sprout. They also help protect a growing plant from fungi and other pests.
However, there is evidence that lectins can damage the intestines and cause inflammation. Some studies even suggest a link between lectins and the development of rheumatoid arthritis. However, very few of these studies have been conducted in humans. Most of them were on rats.
Research also shows that these proteins found in plant-based foods can have some health benefits. Different types of lectins have been shown to fight certain viruses and bacteria, and protect against yeast infections. Lectins are also being studied for their potential to fight cancer, including (interestingly) cancers of the digestive tract.
All previous studies have looked at lectins isolated from the food in which they are naturally found. So is it a good idea to stay away from healthy plant-based foods like legumes and whole grains to avoid lectins? Or can we take advantage of the numerous nutritional benefits of these foods and still protect ourselves from potential problems with lectins? First, you should know that simply cooking beans, whole wheat pasta, or the like, inactivates lectins. Certain processes such as food irradiation also appear to decrease lectin activity in plant foods.
Second, remember that the high levels of pure lectins fed to rats are not always consistent with what we would normally consume in our diet. For example, one study used the amount equivalent to consuming more than 80 slices of whole grain bread. It is clear that more research is needed to find out all of this. Legumes, whole grains, and soy foods are the mainstays of many well-researched and recommended diets, including Mediterranean and vegetarian eating habits. If you have digestive problems that you believe are due to lectins, watch your portions, cook foods thoroughly, and seek informed medical and nutritional advice.
Barbara Quinn-Intermill is a Registered Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Advisor affiliated with the Monterey Peninsula Community Hospital. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Simple Science Of Eating. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.