What are lectins:
Lectins are sticky proteins that can bind to cell membranes, particularly sugar-binding membranes. Sugar binding membranes in the body include the nerves, joints, mouth, gastrointestinal lining and our blood vessels.
This can influence cell-cell interaction. Furthermore, in our guts, lectins increase gut permeability by opening the tight junctions between the lining of our intestinal cells. This contributes to leaky gut which propels autoimmune conditions as many foreign proteins are able to enter our bloodstream during digestions through these intestinal gaps. This causes a major heightened immune response and worsens inflammation.
What foods are high in lectins:
Lectins are contained primarily in the peels and the seeds of foods. Foods that are high in lectins include grains and cereals, barley, corn, rice, and wheat, especially wheat germ, beans and legumes, chia, cashews, quinoa, squash, pumpkin seeds, peanuts and the nightshade family, including potatoes, eggplants tomatoes, peppers, yogi berries, even chia seeds.
Why are lectins so harmful and what reactions do lectins have on the body?
Lectins are a primary defence system of plants. These lectins are partially a result of evolutionary pressure in plants, similar to evolutionary pressures faced by animals for survival. Plants want to grow, reproduce through seeds, and survive. They aren’t hoping humans or animals eat them. Plants that are able to do this the best are most successful at surviving. Plants can change their chemistry to influence their prey, causing symptoms such as paralysis, hallucination, depression and nausea when eaten. This signals the creature consuming the plant to not go back to that particular plant. Unfortunately, humans do not often listen to signals sent to us by our body to stop eating certain foods. This is when we become dependant on drugs and medications to mask symptoms. Up-regulating lectin content is an evolutionary adaptation in plants.
Why do some people have worse reactions than others to lectins?
The microbiome (bacteria in our gut) is the main educator of our immune system. If your microbiome is used to certain plant lectins, it won't cause a major immune defence reaction against them. On the other hand, if you don’t have bacteria that are used to a certain lectin, or we have killed off most of our normal, beneficial gut flora through antibiotics, drugs, etc, our gut flora cannot support the immune system, and we generate autoimmune attacks in the body.
Most of our ancestors are from Europe, Asia or Africa, meaning we have not been exposed to most North Americans lectin containing foods until recently in the last 500 years.
From an evolutionary stand, the longer you have been exposed to certain plants, the more you have bacteria in your system that have evolved to eat these plants and digest their lectins. Again, this process can be highly compromised from modern medical practices through antibiotic use and the standard American diet.
What conditions do these lectins most affect?
Lectins have been identified as one of the fundamental causes of autoimmune disease. Some of these conditions include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, type 1 Diabetes, Hashimoto's, and multiple sclerosis.
How to navigate your way to health in a world full of lectins:
Eating a paleo type diet void of grains and legumes would be a great place to start. If a paleo diet is something you are not willing to adhere to, suggestions can be made to help reduce the lectin content in the foods you are eating.
Choose foods that are soaked, sprouted, fermented or cooked as these all decrease lectin content. Pressure cooking foods such as quinoa, beans and legumes can also completely destroy all lectins (except the gluten-lectin). These methods of food preparation are particularly important for vegans and vegetarians who rely heavily on grains, beans, and legumes in their diet.
If you are someone struggling with autoimmune conditions such as celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, or lupus, I highly recommend following a digestive healing diet and digestive healing protocol to reduce inflammation and heightened immune response in the body. My Bikini Bod Beat the Bloat program incorporates a 14-day digestive healing meal plan, digestive healing supplement guide and an educational digestive health ebook. I also offer custom meals plans that can be tailored to suit your exact needs and conditions.
I hope you found this information helpful, educational and thoughtful! Finding the 'perfect' diet can be tough, I myself am still learning what is best each new day.