Pick any aisle in the grocery store, and you will likely be able to find something containing lectin. In fact, you’ve probably seen it as an ingredient on labels for many types of food. In the past, lectin has not been the subject of scrutiny as much as gluten, but now, in light of recent scientific discoveries and debates, lectin is being hailed by some as the new gluten.
Just what is gluten, and how bad is it for you? Is it okay for people without lectin sensitivities to consume? Read on to find out.
What is Lectin, and What Harm Does It Cause?
Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that are specific to molecules in sugar called moieties. Essentially, what these proteins do is bind other molecules together. However, it has been found that lectin can cause damage to the gastrointestinal lining, specifically in the villi found in the small intestine.
Since they bind with villi (tiny pockets that nutrients must pass through before entering the bloodstream) and cause damage, nutrients that are passing through the small intestine cannot be digested by the body as they need to be. Parasites and harmful pathogens can enter the body more easily as well since the damage caused by lectins leads to dysbiotic gut flora.
As a result of all this mayhem being wreaked on your gastrointestinal system, you can develop what is commonly called leaky gut. Openings that emerge in the gut lining now allow pathogens, lectins, and other particles to directly enter the bloodstream and attract to leptin and insulin receptors, thereby leading to leptin and insulin resistance.
How Much is Too Much?
All of this damage comes from a measly little protein? Not quite. Some scientists claim that you would have to eat a rather high amount of lectin in order to experience these negative effects or actually have a lectin sensitivity.
While those with a sensitivity should consider healthy alternatives to lectin-containing foods, those who can consume them should probably do so in modest amounts. It has been shown in studies that lectin might have some health benefits, including cancer-fighting potential.
How Do I Know If I’m Lectin-sensitive?
If you have not been tested for food allergies (including a lectin sensitivity), you might want to try undergoing an elimination diet. If you bite into something with lectin in it, you might not notice its effects straight away, and you might consume these foods for years before noticing that something is truly wrong. If you get meal deliveries, try opting for an organic meal delivery so that you can avoid some of the potential lectins in foods.
Leaky gut is the biggest indicator that you have a lectin sensitivity. However, those with lectin sensitivities also experience fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain, mental health issues, nausea, feeling weak or numb, watery eyes, or a tightness in the throat. Additionally, many of those who have leaky gut have underlying issues, such as autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Which Foods Have Lectin?
Lectin is in so many different types of food that it is hard to know exactly what to avoid if you cannot consume lectin. Lectin is predominantly found in the following foods:
- Legumes (especially soy and including soybean sprouts, lentils, green peas, sweet peas, and field beans)
- All types of grains (Of course, this means they’re in all kinds of cereals!)
- Dairy products
- Raw nuts
- Nightshades (including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant)
- Citrus fruits (especially oranges, grapefruit, and lemons)
Before you drop that chocolate bar or toss that delicious coffee, you might want to consider the fact that, when lectin-containing foods are cooked, they tend to lose some (but not all) of their lectins. Cooking your beans will cause you to ingest fewer lectins into your system, meaning that fewer of them will negatively impact your digestive system. Of course, if you don’t have a lectin sensitivity, you might not have as much to worry about as someone who does. Getting tested and doing an elimination diet is the best way to figure out if you should still be munching on legumes.