If you suffer from frequent inflammation flare-ups, lethargy, aches, pains, and brain fog, chances are that your body is experiencing an acidic overload, which is a precursor condition to chronic inflammation of cells and tissues. One major way you can reduce acidity is to follow a lectin-free diet that eliminates and substitutes foods with lectins in order to reduce inflammation levels in the body.
And now to the shocking part: did you know that most beans, seeds, grains, certain vegetables, and non-ripe fruits contain lectins?
But what are lectins, really? The most common consensus is that lectins are protein compounds used by plants to protect their seeds from predators, therefore making them irritating and toxic to animals.
When consumed, they can cause gut inflammation, which can manifest into chronic disease over time. In fact, many individuals suffering from food allergies have reported that going lectin-free has significantly reduced inflammation symptoms and their state of health.
Although it may seem overwhelming to reduce such wide-ranging food staples from your diet, each body is built differently, and experimenting with reduction and substitution methods can show profound benefits.
Balance is always key, and depending on your inflammation levels, you can design your own elimination diet that works with your preferences and lifestyle.
A common low-lectin diet includes foods like beets, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, onion, green salads, mushrooms, and avocados. Likewise, high lectin veggies and fruits can be made less irritating to the body by the removal of their skins and seeds (for example, skinning and de-seeding tomatoes, which the Italians have done for centuries).
Lectins Are a Plant’s Defense Mechanism
Now that you know a bit more about the correlation between lectin consumption and inflammation, it’s also important to understand how they’re produced and why they’re so harmful.
Essentially, plants use lectins as protection against predators. In fact, they are one of the most researched plant storage proteins, since many health problems such as autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and chronic kidney failure have been linked to them. As a result, there is still much to learn about how these proteins affect human health long-term.
For instance, humans do not produce or possess the enzymes needed to block or break down lectins. Hence, they can’t completely digest the foods containing them, which can lead to a wide range of negative health effects.
Another reason lectin-rich foods cause so many issues is that foods with lectins can damage the lining of the small intestine, which prevents the proper absorption of nutrients. This is a problem, because we need healthy gut bacteria to fully utilize foods and absorb their essential vitamins and minerals. Regularly consuming foods containing lectins over time may also lead to malnutrition, since they negatively affect proper digestion.
Dr. Steven Gundry, a cardiologist by training and one of the main proponents of a lectin-free diet, supports this claim. In his book, The Plant Paradox, he states that foods high in lectins can damage our microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our gut.
They are the building blocks of “us”, and without them, we wouldn’t be alive. They dictate the condition of our immune system, mood, and emotions, as well as our overall health (body environment or terrain).
Every plant wants to protect its babies – its seeds – and pass on its genetic code. Plants have evolved the ability to protect themselves from predators for millennia, and one effective way they were able to survive and propagate is by developing and releasing lectins into the skins and seeds of their fruits.
The poisonous coating is meant to teach animals looking for an enticing meal to avoid consuming them. This defense mechanism ranges from releasing the toxins while their seeds and fruits are developing to releasing lectins to their extremities in real-time when they feel a predator feasting on their leaves.
Usually, lectins paralyze small insects, harm animals’ digestive systems, cause poisoning, and repel predators from coming near the plants.
However, this is where things get even more interesting! According to Dr. Gundry, plants have also developed the intelligence to understand that diversification of location is advantageous to their survival.
They’ve developed colors in their ripe fruits, which attract animals to eat them, knowing that once they do, the seeds will hopefully pass through their digestive tracts and be expelled and grow in a new location (the natural fertilizer helps with this!).
Therefore, many larger fruit-bearing trees, plants, and bushes, desire animals to feed off their ripe fruits and don’t produce lectins at the last stages of their ripening cycle.
However, if the fruit is picked too early, this mechanism is not finalized, as the plant wants to protect its fruit until it is fully ready, colorful and enticing to the animal.
But, because our modern-day food delivery is globalized with export and import, mostly every plant, fruit and vegetable is picked too early. This means that if the fruits are not local or seasonal, it is most likely that many of them will not only have lectins, but will also not be fully nutritious.
It is estimated that today’s nutritional content of organic foods is a fraction of what it was only generations ago due to soil depletion, pasteurization methods, and chemical procedures that stimulate ripening to appeal to consumer demands.
In fact, foods with lectins are usually called “anti-nutrients,” because they can interfere with normal body functions and cause health problems. Therefore, if you have a history of digestive problems or an autoimmune condition, these foods may be making your symptoms even worse.
You can easily test whether lectins are a major culprit by trying a lectin elimination diet, during which you don’t consume any lectins for a week. If this cut-back helps minimize your symptoms, then you’ll know that you are sensitive to how lectins impact your body.
It is therefore recommended to eliminate the foods with the highest lectin content, such as wheat, dairy, and nightshade vegetables, and minimize intake of all lectin-rich foods over time.
Correlation Between Lectin Consumption, Inflammation and Food Allergies
Inflammation can cause a wide range of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, heart palpitations, and even insulin resistance. And foods that contain lectins – a certain variety of vegetables, unripe seed-bearing fruits, beans, and grains – can cause an inflammatory response despite being considered “healthy foods”.
In addition to lectins, it is important to keep in mind that an inflammatory immune response can also arise due to the traces of pesticides on conventional produce and foods. If you are not eating organic food, it is possible that glyphosate, the main ingredient in pesticides, is damaging the gut lining and detoxifying the body, resulting in a myriad of inflammatory and chronic conditions.
My recommendation is to test out to what extent pesticides may be affecting you by eating the same foods as always but switching to all organic, controlling for the organic factor. If your allergy or inflammatory symptoms improve after a week, it means that going all organic will be incredibly important when it comes to improving your overall health.
You might be wondering why inflammation occurs in the body in the first place. In simple terms, it is a response or a side effect of acidosis or toxification of the body – a reaction to aggravation. When the body is overburdened by chemicals or toxins and they are not expelled fast enough, they “burn” and damage our cells, tissues, and organs.
This is then expressed as inflammation of certain tissues and organs such as the gut (gastrointestinal disorders and celiac disease), skin (eczema and psoriasis), joints (arthritis), and the lymphatic/kidney system (edema, tumors and cancer).
In The Plant Paradox, Dr. Gundry describes the process of lectin interaction with our bodies as the following:
Well, lectins in the seeds, grains, skins, rinds and leaves of most plants bind to carbohydrates (sugars), and particularly to complex sugars called polysaccharides, in the predator’s body after it consumes the plant. Like smart bombs, lectins target and attach themselves to sugar molecules, primarily on the surface of the cells of other organisms – particularly fungi, insects, and other animals.
They also bind to sialic acid, a sugar molecule found in the gut, in the brain, between nerve endings, in joints, and in all bodily fluids, including the blood vessel lining of all creatures. Lectins are sometimes referred to as “sticky proteins” because of this binding process, which means they can interrupt messaging between cells or otherwise cause toxic or inflammatory reactions. (pg.15)
However, Dr. Gundry recommends that because all individuals are different, their bodies’ responses to foods will also differ. This is why it is essential to test, monitor, eliminate or add foods according to how your body responds.
He further believes that not all lectins are bad and states that studies show that there are lectins that are completely harmless, and even some that are beneficial. How all lectins affect us truly depends on our genetic make-up, the lectin levels in our diet, as well as other lifestyle factors.
What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Lectin Intolerance?
Lectin intolerance can most readily manifest as bloating, gas, cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If symptoms are worsened or occur after consuming foods with lectins, this can be a sign that lectins are causing an inflammatory response in the body. These foods cause inflammation by disrupting the intestinal barrier function and contributing to leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut occurs when foods that are high in lectins “break apart” the intestines, causing foods and bacteria to leak into the bloodstream, which generates an immune response. This is how inflammation occurs and allergic reactions manifest in the body.
Lectin intolerance symptoms may also include the following symptoms:
– respiratory difficulties, such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing; in some cases, asthma can even develop
– sinus and nasal irritation, including a dry throat, runny or stuffy nose as well as postnasal drip
– skin rashes like eczema, hives, and psoriasis
– headaches as well as migraines, if foods that contain lectins are not eliminated from the diet
– brain fog, cognitive issues and memory problems; foods with lectins can interfere with the production of neurotransmitters and cause different behavioral changes
– depression or anxiety symptoms can manifest with the increased levels of bad gut bacteria that can impact mood regulation
– joint pain, discomfort, and arthritis can occur due to a high lectin diet
– weight gain, since inflammation can impact the pancreas and cause insulin resistance
If you suffer from any of these symptoms, you should avoid lectins altogether, or if you happen to consume them, don’t consume them all at once.
And, as mentioned before, you can also minimize lectin content in certain vegetables by peeling off their skins and de-seeding them. In terms of fruits, you may avoid eating their seeds, especially if the fruit is not local.
How to Eliminate Foods That Contain Lectins From Your Diet
As discussed, the best way to discern whether lectins are impacting your health is to do a lectin elimination diet for a week and monitor your body’s reaction and symptomatic changes. If the health benefits are significant, it is highly recommended that you prolong this diet to at least a month in order to let the gut heal before introducing any new foods that could induce flare-ups.
Here is a list of high lectin foods that you should avoid and omit from your food list:
– whole grains such as wheat, wheat germ, bread, pasta, cereals, barley, oats and rice, among others; gluten is a lectin that causes a strong immune response when consumed by certain people. Grains are the essential food group to eliminate when it comes to lowering inflammation levels and improving health
– soy, corn, and legumes (such as green beans ) are also very high in lectins, especially if consumed raw
– fruits that contain lectins include those that are unripe and seeded (their skins and seeds); keep in mind that fruit is very healthy, but if it is not picked ripe, its chemistry (including its seed production) may not be ready for consumption by nature
Eat in-season and locally, and you should reap incredible benefits of fruits, of which I am the biggest proponent when it comes to detoxification, optimal health, and body alkalization!
-foods high in lectins also include green beans, black-eyed beans (cowpeas), red kidney beans, chickpeas, raw beans, and lentils
–nightshade vegetables high in lectins include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers, paprika and foods made with these ingredients, such as ketchup, pasta sauces and hot sauces.
-any packaged foods that contain additives such as natural flavors
–dairy products (except for ghee) such as milk, yogurt and cheese
–seeds and nuts such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, cashews and peanuts; nuts that are encased in a hard shell are usually lower in lectins, such as pistachios and pecans
If you do happen to have a penchant for certain seeds, nuts and grains from time to time, sprouting them for 24-48 hours before eating reduces their lectin levels and anti-nutrient content, including phytic acid and polysaccharides.
Lectin Free Foods that Lower Inflammation Levels in the Body
The following foods do not contain lectins and can help the body reverse the effects of inflammation:
-foods that grow wild do not contain lectins; these include mushrooms, blueberries, cranberries, and raspberries, among others.
-leafy greens such as kale, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, dandelion greens and arugula
-foods that contain soluble fiber, especially foods rich in gut bacteria-friendly fiber like avocados
-foods high in omega 3 fatty acids, such as olive oil and coconut oil, among others. Seeds such as flaxseeds, sesame seeds, and hemp seeds are likewise incredibly rich in omega 3s
-foods low in lectins and rich in polysaccharides like sweet potatoes, yams, carrots (raw is best to retain nutrients)
-foods rich in vitamin E include almonds, apricots, and spinach
-cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
-foods high in vitamin C such as citrus, mango, cherries, and pineapple
How to Heal the Gut After a Standard Diet
To heal the gut after a lifetime of a poor diet will take determination and a bit of time. Foremost, you need to avoid all foods that contain lectins, primarily wheat, grains, and nightshade vegetables.
Eliminating man-made chemicals and toxins is also very important. Since the liver uses the colon as a way to excise toxins out of the body through feces, eliminating daily toxin intake is highly recommended.
Likewise, the kidneys purge water-soluble toxins and metabolic waste, so giving them a respite by lowering toxin intake and inflammation is highly important. This includes eliminating conventional personal and cleaning products (full of dangerous chemicals and carcinogens) as well as foods with processed additives and man-made chemicals.
An important step in the healing journey is to be wary of all the “healthy food” alternatives out there that can be as harmful as the ingredient they are meant to replace.
For example, instead of gluten, many new gluten-free products that are made from lentils, corn, rice and soy have flooded the market. Although they may not contain the gluten lectin, they are full of other lectins and are equally as damaging and inflammatory as gluten. Indeed, “alternative” does not necessarily mean healthier.
To help further in your healing process, you should supplement the elimination diet with additional alkaline chemistry that cools down and heals inflammation in the form of organic cold-pressed juices and smoothies.
Likewise, foods high in zinc will help heal the gut. Superfoods like spirulina or foods high in omega-3 are likewise excellent choices, since they bind to toxins, help reduce inflammation and heal the gut lining.
You can also sparingly consume foods rich in probiotics like sauerkraut if you don’t suffer from gut disease, since probiotics may be too harsh on a sensitive, leaky gut.
Coping with food cravings is another big issue when you switch to foods that do not contain lectins. But your willpower will improve considerably after a few weeks and the long-term health benefits of doing so is a wonderful motivator. It won’t be easy, but it will be highly worthwhile!
Health Benefits of a Lectin Free Diet
A lectin free diet will lower inflammation levels over time as you enjoy foods as nature created them. You will experience many benefits of going lectin-free and organic, most notably with a big improvement and elimination of inflammatory and chronic health issues and weight loss (that you will keep off!).
Here are some of the conditions that are significantly improved with a lectin-free diet and body hydration:
- Acne, eczema, skin rashes, and psoriasis
- Age spots and skin markings
- Asthma and allergies
- Arthritis and joint pain
- Autoimmune illnesses
- Bone loss
- Brain fog and memory loss
- Chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pain
- Dementia and other nervous system disorders
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Gut problems and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Headaches and migraines
- Heart disease and high blood pressure
- Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle, miscarriage
- Irritability and behavioral changes
- Low testosterone
- Male pattern baldness
- Malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Dental health
- Reflux or heartburn
- Ringing in the ears
- Weight gain and inability to lose weight
It may seem that the lectin free diet is the next big food trend, but with good reasons. The botanical implications of how plants evolve to survive is an important context when it comes to examining our diet and ensuring that we are as informed as possible about any potential inflammatory factors that can lead to chronic illness.
A lectin free diet doesn’t have to be boring – you simply need to avoid foods that personally cause you sensitivities. Each body is different, so experimenting around an ideal diet that works with your digestion and health is key.
And whenever your digestion feels like it could use a break, the best thing to do is to conduct a fast that works with your lifestyle. This will not only help heal your gut, but it will give your body the energy it needs to prioritize any other possible health issues it usually cannot get to because the 4-part digestive process utilizes 70% of our daily energy.
Health is the true wealth and prioritizing your gut health is key to lowering inflammation in the body, healing chronic conditions, and increasing your immunity!
If you’d like to learn how to help lower your inflammation levels and heal your chronic health condition through body detoxification, check out my free practical detox guide that will guide you on your health journey through essential tips, naturopathic knowledge about healing, and an effective 3-month diet plan to help you reverse disease symptoms naturally.