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Lectins are proteins that block the absorption of vital nutrients into the body. They do this by attaching to the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. Some consider lectins to be anti-nutrients due to their behavior.
But not much is known about lectins aside from the dangers they pose. So how dangerous are lectins? And should you consider a lectin-free diet?
The truth is this. Lectins are everywhere. You'll find them in many of the most common foods. They come from most plant products and some animal products. But they're particularly dominant in nightshade plants.
Some lectins are so dangerous that the FDA warns that eating just four raw kidney beans, which are very high in lectin, can lead to severe nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
But not all lectins are harmful. That's especially true when you consume them in moderation. Often, lectins attach to carbohydrates that exit the GI tract.
For example, the body has a tough time digesting plant-based lectins. They gravitate and bind to the cells lining the GI tract, where they begin to wreak havoc on the digestive system.
So how do you avoid these potentially dangerous lectins? And what foods contain the highest concentrations of lectins that you should avoid?
Below, you'll find a comprehensive breakdown of foods high in lectins and how to adapt to a lectin-free diet.
Raw kidney beans have dangerous levels of lectins.
Red kidney beans contain a poisonous type of lectin called phytohemagglutinin, while castor beans contain a poison called ricin.
Eating uncooked beans could be poisonous. Soak raw kidney beans for at least 5 hours, and drain the water periodically to reduce the level of dangerous lectins.
Soybeans have a lectin called soybean agglutinin in them. They easily bind to the cell lining in the GI, permeating the intestinal lining and causing inflammation.
This is known to decrease plasma insulin levels without increasing the levels of blood glucose.
The entire world consumes vast amounts of wheat. Refined wheat, such as those found in white breads and other similar baked goods, have been stripped almost entirely of their nutrients.
Most people who are health conscious choose whole wheats, which is high in nutrients. Although it does contain lectins, most are eliminated when the wheat is cooked.
While wheat itself is not dangerous, raw wheat germ is. Often added to granolas and cereals, raw wheat germ contains high levels of lectins.
Tomatoes are in the nightshade family. While they are high in fiber and Vitamin C, they are also high in lectins. Studies have found tomatoes do reduce inflammation. So they do have numerous health benefits.
However, raw, uncooked tomatoes do contain lectins that bind to the cells in the gastrointestinal wall.
A study involving mice discovered that tomato lectins do cross into the bloodstream once they bind to the cells in the gut wall.
Peppers are a vegetable that's also part of the nightshade family. The nightshade family are notoriously high in dangerous lectins. They are known to cause arthritis, leaky gut, heartburn, inflammation and other health issues.
Most lectins are eliminated when cooked. However, not the lectins in potatoes. If you're trying to avoid lectins and stick to a lectin-free diet, avoid consuming potatoes in any form.
Eggplant is actually good for you. However, it is high in lectin. It also hails from the nightshade family.
Lima beans come from the legume, which are high in lectins. They also possess numerous health benefits. But if you're trying to stick to a lectin-free diet, avoid lima beans because they contain some of the highest levels of lectins.
Dairy is high in a protein called Casein A1, which is high in lectins. Even those opting for organic milks can't escape Casein.
Whether you choose whole milk or non-fat milk, caseins are present across the board.
Most choose dairy free milks such as almond milk and even rice milk to avoid dangerous lectins in milk.
Peanuts are a delicious treat to most. However, they are high in lectins. In fact, one study determined that the lectins in peanuts attribute to cancer cell growth. Just a small amount of peanuts contain dangerous levels of lectins.
However, peanuts are a great source of polyunsaturated fats and protein. They do have numerous other health benefits, which seem to outweigh their potential for harm.