Go­ing ‘lectin-free’ is the lat­est pseu­do­science diet fad

Lectins are a type of pro­tein found in many grains and beans

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - CARA ROSENBLOOM

In the diet world, a new buzz­word is emerg­ing: lectins. Have you heard of lectins? Ten years ago, you prob­a­bly hadn’t heard of gluten, ei­ther. Go­ing “lectin-free” is primed to be­come the next big thing in di­et­ing, but this diet seems more fad than fact.

Lectins are a type of pro­tein found in many foods in­clud­ing grains and beans. As iso­lated com­pounds, they have been re­searched for many years and can have pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive health ef­fects. While some lectins are highly toxic, oth­ers are be­nign.

The prob­lem is that on­line health gu­rus are paint­ing all lectins with the same brush, and play­ing up the neg­a­tive ef­fects with­out the ev­i­dence to back it up. Say­ing all lectins are poi­son is akin to say­ing that you shouldn’t eat but­ton mush­rooms be­cause some for­aged mush­rooms are toxic. It makes no sense.

What the on­line rhetoric doesn’t men­tion is that North Amer­i­cans ac­tu­ally don’t in­gest a lot of lectins, so the prob­lems they cite — link­ing lectins to obesity, ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome and in­flam­ma­tion — may be way overblown. Be­fore you fall for any pseudo-ad­vice, here are the facts.

There’s more than one type of lectin, and dif­fer­ent ones can do dif­fer­ent things.

Sci­en­tists are still try­ing to map out all of the lectins and what they are ca­pa­ble of. And un­like handy lists of how much iron or vi­ta­min C is found in cer­tain foods, there aren’t easy-to-ac­cess lists of the amount of lectins in food, and what each one does.

With­out get­ting too tech­ni­cal, lectins help cells stick to­gether. Re­search shows that lectins may have some ben­e­fits — they are an­timi­cro­bial, help the im­mune sys­tem and have anti-can­cer po­ten­tial.

But the same stick­i­ness also makes them act as “anti-nu­tri­ents,” which hin­der the body’s ab­sorp­tion of cer­tain vi­ta­mins. High in­take of lectins may dam­age the lin­ing of the in­tes­tine, which lets pro­teins cross into the blood­stream undi­gested. This could cause an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion or in­crease risk of de­vel­op­ing au­toim­mune dis­eases.

It’s crit­i­cal to note that the ma­jor­ity of lectin stud­ies have been done with iso­lated lectins, not ac­tual foods, and have been con­ducted in test tubes or in an­i­mals, not in peo­ple. So how can these on­line health gu­rus con­clu­sively link lectin-con­tain­ing foods to cer­tain health is­sues when clin­i­cal tri­als in hu­mans have not even been con­ducted yet?

Many rely on what we know for sure: Some lectins are toxic. But no one eats those! For ex­am­ple, lectins in raw or un­der­cooked kid­ney beans can cause symp­toms that mimic food poi­son­ing, such as vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhea. But that doesn’t mean no one should eat any beans — it just means we can’t eat raw kid­ney beans.

Have you ever crunched into a raw kid­ney bean? I didn’t think so. Hard as rocks, all beans and lentils would be ined­i­ble in their raw form. Boil­ing beans for 30 min­utes erad­i­cates most, if not all, of the lectins. Note that soak­ing beans overnight does not re­move enough lectin, and don’t rely on slow cook­ers when cook­ing beans from scratch — the ma­chine doesn’t get hot enough to de­stroy lectins. Pre­pared prop­erly, beans have low lectin lev­els and are safe to eat.

Grains can also be boiled to re­duce lectin con­tent. Think about quinoa, rice and bar­ley — boiled first, then eaten, right? Fer­ment­ing and sprout­ing foods can also help re­duce lectin con­tent. Friendly bac­te­ria in the fer­men­ta­tion process di­gests the anti-nu­tri­ents, and can re­duce lectins by up to 95 per cent.

Ar­ti­cles that pro­mote the lect­in­free diet cite it as a mirac­u­lous cure-all for arthri­tis, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and even can­cer. That’s the first sign it’s a fad — overblown prom­ises of as­ton­ish­ing health ben­e­fits be­fore any clin­i­cal proof ex­ists.

The next sign of a fad is a long list of foods to elim­i­nate. What’s not al­lowed on the lectin-free diet? Whole grains, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, toma­toes, pota­toes, pep­pers, dairy, eggs and fruit — they’re all out. That’s pretty much my en­tire gro­cery list. Ob­vi­ously this diet is not sus­tain­able, and it un­nec­es­sar­ily cuts out a wide range of nu­tri­tious in­gre­di­ents.

It’s also a likely fad when ev­ery­one — re­gard­less of age, health sta­tus or med­i­cal needs — is ad­vised to fol­low the same diet. How can one diet work for ev­ery­one? Fi­nally, it’s a fad when scare tac­tics per­suade you to spend money on sup­ple­ments. Of course, anti-lectin ad­vo­cates sell ex­pen­sive pills (just $79.95 a month) that claim to neu­tral­ize or re­duce the neg­a­tive ef­fect of lectins.

If you have di­ges­tive is­sues and are par­tic­u­lar­ity sen­si­tive to beans or grains, avoid them. But please, don’t sud­denly elim­i­nate all lectin-con­tain­ing foods from your diet be­cause an on­line ar­ti­cle told you that they are bad for you. The amount of lectins found in the nor­mal food sup­ply is too low to be a real health con­cern.

Reg­is­tered di­eti­tian Cara Rosenbloom is pres­i­dent of Words to Eat By, a nutri­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in writ­ing, nutri­tion education and recipe de­vel­op­ment. She is the co-au­thor of “Nour­ish: Whole Food Recipes Fea­tur­ing Seeds, Nuts and Beans.” Wash­ing­ton Post


Some lectins are toxic. For ex­am­ple, lectins in raw or un­der­cooked kid­ney beans can cause symp­toms that mimic food poi­son­ing, such as vom­it­ing and di­ar­rhea. Boil­ing beans for 30 min­utes erad­i­cates most, if not all, of the lectins.


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