How Plant Lectins Could Be Harming Your Gut




If you’re a pop culture lover, you may have followed Kelly Clarkson’s story about her weight gain (due to a thyroid disorder) and more recent weight loss journey. To heal her body, she followed the lectin-free diet outlined in Dr. Steven Gundry’s book, The Plant Paradox, to quell inflammation and heal disease. Dr. Gundry’s book and success stories like Kelly’s have put lectins on the map so, in this post, we’ll go into what all the buzz is about.

What are lectins?

Lectins are proteins that reside within seeds, grains, skins, rinds and leaves of certain plants, and act as a defense mechanism against predators like insects trying to eat them. When humans eat lectin-containing foods, these tiny plant proteins bind to carbohydrate molecules present on cells in our blood, in the lining of our gut and on our nerves.

When lectins attach, they disrupt the cellular communication system between cells and our immune system, as well as open up the tight junctions between cells that line our intestines, leading to leaky gut and inflammation. And with that comes undesirable symptoms, such as digestive issues, weight gain, fatigue, brain fog, etc. If left unchecked over time, leaky gut and inflammation can make you gain weight and put you at greater risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and autoimmune disorders.

While the human gut does have the ability to handle lectins by way of the mucus barrier lining our intestinal tract and our microbiome, there are several factors in modern life that alter our resiliency to dealing with lectins in the diet. In The Plant Paradox, Gundry calls them the “seven deadly disruptors:” antibiotics, NSAIDs, stomach acid blockers, artificial sweeteners, endocrine disrupting chemicals, GMOs and constant exposure to blue light. Due to our exposure to these disruptors, we are more vulnerable to the negative health consequences of eating lectins.

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Where are lectins lurking?

The unfortunate truth is that lectins can be found in many healthy foods! While Gundry has an extensive list in his book of the lectin-loaded foods to avoid, below are the biggest lectin bombs:

  • Peanuts and cashews

  • Corn (and meat from animals who were fed corn)

  • Grains, such as wheat, but even gluten-free grains like quinoa

  • Beans and legumes

  • Nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, white potatoes, goji berries, okra)

  • Squashes (pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, zucchini, summer squash)

  • Milk

How do you know if you’re lectin sensitive or intolerant?

While lectins can affect everyone, people have different tolerances for lectins depending on the state of their health. If your gut’s defense system is intact (meaning your gut microbiome is healthy and the tight junctions between your intestinal cells are closed tight), then you can likely tolerate lectins without much harm.

If you’re dealing with GI distress, autoimmune disease, or show elevated inflammatory markers on blood work, it may be worth experimenting with a low-lectin diet. If you decide to give it a go, know that people typically notice a difference in the way they feel within two weeks of following a low-lectin diet.

If you’re not interested in following the low-lectin diet outlined in Gundry’s book, you can still take a few measures to reduce your exposure and support your gut’s ability to deal with lectins.

How do you reduce the amount of lectins in your diet?

  • Peel and de-seed tomatoes and peppers – lectins are concentrated in the peels and seeds so this will reduce the lectin content of these veggies

  • Eat fruit that is in-season (i.e. berries and stone fruits in summer, apples in fall, etc.) – fruit contain fewer lectins when ripe

  • Soak or sprout gluten-free grains before cooking – this will decrease lectins

  • Choose white rice over brown rice - the hull contains the lectins

  • Soak and pressure-cook beans – pressure cooking will destroy the lectins – or buy Eden Organic brand of canned beans which pressure cooks their beans

  • Choose pasture-raised meat (meaning the animals did not consume corn)

  • Switch to A2 casein dairy products, such as dairy from goats and sheep – A1 casein is a lectin-like protein in cow’s milk