Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrate molecules and have a variety of important functions in animals, plants, and humans.
For instance. they play a role in protecting plants against external pathogens, such as – fungi, and other organisms.
When consumed in excess by sensitive people, lectins can cause the following physiological reactions:
- they can bind to erythrocytes (commonly known as red blood cells), simultaneously with immune factors, causing anemia and hemagglutination (a specific form of agglutination which involves RBCs);
- they can provoke IgM and IgG antibodies (immunoglobulins), causing food allergies and other immune responses;
- they can cause nutrient deficiencies;
- they can cause severe intestinal damage disrupting digestion.
A 2015 study published in Oncotarget journal established that orally administering MASL (a particular plant lectin) may be beneficial in combating oral squamous cell carcinoma, which is the most common form of cancer affecting the oral cavity.
Moreover, lectins assist the immune system by protecting organs from outside invaders and toxins, fighting infections by pathogenic bacteria and viruses, and inflammation. Also, they help the body’s cells in their DNA replication and production.
According to a 2017 research published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, lectins in legumes have anticancer activities and antimicrobial characteristics.
11 Foods High In Lectins
Note – lectins are found in ALL foods, certain foods more than others, and the same food may contain different amounts of lectins depending on where and when the plant was grown, processing, and species.
#1 Dairy Products
Dairy products are defined as food products that are produced from milk.
The lectin content is higher if a dairy animal is fed grain rather than grass-fed.
#2 Red Kidney Beans
The lectin in red kidney beans is called phytohaemagglutinin and is responsible for red kidney bean poisoning (symptoms like nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea), that results from eating raw kidney beans. As few as four or five raw beans can trigger symptoms.
Note – you should keep eating beans regularly since a diet that contains beans is strongly associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, lifespan enhancement, and lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Cooking them significantly reduces their lectin content and increases the content of an antioxidant called lycopene.
Dietary intake of lycopene has been shown to be associated with a decreased risk of chronic diseases, like – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Also, cooking enhances their bioavailability, making tomatoes healthier.
If you are not lectin sensitive, have peppers in your regular nutrition as they are rich in vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B6.
Also, some studies concluded that sweet red peppers can activate thermogenesis (the process of heat production in organisms) and increase metabolic rate.
Cooking will reduce the lectin content by 50 to 60%, even more, if you peel them.
Whenever you cook with eggplants, you must peel and deseed them since the most harmful part of eggplant is its lectin-filled peel, hull, or rind.
Peanuts should be avoided if you are lectin sensitive as roasting won’t reduce much of their lectin content.
Also, the contamination of peanuts can occasionally lead to the production of aflatoxins, toxic chemicals derived from fungi, which pose a serious health risk to humans.
Additionally, consuming too many salted peanuts can increase your risk of blood pressure, raising your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Compared to hard, dry legumes, fresh peas have lower levels of lectins.
You can either cook them on the stovetop or use a pressure cooker to reduce their lectin content.
Also, they should definitely be added to your diet as they are rich in protein and fiber.
For example, a one-cup serving of soybeans has 10 grams of fiber and 29 grams of protein.
#10 Wheat Germ
Wheat germ is a by-product derived from the wheat milling industry. It contains wheat germ agglutinin.
Lentils are edible seeds from the legume family.
The lectin content in lentils is notably reduced by cooking. To lower levels even further, you can soak your lentils overnight.
Tips To Lower Lectins Content In Your Diet
According to research, raw kidney beans contain from 20,000 to 70,000 lectin units, however, cooked beans have between 200 and 400 units. Also, lectins in canned white beans are reduced to less than 0.1% of its original level.
Important note – lectins are resistant to dry heat, therefore, using raw legume flours in baked goods should be done with caution.
How To Cook Beans Properly
- Soak the beans in water with baking soda for at least 12 hours by using a 4:1 ratio of beans to water. While beans are soaking, they are doubling to tripling their size.
- Change the water often, always adding more baking soda with each change of water.
- Rinse the bean before cooking.
- Bring the cooking water to a rapid boil and cook the beans for at least 20 minutes.
High-lectin foods can be made safe to eat through proper fermenting and sprouting as well as soaking and cooking.
Bonus – Lectin Free Foods
Foods low in lectins include the following:
- Celery root;
- Green bananas;
- Baobab fruit (the fruit of Africa’s ‘Tree of Life’);
- Green Mango;
- Green Papaya;
- Sweet potatoes;
- Millet Sorghum;
- Napa cabbage;
- Swiss chard;
- Taro roots;
- Tiger nuts (also known as chufa nuts);
- Brussels sprouts;
- Bok choy (a type of Chinese cabbage);
- Carrot greens;
- Chinese cabbage;
- Daikon radishes;
- Green and Red cabbage;
- Jerusalem artichokes;
- Nopales cactus (the term used for edible cactus leaves);
- Mesclun (a mix of assorted small young salad greens);
- Dandelion greens;
- Mizuna (an Asian green);
- Sea vegetables;
- Leafy greens;
- Brazil nuts;
- Red and green leaf lettuce;
- Butter lettuce;
- Coconut cream;
- Mustard greens;
- Hemp seeds;
- Hemp protein powder;
- Sesame seeds;
- Pine nuts;
References https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/907789 https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/IND43940829/PDF https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10884708 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21689741