lectin free diet

Lectin Free Diet: Benefits and Risks

April 5, 2019

Should you always follow the rule, “Eat your veggies”? We’re often told growing up that fruits and vegetables are important for staying healthy and that’s generally true. However, some diets remove certain types of plant-based foods through plans that are gluten-free or low-carb. There’s also an interesting lectin free diet that ditches the protein that’s high in plant-based foods like beans, grains, and potatoes. So, the big question is whether removing these natural foods from your diet is a game-changer or playing games with your health. It’s important to learn the facts so you can decide if this diet is right for you.

Like all other diets, this one has some benefits and drawbacks. It might be surprising since we usually assume that all-natural foods are always healthy. However, sometimes it’s not true. For example, kidney beans are high-lectin and toxic when eaten raw or under-cooked. No-lectin diets can have other benefits. That said, it’s always important to see how a particular diet stacks up to scientific research. This helps to explain whether the diet’s supporters are on the right track or providing as much help as empty calories. As always, it’s important to get the facts and we’re here to talk about them.

What Is the Lectin-Free Diet?

It’s important to first talk about lectin. This is a protein found in many foods but we don’t hear about it much. There’s pectin in apples and orange peels but that’s something different.

Lectin is a kind of protein that sticks to the cells in our digestive systems. It’s actually found in all plant and animal foods but it’s very high in foods like grains, beans, dairy products, and nightshade veggies (e.g. potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant).

So, the big question is: what’s “wrong” with lectin? The main problem is researchers don’t fully understand yet how lectin affects people. In fact, an Estonian student named Peter Hermann Stillmark first described the protein about 130 years ago in 1888.

Is lectin actually “bad” for people? It causes some allergic reactions in some people with food allergies so they should certainly avoid it. If people have a sensitive digestive system, they should also think about avoiding lectin since it could cause some problems.

Scientists are still studying the effects of lectin on humans. So, it’s not clear yet whether or not it’s certainly good or bad for people. It seems to cause some negative effects on some people with food allergies, for example.

One of the main criticisms of this diet is it prevents people from eating many foods that are considered healthy. For example, tomatoes are high in antioxidants, potatoes are high-potassium, and beans are a good protein source.

That said, the lectin-free diet still allows you to eat many healthy foods including:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pumpkin

How about meat and fats? You can eat all animal protein like beef, chicken, and fish. “Good” fats like those in olive oil and avocados are allowed.

If you enjoy fruits you can have some when following this diet. A moderate amount of in-season fruits like apples, oranges, and blueberries are also allowed.

Lectin-Free Diet Benefits

Here are some possible benefits:

1. It may reduce the risk of stomach ulcers

One study showed that lectin caused results like more bacteria in the small intestine. This causes a higher risk of stomach ulcers. It’s worth noting though this was an animal study.

2. It prevents large amounts of lectin

There’s some research that shows big amounts of lectin over a long period of time might cause damage to the intestines. There’s a caveat. Too much of anything is bad so this probably isn’t the best reason to stop eating lectin.

3. It can help with food allergies

Some people don’t digest lectin well so it can cause some stomach problems, for example. This can result in various problems that affect the digestive system and metabolism.

4. It can help avoid toxic foods

Some high-lectin foods can actually be toxic. For example, kidney beans can be toxic if you eat them raw or under-cooked. Even soaking them doesn’t remove the lectin in them.

Lectin-Free Diet Risks

There are also some risks involved with no-lectin diets including:

1. False information

It’s one thing if people and companies want to make money selling diet plans and cookbooks. It’s another thing when false information is provided.

For example, some lectin-free programs claim that the protein causes weight gain. In fact, many studies show that lectin actually helps with weight loss. So, watch out for programs that try to make money with false claims.

2. Few human studies

Most of the studies about lectin have been done on animals instead of humans. The research has also mostly been done using test tubes or lab dishes.

3. Missing nutrients

This diet lacks many natural foods that have been proven to be healthy. It can be tougher to get nutrients like fiber when you’re not allowed to eat grains and beans.

Tips/Guidelines for Lectin-free Diet

This diet isn’t for everyone. Here are some tips and guidelines for following this diet:

1. Use cooking methods to reduce lectin content

You can prepare your foods in certain ways to reduce the lectin content. For example, you can sprout/ferment grains to lower the lectin content. Soaking/boiling beans also help to remove lectin.

A strict diet that’s lectin-free won’t allow these foods at all. However, if you consume them it’s important to reduce the amount of lectin they contain.

2. Do some experimenting

This is a good idea if you have food allergies. Try adding/removing some high-lectin foods from your diet to find out which ones cause digestion problems. This can help to remove the ones that might cause side-effects.

3. Get enough fiber

If you’re not eating foods like rice and beans it can be tougher to get enough fiber. Make sure to take steps like eating fruit/vegetable peels when you can. Another option is to take a fiber supplement.

4. Avoid high-lectin foods every day

Fun Fact: All plant-based foods have some lectin. The goal of this diet is to eliminate foods with high lectin content like beans, potatoes, dairy, and peppers.

5. Talk to your doctor/dietician first

If you’re considering this diet you should first talk to your physician or dietician. They’ll be able to provide you with information about this diet and help you decide if it’s the right one for you. If you have food allergies that get worse when eating high-lectin foods then it might be a good option.

There’s no question a no-lectin diet can benefit some people. That said, there’s little research is available about its effects on humans. So, before you stop eating many natural foods included in this diet make sure to do your homework before you decide to start the lectin free diet.