Let’s Talk About Lectins

So you may or may not be hearing a whole lot more these days about the Pale buzzword “lectins“.  It’s an actual term not coined by the Paleo crew but by the biology and scientist communities that is just now catching steam in the medical and national realms.


So if you’ve read my earlier post about why wheat is bad for us I may have briefly mentioned lectins and their role as a survival mechanism for most plants. In case I didn’t here a brief rundown of what lectins are.

Lectins are basically a plant’s natural defense mechanism against predators.  Birds have developed enough resistance to the natural defense mechanism that they pass most of the seed without digesting any portion of it.

This serves two purposes….

  1. The bird doesn’t get harmed because they have evolved to handle the lectins by passing them through their digestive tract.
  2. The plant seeds survive the “attack” and are dropped back on the ground and regerminate.  The plant not only survives but it also reproduces.

Nearly every single plant has varying levels of lectins in their makeup.  Some are obviously more pronounced and prominent than others.  What I mean by that is that not all lectins are created equal.

There are different types of lectins.  Some are more harmful for human consumption than other.  Some plants contain a higher NUMBER of lectins than others.  Some plants contain the more harmful VERSION lectins and every crop can even contain different amounts.

So pinpointing what is ok to eat and what isn’t can be a tricky task.  Even eggs and shellfish contain lectins and it’s no secret that the highest lectin containing “foods” also just so happen to be the ones people suffer the most food allergies with.

The following foods not only contain some of the highest amounts of lectins but are also the top foods that people suffer from food allergies.

  1. Eggs (unfortunately yes)
  2. Wheat
  3. Dairy
  4. Soy
  5. Shellfish
  6. Fish
  7. Peanuts (put away the peanut butter)
  8. Tree Nuts

Consuming these and other lectin containing foods can cause several reactions in the human body.  First and foremost they can cause gastrointestinal distress.  This leads to gas, stomach cramping, diarrhea and vomiting.

If the individual is hyper sensitive or lectins are consumed in excess over time it can lead to leaky gut.  Leaky gut allows things we don’t necessarily want to pass back and forth directly into our bloodstream.  This is a whole other topic for another post but let’s just say that leaky gut doesn’t sound good for a reason.

But here’s the real problem with lectins and the foods containing them.  We are consuming such mass quantities of them today compared to even our parents and grandparents.

It’s so easy to go grocery shopping and come back with a basket full of lectin containing foods.  All the grains, cereals, and processed foods that are stuffed full of these type foods is absolutely phenomenal.  Our bodies are literally being overloaded whereas generations before us may have consumed them but not nearly in the quantity that we eat today.  Chips, beans, pastas, grains, breads and anything processed down the grocery aisle all contain lectins.

Lectins lead to inflammation in the body as well.  This can be experienced as joint pain, swelling, muscle aches and pains as well at FAT GAIN! Yes when our bodies sense distress one of the first reaction is for the body to try and protect itself.  It does this by producing fat cells and obviously this is why so many Americans are fat!

Not only are we consuming so much more of these types of foods than others, these foods tend to have and contain more pronounced lectins due to genetically modified foods.

When a food producer alters the genetics of a seed or strain of grain they are essentially making the lectins more pronounced and more resistant to pests.  That’s the whole idea of having higher crop yields right?  Well….the whole idea of lectins are to protect the plant from predators (pests) and therefore they now have more pronounced forms of lectins today than they did say 50 years ago.

Also, instead of eating a seed here or there in the field we are grinding everything up into tiny powdery substance and shoving it into every food known to American man.  This in turn increases the surface area exposure and multiplies our influx of lectins into the body and bloodstream.

Think of a 5 pound bag of CRUSHED ice.  now think of a 5 pound BLOCK of ice.  Which one do you think will melt faster if you set both out in the sun?

The crushed ice obviously and that because so much more of the surface area is exposed to heat and sunlight.  It’s the same way with lectins.  We crush them down into tiny grains and now you can see the snowball effect here.

So avoiding these foods is a good idea but there are ways to reduce the amount of lectins in them.

  1. Soaking
  2. Sprouting
  3. Fermenting
  4. Cooking

Soaking and rinsing is a technique even my granny used to cook beans.  This lessened the gaseous effect and essentially made them more digestible although I always struggled with the bean effect!

Sprouting is another way to reduce lectins but beware.  Sprouting can also make some lectins more prominent such as those found in alfalfa sprouts.  But sprouting generally helps digest the seed coating and reduces the lectin content.

Fermenting is another technique used by native Asian cultures for centuries.  Fermenting permits the bacteria to pre digest the lectins thus making fermented foods less harmful to humans.

Cooking…YES COOKING can actually be good for some foods which means all raw isn’t all good.  Primal man has been cooking foods for centuries so don’t think you have to live on a totally raw diet.  Cooking reduces a lot of the lectins in foods and breaks them down this making them not only more digestible but more palatable!  Hooray for cooking!!!!

So you may want to reconsider the foods you and if you’re having any sort of the troubles mentioned above you may look to try and cut out some of the lectin containing food and slowly reintroduce and see how it goes.

Every person is different and we all handle foods differently due our ancestral design and genetic makeup.  My advice is to be aware of what you’re eating and try and cut all processed foods out.

If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave one or email me here.  Thanks for reading!