When it comes to CrossFit, I always say that if I find something better, I would be doing that. When I originally started working as a chiropractor and nutritionist in 2009, I was a huge advocate of the Paleo Diet with a Mediterranean flare.
Over the years I have yet to find something that works as well as CrossFit does but I have bounced around a few other ideas when it comes to nutrition. I dabbled with Keto, Zone, Primal, South Beach, etc. All of them have pros and cons. I am always looking for something that is sustainable and works well for the people I am treating.
Recently, I was asked why I typically do not let people eat many, if any, legumes, peanuts, dairy, and grains.
My usual response is they are taxing on the gastrointestinal track and create inflammation. I typically avoid lectins with many of my patients but some were still having other “healthy” foods that are full of lectins. People that I have found to have diminished but still present symptoms of their conditions or occasional and usually unexplained flare ups of their conditions. While doing some new reading, this concept of lectins was again brought to the forefront of my brain.
What are these lectins and why are they bad?
You have heard of them and you do not even realize it. A very well known and common lectin is gluten. We have all heard of gluten and its purported dangers through many different diets and books.
Lectins are a plant protein (that sounds good) that can bind to our cells membranes (that sounds bad). Lectins have agglutinating (the mixing of an antigen and antibody) properties that affect your blood and the lining of your digestive tract (could be good or bad). Lectins are a powerful way for organisms in nature to attach themselves to other organisms in nature (think poison). Lots of germs, and even our own immune systems, use this super glue to their benefit. For example, cells in our liver’s bile ducts have lectins on their surfaces to help snatch up bacteria and parasites. Bacteria and other microbes have lectins on their surfaces as well, which work rather like suction cups, so that they can attach to the slippery mucosal linings of the body.
In our bodies, lectins will produce chronic low level inflammation. This can lead to issues like leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. This chronic low-level inflammation can potentially lead to many other diseases that have ties to increased inflammation as well.
You have to remember that the entire purpose for the existence of life on this planet is essentially to propagate ones genes into the next generation. That is true of plants as well as animals. We can argue of whether or not plants have any thought but if they do I am sure their thoughts are definitely not, “I cannot wait to be eaten by some insects or animals.”
These lectins are protective mechanisms for these plants. They help the plants be able to propagate their genes into the next generation. Remember nothing really wants to be food, not even food.
Where can we find lectins in our food?
Beans & Legumes – Beans carry more lectins than any other food. This includes soy and peanuts. If you are going to consume them, you need to make sure you go through thorough preparation processes in order to make sure you minimize the amounts of lectins within your food. First, soak the beans and make sure to change the water out at least twice. Using a pressure cooker to cook your beans is the most effective way to inactivate the lectins found within beans, so if you are vegetarian or vegan I would recommend doing this.
Grains – For the most part, grains are a relatively new food to us. Plus, most grains are lectin bombs, as well as gluten-free grain substitutes. It’s best to limit grain intake. If you need a bread fix there is a product called Barely Bread that is available at Whole Foods, which we now have in Buffalo.
Squash – An easy rule to remember is that any vegetable with seeds is actually considered a fruit. Such is the case with squash, pumpkins, and zucchini. The seeds and peels of these foods are full of lectins. If you MUST eat squash, make sure to toss the peels and seeds aside.
Nightshades – Nightshades include eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. The peels and the seeds of these plants contain loads of lectins, too. Make sure to peel and deseed them or pressure cook or ferment them. Below is a more complete list:
- Peppers (bell peppers, banana peppers, chili peppers, etc.)
- Red pepper seasonings (paprika, chili powder, cayenne, curry, etc.)
- Goji berries
- Cape gooseberries/Ground cherries (similar to tomatoes, they have no relationship to fruit despite their name)
- Ashwagandha (an ayurvedic herb)
- Read labels: terms like “spices” and “natural flavors” often contain the above seasonings, and “starch” often comes from potatoes.
Similar sounding foods that are NOT nightshades:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Peppercorns (black, white and pink)
If you think eliminating these foods also seems crazy, using the pressure cooker to prepare them is the way to go.
In-Season Fruit – Shop for fruit in season. Fruit contain fewer lectins when ripe, so eating apples, berries, and other fruits at the peak of ripeness helps minimize your lectin consumption. The reason you want to make sure the fruit is ripe and in season is due to the storage of the fruit and the potential for quick ripening of the fruit. When fruit is out of season or shipped long distances, it needs to be picked before it is ripe. When picked before it is ripe, it is higher in lectins, the use of Ethylene glycol to ripen fruit quicker does not decrease these lectins.
Corn & Corn-Fed Meat – Do you know how to make cows, pigs, and other animals fatten up? You feed them corn. Corn, a grain, is full of lectins. You need to be careful with animals that say “free range” on their labels as they still may be fed corn and soy. Federal regulations are purposely vague. In the U.S., USDA free-range regulations currently apply only to poultry and indicate that the animal has been allowed access to the outside. The USDA regulations do not specify the quality or size of the outside range nor the duration of time an animal must have access to the outside.
The below are from the USDA website:
FREE RANGE or FREE ROAMING:
Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.
Question: What is the difference between Free Range and Cage Free eggs?
Answer: Eggs packed in USDA grademarked consumer packages labeled as free range must be produced by hens housed in a building, room, or area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and continuous access to the outdoors during their laying cycle. The outdoor area may be fenced and/or covered with netting-like material.
Eggs packed in USDA grademarked consumer packages labeled as cage free must be produced by hens housed in a building, room, or enclosed area that allows for unlimited access to food, water, and provides the freedom to roam within the area during the laying cycle.
It comes down to knowing what it is that you are buying and trusting your sources.
Milk/Dairy – Dairy, in particular, is a group of foods that isn’t usually associated with lectins, but the lectins in milk are actually “designed” by nature to cause leaky gut, since infants who are drinking milk actually need to get a mother’s hormones and antibodies directly into their bloodstream in order to develop their immune system. For the purpose of this article we will leave dairy at this and not delve further into the health of factory farming.
Signs that you might be experiencing problems from lectins in your diet:
- Bloating and flatulence after meals
- Changes in bowel habits
- Achy joints and muscles
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Skin eruptions
- Fatigue and tiredness
Please remember that this simply information and a guideline; it is not the end end all be all. Everything works for some and nothing works for every single person. There are certain people who may never have a single issue with lectins ever. When new information arises, I want to share it. If you want to discuss this in greater detail, let’s chat!