Lectins are beneficial in the plant world and act as natures bug repellent. However, they are not so good for humans. They act as a pesticide to ward off predators and are part of the plants survival strategy. Some people are sensitive to these lectin proteins and experience digestive distress, joint pain and other inflammation. If you are considering avoiding or minimizing lectins in your diet, here are the top science-based reasons.
Did you know lectins can block the absorption of essential minerals? Scientists refer to lectins as “antinutrients” — compounds that interfere with the body’s ability to digest and use other nutrients. Lectins, in particular, block absorption of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc-essential minerals.
Studies show that lectins can cause inflammation in the body by activating proinflammatory pathways. This affects your immune system functioning. Lectins cause the body to create antibodies as if lectin was a foreign invader, like a virus. Inflammation caused by consuming too many lectins may lead to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease — particularly in individuals with dysfunctional digestive enzymes. Gluten actually contains lectin, so people with gluten-sensitivity are especially advised to minimize lectin intake.
When you consume lectins, they can damage the intestinal wall. While a healthy gut can repair itself from small amounts of damage, consuming high quantities of lectins could eventually lead to a leaky gut for some people. A leaky gut has weakened “tight junctions” that allow toxins, food molecules, pathogens and lectins to pass through. Over time, a leaky gut can lead to chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, autoimmunity, neurological disorders, and allergies.
Consuming undercooked or raw legumes may be toxic. Cooking beans in a pressure cooker at a high temperature or boiling them on the stove for at least 10 minutes, should denature lectins, making beans safer to eat. A crockpot doesn’t heat the beans at high enough temperatures and therefore will not break down the lectins.
Lectins clump cells, including helpful microbes as well as gut mucosal cells; this can cause gastrointestinal distress. As with gluten, not everyone responds the same way to lectin, and not everyone will experience side effects from eating the same foods.