The field of nutrition and subsequent dietary advice is one of the toughest to stay on top of. Seemingly every week there’s a new topic that you need to investigate to make sure your diet is optimal and not causing you long-term damage.
Enter the latest spanner in your works: Lectin.
Lectin has received an enormous amount of attention recently, it’s quickly becoming the new gluten when it comes to chronic dietary concern and intervention. A lot of lectin’s fame can be attributed to Dr Steven Gundry, a bit of a lectin expert. So before we delve into the story of lectin I think it’s important to give Dr Gundry a proper introduction.
Who is Steven Gundry?
Just as you thought your diet was serving you well and thorough planning after months or even years of self-study and regular tweaking with your fitness and nutrition consultant, Steven Gundry M.D, and his book ‘The Plant paradox’, adds yet another moving part to the complex machine that is your optimal nutrition plan.
Dr Gundry is a former heart surgeon and inventor turned health guru. He’s one of the most respected doctors in America and has published over 200 booked and articles on topics spanning across heart surgery, heart disease, cholesterol and nutrition intervention.
Dr Gundry has put the spotlight firmly on lectin and links lectin consumption directly to gut inflammation and consequential disease.
Gundry was in some ways his own first guinee-pig. Despite running over 30 miles a week and going to the gym Gundry remained 70lb overweight and pre-diabetic. This changed once he addressed lectin consumption within his diet.
What is Lectin?
The purpose of this article explores plant lectin intake through the diet. It’s widely believed that plants produce lectins to fend of predators.
Plants, like animal, strive for survival and execute safety mechanisms in the wild to fend of prey from devouring them. One key way of distracting creations from eating them is through the production of a proteins called lectins, which are poisonous and can paralyse insects.
Lectins are a groups of protein compounds found in certain foods which bind to sugar (carbohydrates). Lectins are classified as antinutrients as they can inhibit the absorption of certain nutrients.
Foods High In Lectin
The presence of lectin in your diet is dictated by both food choices and the way in which you prepare and cook certain foods.
Food with the highest levels of lectin include kidney beans, refinded starchy foods (such as rice and pasta), peanuts, lentils, soy products, chickpeas and nightshades, to name just a few. The list of foods that contain lectin is fairly extensive, which makes adherence to Gungry’s ‘Lectin Diet’ fairly tough.
Certain foods, such as kidney beans, have very high levels of lectin in their raw form, however when fermented and cooked correctly, the level of lectin can be reduced dramatically.
Why Are Lectins Harmful?
Before we get into the proposed critique of lectins cited within The Plant Paradox, I want to outline reported benefits of certain lectins as the term encapsulates a broad spectrum.
Lectins enable a component of the innate immune system called the complement immune system, which allows the body to fight of harmful pathogens .
Further studies have also found that lectins within herbs also have an up-regulatory effect of the immune system, particularly those found within garlic .
Although many believe that lectins can contribute towards a healthy, balanced diet. There are some experts, such as Gundry, who believe that, in part, completely eliminating them from your diet (with the exception of lectin reduction through certain cooking protocol) can lead to health prosperity.
Gundry himself has reported in his 2018 study that avoidance of lectin rich foods, coupled with a diet high in polyphenals can lead to the reversal of endothelial dysfunction (cells that coat the inside of our blood and lymphatic vessels). So why is it that lectins can cause harm to the body?
Studies suggests that lectins can inhibit digestions, limit nutrient absorption and cause severe intestinal damage .
Gundry attributes these issues to damage that lectins can cause at the junctions of the gastro intestinal tract. At these sites, lectins bind with a molecule in the GI tract and form a molecule called zonulin, which breaks the 1 cell thick junctions that hold the tract together. The tract is 1 cell thick to allow for nutrient permeability, however becomes a vulnerable structure when met with dense lectins.
The breakdown of these junctions Gundry says leads to a ‘leaky gut’, which in turn allows toxins and bacteria to enter the blood stream and-over time – may lead to chronic inflammation and autoimmune issues.
The Takeaway Message For Lectins
I think Gundry has created a lot of important awareness of the function of lectins within the diet and their role within the body.
Gundry has however received a lot of criticism from the nutrition community about the book, based mainly on the validity of his background research into the topic in terms of the scientific literature cited.
The proposed dietary protocol is also incredibly restrictive and encourages eliminating many foods that have long reported to come with health benefits, such as lentils: a polyphenol-rich food that only in 2017 a study cited can lead to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes .
Nightshades – a family of plants (some poisonous to humans and some not) – are also on the encouraged banned list however fruit such as tomatoes which studies have reported can reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer along with cardiovascular disease .
I won’t be advocating total elimination of lectins from my own or clients diet in a hurry, however sensitivity to lectins differs from person-to-person and some people may certainly benefit from eliminating them from their diet altogether if they’re experiencing lectin induced gut issues. But that’s a big IF. It’s important to first experiment and examine your existing health status and diet before making such bold changes.
The message to take at this stage for the general population both from this article and Gundry’s work, is to be aware of the role of lectins within the diet and be sure to manage your intake and food preparation accordingly. This will ensure you’re limiting the amount of lectins within your diet.
If you’re experiencing symptoms associated with gut inflammation, it’s advisable to seek medical intervention from a specialist, who may eliminate foods containing lectins within your diet and slowly re-introduce them to see determine if it’s lectins that are causing the issues.
Lectin Food Preparation Advice