Let’s Unpack Some Facts
Lectins are a family of proteins found in many foods, especially whole grains, and beans. Lectins are chemical compounds that a plant produces to repel microorganisms, insects, and other pests. Plants are living organisms, so their defense mechanism against harmful disease or bacteria are lectins.
It's easier to destroy lectins than lectins to bring harm to you. Years ago, with the publication of a popular dietary theory called The Plant Paradox, some have shied away and demonized the benefits of certain fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. Lab experiments that this author/doctor references have shown that raw or uncooked beans pose a risk of lectin exposure, but who eats raw beans? Furthermore, determining whether lectins harm an individual
depends on various factors, including specific personal tolerance, immune health, food preparation, and overall diet.
However, the theories have been scrutinized since this highly debated book was released. The very foods Dr. Gundry villainized in his book are the mainstream foods of the world's healthiest populations. In addition, the studies of these lectins, or anti-nutrients, are often designed and studied in developing countries where malnutrition is common, food variety is limited, and these whole grains and legumes are daily staples. For example, adverse effects can transpire when active lectins from legumes are incorrectly prepared. If this crucial preparation instruction to inactivate lectins was communicated clearly to the public based on sound evidence, many could benefit from these specific foods instead of running scared.
Let's look at the following interesting facts from the inhabitants of The Blue Zones. These five specific communities scattered around the world share common characteristics in wellness and longevity. Blue Zone inhabitants are amongst the longest-living populations with the minimum number of diseases.The communities all stick to a predominantly plant-based diet with at least ½ cup of beans daily. Beans are one of the cheapest and most versatile staples,
with more nutrients per gram than any other food on Earth. Their diets are also abundant in various fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
The tiny amounts of lectins found in specific fruits, vegetables, and grains are water-soluble and typically found on the outer surface of foods, so simply washing them well would remove them. It is important to note that eating foods with high amounts of lectins is rare. As a chef, I advise all clients to properly soak beans, legumes, and grains before cooking. Cooking with wet, high-heat methods like boiling or stewing will get you to that safe place, and if you are still concerned, consider that refrigeration will also wipe out lectin activity. If you still want to err on caution, purchase sprouted varieties of your favorite grains, beans, or canned versions to guarantee low to no lectins. Put your mind at ease, though. The bottom line, again, is that the benefits outweigh the risks. Remember that in many extensive population studies, including Blue Zones, lectin-containing foods are often associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, weight loss, and Type 2 diabetes. Look at the bigger picture and reap the antioxidant, vitamins, minerals, and macro benefits, to name a few. Consider the one-size-does-not-fit-all approach and recognize that individual responses vary. Focusing on a balanced diet that includes an array of foods will contribute to more good than harm.
In good health!