A FEW years ago it was all about eating a high-fat diet for weight loss. More recently it was erasing all things gluten. Now we’re hearing about how we should be ditching lectins.
Is there any truth in these diet fads or are there more reasons to simply ignore them and get on with eating well and living life?
Hopefully common sense will prevail.
So to start with what are lectins? Lectins are proteins that are found in all living things, including some foods such as legumes, grains and seeds that are generally consumed raw.
While the multifaceted roles of lectins in the body aren’t completely understood, they appear to be involved in immune functioning, cell growth and controlling inflammation in the body. Lectins are not digested in the body and directly enter the bloodstream. While there are some lectins that are toxic to the body — like those found in raw kidney beans which can result in reactions similar to that of food poisoning when ingested — these are rarely in foods we would eat day-to-day.
The current concern about lectins has developed because as lectins are not digested, some individuals can produce antibodies to them, stimulating an immune response.
Indeed for some individuals who may suffer from various gut conditions including Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis, dietary lectins may further irritate the gut.
But for the average person who consumes lectins in relatively small amounts, via different foods in their diets including grains, seeds, nuts and legumes, there is no cause for concern.
Those who are more sensitive to the side effects of lectins via a particularly high intake of raw grains and beans may experience some side effects, including excessive gas, nausea and even vomiting.
These are all the body’s natural way of evacuating the molecules causing the gut issues. Sprouting, fermenting, soaking and even cooking versions of foods that have a high lectin content reduces much of the lectin content.
So is there any reason that we should eliminate lectins from our diets?
In short: no.
Humans have consumed lectins for thousands of years, and while some individuals who may have gut issues might benefit from a diet low in lectins, it’s a relatively small over all.
Specifically foods with high lectin contents that may need to be reduced include grains, legumes and nightshade vegetables including tomatoes, eggplant and capsicum.
And for these individuals, a diet specifically developed by a dietitian is the key to ensuring lectins are not being unfairly targeted: it could be a range of medical and dietary issues impacting the gut.
Fad diets come and go. They tend to target one key food, or food issue such as lectins or gluten, giving diet-hungry media and self-appointed health experts something to preach and blame.
Human physiology, nutrition and its interactions with our environment is more complicated than that.
There is not a one-size-fits-all model, which also explains why there are fad diets emerging all the time.
While there is often a grain (pardon the pun) of truth in all diet fads, they are generally extrapolated and taken to the furthest degree.
Lectins may be a problem for a few of us, but more likely our issue comes down to eating too much, too often, as boring as that may be.