Lectins are one of the several compounds in foods that are classified as ‘anti-nutrient.’ As the name suggests, these compounds block the absorption of nutrients that provides nourishment. Lectins can interfere with the absorption of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc, hence the reason why some prefer low lectin foods.
Lectins are found in plants and are particularly abundant in whole grains like wheat and raw beans like lentils, soybeans, peanuts, and other legumes. These lectins are basically plants’ protection in nature against insects, fungi, molds, and diseases. But they may cause problems during digestion once consumed by humans because of the very fact that they are fairly resistant to enzymatic digestion in the gastrointestinal tract.
Lectins interfere in the absorption of minerals like previously mentioned but these are based on animal and cell studies with the use of isolated lectins. That said, there are very limited clinical human trials of lectin administration. In reality, lectins are consumed in relatively small amounts. Kind of like the alkaloids compound in nightshade vegetables.
It is not known how much exactly nutrient loss happens when anti-nutrients enter our system. And based on the individuals’ metabolism, its effects may vary as well. People who are experiencing mineral deficiencies say anemia (with iron deficiency), will likely be better with a low lectin diet. Some lectins are also considered poisonous like ricin in castor beans while a particular lectin called phytohemagglutinin can cause severe cases of vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
One way of lowering these risks is by limiting the intake of foods high in lectin. You can lessen the quantity, like smaller servings, or you can have just one variety instead of varieties of them in one meal. There are also some food processes that can help lower or eliminate lectins in food (more on that at the end of this article). And of course, you can always opt for low lectin foods instead.
A balanced diet means you’re having different kinds of foods that will provide the nutrients that your body needs. Entirely ridding your diet with high-lectin foods may mean you’re missing some nutrients as well. It's worth noting as well that sometimes the health benefits of eating high-lectin foods may outweigh the risks involved.
This is why it’s really important to listen to your body. If eating low lectin foods helps ease any digestive discomfort then by all means do so. It’s similar to eating low Fodmap foods, not everyone is entirely reactive to every high Fodmap food so there are those who are totally fine mixing their low Fodmap diet with one or two foods that are actually high Fodmap. It really is a matter of observing and listening to your body. Consulting a health professional is of course always the best.
Here's a list of low lectin foods that you can include or replace the high lectin ones that you have in your diet. Go over them now and start visualizing how you’re going to incorporate them. If for some reason you have a great affinity to a particular food that happens to be high in lectin, see some tips on how you can reduce its lectin content at the end of this list.
Low Lectin Foods
Pineapples are a delicious and healthy tropical fruit that will make for a great snack or you can also grill or bake them into tasty desserts. They’ll also make for a great addition or base to smoothies.
Pineapples are packed with vitamin C and manganese. It’s also a good source of antioxidants that may aid in reducing the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and cancer.
Dates, which are commonly consumed as dried, have wrinkled skin. While the fresh ones have a smoother appearance. They are relatively small in size with colors ranging from bright red to bright yellow. It has a chewy and sweet taste.
In addition to fiber and antioxidants, dates also contain potassium, copper, manganese, magnesium, vitamin B6, and iron. It may help in boosting digestion and preventing the development of certain chronic illnesses like heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s.
Oranges are the largest citrus fruit in the world with over 600 varieties. Orange juice is also the most popular fruit juice in America. Fun fact, because of its high resistance to disease, oranges are more likely to be killed by lightning than by plant diseases.
Aside from orange’s amazing vitamin C content, it also has fiber, vitamin A, calcium, and potassium. Oranges are good for preventing cold and recurring ear infections, reducing high cholesterol levels, controlling blood sugar levels, and deterring cancer-causing chemicals from the colon.
Sorghum is an ancient grain with many species of which Sorghum bicolor is the most popular. This gluten-free whole grain is usually used in baking as milled flour, or as a replacement for rice or quinoa. Sorghum syrup on the other hand can be used as a natural sweetener
Sorghum aside from fiber, antioxidants, and protein, is also rich in B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, and zinc. It’s good for supporting metabolism, neural development, and skin and hair health.
Millet, like sorghum, is also one of the oldest cultivated grains known to men. It can be used in making bread, cereal, beer, and other dishes.
Millet is rich in potassium and is also an excellent source of antioxidants, phosphorus, potassium, niacin, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and B. it’s good for improving digestion, maintaining healthy skin and organs, controlling blood sugar, and supporting kidney and heart health.
Coconut flour is dried coconut meat that has been ground. It’s a great substitute for other flours. And aside from its nutty flavor, it’s also gluten and lectin-free.
Aside from fiber, coconut flour also contains medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs as well as plant-based iron. It’s good for keeping blood sugar stable. It may also help in promoting digestion, improving heart health, losing weight, and killing harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi.
It is best to eat figs raw with skins and seeds intact, however, you can also simply peel them and scoop the seeds out. You can also cook them by broiling, grilling, or baking them.
Fresh figs are rich in copper and vitamin B6. It also contains magnesium, potassium, riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin K. They may help in decreasing constipation, improving digestion, managing blood fat and blood sugar levels, and killing cancer cells.
Brazil nuts have a smooth and buttery texture with a nutty flavor. It can be enjoyed raw or can be blanched as well. These energy-dense and highly nutritious nuts also have the most concentrated dietary sources of the mineral selenium.
Aside from selenium, it’s also rich in healthy fats, magnesium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, thiamine, and vitamin E. It may aid in regulating the thyroid gland, reducing inflammation, and supporting a healthy heart, brain, and immune system.
You can enjoy walnuts as is or use them to top your salad, cereals, yogurt, or oatmeal. They can be used in baking and in cooking sweet and savory dishes as well.
Walnuts are excellent sources of antioxidants. Its omega 3 fat content may help in reducing the risk of heart disease while its many plant compounds contents may help in lowering inflammation. It’s also good for promoting a healthy gut, reducing the risk of certain types of cancers, supporting weight control, lowering blood pressure, and managing or lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes.
All parts of celery are edible, yes, including the leaves. Although initially considered as a medicinal herb that treats toothache, insomnia, anxiety, rheumatism, gout, and arthritis, celeries are now enjoyed as a vegetable.
Celery is a great source of antioxidants. It’s also rich in vitamins A, K, and C, potassium, and folate. It’s good for reducing inflammation and supporting digestion. It also has an alkalizing effect.
Carrots are not just great for snacking but for side dishes as well. They also make for a healthy ingredient in soups, stews, smoothies, or baked goods.
Aside from its beta carotene content, it’s also packed with fiber, vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. They’re great for improving eye health, supporting weight loss, lowering cholesterol levels, and reducing the risk of cancer.
Yams, although usually mistaken for sweet potatoes, are actually starchier and less sweet. These tubers are easily distinguishable with their distinctive brown and bark-like skin. Depending on its maturity, its flesh can be white, pink, yellow, or purple.
Yams are excellent sources of fiber, potassium, and manganese. It also contains copper, thiamine, magnesium, and folate. It may help in reducing inflammation, improving blood sugar control and digestive health, easing symptoms of menopause, and may even have cancer-fighting properties. Its unique compound called diosgenin may help in enhancing memory and brain function.
Ginger can be used fresh or in dried and powdered form in cooking. It adds amazing flavor to sauces, stews, soups, and even in baked goods and smoothies!
Ginger may contain very few vitamins and minerals but its unique compounds that consist of gingerol, shogaols, zingiberene, and zingerone are the primary sources of its health benefits. It’s good for managing blood sugar levels, decreasing menstrual bleeding, and relieving nausea.
Every part of the fennel is actually edible, from its bulb to its flowers. And they can be eaten either cooked or raw. It adds a bright spring-like quality to foods. It can taste quite similar to celery with a hint of fresh licorice. When raw, it has a crisp texture.
Fennel contains potassium, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin C, iron, vitamin B6, and magnesium. It also has dietary nitrates and is a natural source of estrogen. It’s good for aiding bone health, lowering blood pressure, boosting heart health, improving immunity, managing weight, fighting inflammation, and promoting digestion and regularity.
Mint is an herb that is common in Balkan and Middle Eastern cuisines. It can be used in flavoring tea, sauces, salads, refreshing drinks, and even smoothies.
Mint is actually a potent source of antioxidants. It contains vitamin A, iron, manganese, and folate. It’s good for improving IBS symptoms, boosting brain function, decreasing breastfeeding pain, providing relief to cold and flu symptoms, and reducing bacteria that cause bad breath.
Turmeric is part of the ginger family, and true enough, it looks very similar to ginger. While ginger can taste quite sweet and spicy, turmeric on the other hand has a warm and bitter taste with a peppery aroma and rich golden color. Although it can be used fresh, you might be more familiar with its dried and powdered form.
Turmeric is known for its curcumin content which has anti-inflammatory properties that may play a vital role in preventing other diseases including cancer. It’s also an excellent source of iron, manganese, potassium, omega 3 fatty acids, and dietary fiber.
How to Reduce Lectins in Food
Give them a good soaking
Lectins are water-soluble and are commonly found on the outer surface of the food. So, soaking really makes sense. A good soaking, generally 3-12 hours will help reduce its lectin content.
Cook in high heat for at least 30 minutes
Boiling them at 100 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes will completely inactivate the hemagglutinin activity of lectin. This is particularly true in red kidney beans, black eye peas, green beans, and soybeans. So, make take note of the temperature and make sure that you don’t undercook them.
Sprout those grains and beans
Foods change composition when spouted, particularly grains and beans. Because of these dramatic changes, physically and chemically, they now have a different effect on the body. One of which is the reduction of lectins.
Mechanically remove the outer hull
Dehulling manually gets rid of its coat which is indigestible and may even have a bitter taste. This process not only helps in improving its taste but in getting rid of its outer haul which contains the lectins.
Have a go at fermenting foods
Aside from the probiotics that we’re getting from fermented food, the very process of fermentation reduces its antinutritional component to up to 50%. Its lectin content can be reduced up to 95%, particularly tempeh and other fermented foods made from beans.