The lectins are coming! How afraid should we be of grains and legumes?

A new book saying that people should go lectin-free has health-conscious consumers asking if lectins are the new gluten.

13 October 2017
legumesgrainshealthgut healthnutrition
image credit: Karisssa/iStock/

What are lectins?

A type of protein found in many foods, most prominently legumes and grains. Beans, lentils, rice and quinoa are all full of lectins.


Why should I care?

Because they are “literally declaring war on our bodies,” at least according to people like Dr. Steven Gundry. His new book, The Plant Paradox, released at the end of April in the US and at the beginning of June in the UK, has triggered concerns regarding lectins and their harmful effects on the body.


Sounds scary.

If you believe the hype, it is. Gundry says lectins are toxic and inflammatory, causing weight gain as well as autoimmune diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and multiple sclerosis. Others have claimed that reducing lectin levels could mean a reduced risk of cancer. And there’s proof that some lectins do have a negative impact on the body. Anybody that has ever eaten a handful of kidney beans raw will know what we mean: it’s a recipe for some unpleasant, prolonged bowel motions.


That’s it, I’m never touching a kidney bean again.

Actually, once cooked the amount of lectins in a kidney bean is reduced and shouldn’t be a problem for the body. When it comes to legumes, a lot of lectin-related issues can be avoided by boiling them before consumption.


So is there anything to this?

Yes and no. According to registered nutritionist Dr. Laura Wyness, “eating a lot of foods with lectins on a frequent basis has been linked with damage to the gut lining… If you eat a huge amount of these foods every day over a long time, it may increase the risk of gut permeability (aka leaky gut).” However, Wyness also notes that if a person’s diet is healthy and varied, it shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, if you soak the grains and boil the legumes – and people don’t normally eat beans raw – lectin content decreases significantly.


I’m so conflicted…

Don’t be. Removing all lectin-containing ingredients from the diet would probably be detrimental to health, as that would mean losing all the beneficial fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that grains and legumes contain. To put it succinctly, the benefits of consuming these foods outweigh any potential negative impact.


So is lectin free the new gluten free?

No, absolutely not. Just continue preparing food properly, keep calm and carry on.

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