What are Lectins and should we be avoiding them in our diet? What are the health benefits associated with Lectins? Here’s a quick guide…Lectins 101: What You Need to Know!
What are Lectins?
Lectins are proteins (or glycoproteins) that are particularly abundant in plants; plant lectins have been studied because of their ability to bind a variety of cell structures, such as carbohydrates, glycoproteins, glycolipids, or polysaccharides, without actually modifying or changing their structure.
Basically, lectins are naturally occurring proteins that can be found in most plants, such as beans, peanuts, nightshades such as tomatoes and potatoes, lentils, eggplant, wheat and small amounts in some fruits, dairy, and some grains such as barley, rice and quinoa.
Lectins can sometimes be referred to as “anti-nutrients” because they can bind to certain minerals and vitamins. In fact, animal studies have shown that lectins have an affinity for gut epithelium and can interfere with absorption of nutrients with these effects often being called “anti-nutritional”. Plants naturally contain these lectins as their own defense mechanism against animals in the wild so they wouldn’t get eaten (nature is so smart).
There is some research that suggests ingesting large amounts of lectins can cause some health issues (particularly for those who are auto-immune prone or who have excessive amounts of chronic low grade inflammation), however, lectins can be broken down when processed, cooked or sprouted (why sprouted grains can be okay for some people).
Who Should Avoid Lectins?
As it turns out, humans can have a rough time digesting these proteins that often travel through your GI tract without being broken down. Eating large amounts of lectins can irritate the gut for some, which can lead to damage to the villi (small finger like projections that absorb nutrients) and can lead to GI distress.
Those with auto-immune issues are most prone to having negative reactions with lectins, which can include those who suffer from Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, IBD, MS, Psoriasis and Hashimoto’s to name a few.
Those who also experience a lot of allergies, those who have been exposed to mold or even those who just have a full “toxic bucket” might benefit from taking a break from lectins, as they can trigger an over-reaction of the immune system.
People who are also playing around with something like the AIP (auto-immune Paleo Diet) might be advised to stay away from lectins, as the goal for this type of diet is to avoid most “triggering”, problematic” and pro-inflammatory foods.
Lectins can stimulate class II-HLA antigens, which are molecules expressed on immune cells that can cause an over-reaction of the immune system….aka an inflammatory flare up of sorts. Excessive amounts of these lectins can cause cells to agglutinate, or become rather sticky, which can negatively affect other cellular processes.
If you are someone who suffers from a lot of different food sensitivities, experience continuous GI issues (especially Celiac disease, IBS etc), and your overall inflammation levels are high, you might want to consider cutting back on lectins for a bit. This specifically is meant for those individuals who have had food sensitivity or food allergy testing done and found out they were truly allergic or sensitive.
Potential Health Benefits of Lectins
Research on the dangers of lectins is pretty scarce and has concluded that, like with most health issues, it really is individual; you might not have to totally avoid lectins forever, but rather focus on reducing your intake of lectins overall.
Lectins do possess some therapeutic benefits (for those who can tolerate them). They bind to cells on the gut wall and can modulate the immune system and cell growth. Research is being done in this area, particularly in cancer therapy.
Lectins’ therapeutic potential is based on their ability to have antitumor activity and cytotoxic (being toxic to cells) effects through programmed cell death (aka apoptosis) and autophagy (self-eating of cells).
Lectin Free Bars and Snacks at MariGold!
At MariGold, we have an entire line of bars that are Lectin Free! You can try a variety of our protein bar flavors with our Lectin Free Sampler Pack, or you can try out some of our most popular flavors with our Primal Pack or Coconut Lovers Pack. We also have some tasty snacks including our Lemon Coconut Fat Bombs and Texas Praline Pecans…yum!