Could Lectins Be the Root of Your Health Problems?

Risa Groux, CN
 | Published: 
April 9, 2018

Perhaps you have been diagnosed with celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s, diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia or any other common or rare autoimmune disease. If you haven’t, there is a high probability that someone you know has been. There are more than 100 confirmed autoimmune diseases and is estimated to affect more than 50 million Americans or 20% of the population, compared with 12 million with cancer and 25 million with heart disease. Roughly three quarters of the people effected are female. What’s worse is that the prevalence of autoimmune disease is steadily increasing. What causes all this autoimmune disease? There are several factors including genetics, toxicities, diet, and lifestyle, but another major contributor is leaky gut, scientifically referred to as intestinal permeability.

We only have one layer of skin on our intestinal wall as opposed to seven layers on the outside of our bodies. It is critical that we maintain the health and strength of that lining along with the villi that protects it. Foods like gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and chemicals (pesticides, preservatives, additives, dyes etc.) can erode the lining and poke holes called tight junctions. When this occurs, foods (mostly proteins) go through the holes and directly enter the blood stream where the body then defends itself by making antibodies to attack the invaders. The formation of antibodies to the body’s own tissues is the first crucial step in the development of autoimmune disease. This process puts the body into a state of inflammation. If we continue to consume those danger foods and chemicals, we continue to cause inflammation and eventually create disease.

Here is where lectins come into play. All living organisms have defense mechanisms because our two main purposes are to survive and procreate. Humans have the ability to defend themselves if danger presents itself. We can run, kick, bite, flee, etc. Plants are unable to do that so instead they have a protective lining called lectins. Phytates (or phytic acid) along with lectins are known as anti-nutrients. Lectins are proteins that are found in most vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits and vary in levels of concentration. When ingested, lectins firmly attach themselves to specific carbohydrate molecules in our blood which inhibits the cells to communicate with our immune systems. Those cells then break open the little holes in the lining our intestines to cause leaky gut. When we consume lectins, if we experience pain, discomfort, heartburn, fatigue, stomach aches, nausea or diarrhea, that’s a clear sign that lectins are doing what they are designed to do. Protect themselves to survive and hopefully land somewhere where they can spread their seed and procreate.

There are significant studies that demonstrate lectins as being the root cause of many diseases. The research being done on lectins and how they affect our health is expanding. There is no doubt from what I see in my office, that removing high lectin foods from the diet has resulted in a decrease of discomfort, symptoms, brain fog, and inflammation and an increase in weight loss, energy and stabilizing blood tests results. It not only helps people with autoimmune disease, it appears to help anyone of all ages.

Foods that are high in lectins to remove (or limit) from the diet include:


  • Eggplant
  • Peppers (bell, jalapeno, cayenne but not black pepper)
  • Potatoes (all kinds except yam, yucca, taro, and sweet potato)
  • Tomatoes (particularly the seeds and skin).
  • Goji berries

If you do eat these nightshades, make sure to peel and deseed them or pressure cook or ferment them. These techniques reduce the amount of lectins.

Beans & Legumes – Beans carry more lectins than any other food. Remove beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes. Some legumes hide as nuts, so it’s best to cut out peanuts and cashews as well.

Grains – For the most part, grains are a relatively new food to us. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t search for grains. Plus, most grains are lectin bombs, as well as gluten-free grain substitutes that vegetarians consume a great deal of. It’s best to limit grain intake. If you must, eat white flour over wheat but there are many flours you can bake with that contain low lectins.

Squash – An easy rule to remember is that any vegetable with seeds is actually considered a fruit. Such is the case with all squashes, pumpkins, and zucchini. The seeds and peels of these foods are full of lectins. Cucumbers are not in the squash family but contain high levels of lectins.

Corn and corn-fed ‘free-range’ meats – It doesn’t take much to see why corn is among the worst lectin-filled grains. Just look at the American farm industry. Farmers use corn for the sole purpose of fattening up cattle. Corn has the same effect on us. It also causes fatty deposits in the muscle. So, avoid ‘free-range’ meats as best you can. ‘Free-range’ can mean the cattle are eating corn and, therefore, so are you. Instead, opt for only pasture-raised meats.

Casein A1 Milk and dairy – A couple thousand years ago cows in Northern Europe suffered a genetic mutation. The result was a lectin-like protein in their milk called casein A1. Turns out, casein A1 is converted to a protein called beta-casomorphin and this protein can prompt an immune attack on the pancreas of people who consume milk or cheeses made from these cows.

Most store-bought milk in your grocery store, even if it’s organic, is A1 milk.

The un-mutated cows, found primarily in Southern Europe, produce a safe protein called casein A2. Stick to A2 milk, Southern European cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and buffalo milk. I am not a big fan of dairy in general so consider these milks and cheeses a treat, and consume them rarely if at all.

Fruit – They have great nutrients and health benefits but it’s also natures dessert with lots of sugar. I recommend limiting your fruit intake and go for organic berries above most fruits as they are filled with antioxidants, fiber and lower glycemic. Always choose organic as they are heavily sprayed.

Foods that are low in lectins to include from the diet include:

Leafy Greens – Romaine, red & green leaf lettuce, kohlrabi, mesclun, spinach, endive, butter lettuce, parsley, fennel, and seaweed/sea vegetables are all great to add to a lectin-free diet. They are high in nutrients and incredible for your health.

Cruciferous & other vegetables – Enjoy broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. And include these lectin-free veggies in your diet as often as you like: asparagus, garlic, celery, mushrooms, and onion. They are full of fiber, prebiotics, and polyphenols. Dive into sweet potatoes, yams and tubers which include tiger nuts and cassava.

Avocado – Avocado is a fruit, but it’s actually okay to eat when ripe because it’s essentially sugar-free, full of good fat and soluble fiber – key when trying to lose weight and absorb antioxidants.

Olives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Olive oil is filled with essential vitamins and minerals. It contains vitamin K, vitamin E, calcium, iron, sodium, and potassium. Furthermore, olive oil contains polyphenols and fatty acids. It’s an all-around superfood.

In fact, olive oil can contribute to the reduction of inflammatory activity in those suffering from autoimmune disorders. Other permitted oils include avocado, coconut, macadamia, sesame and others.

Nuts and Seeds – other than cashews and peanuts you can enjoy a handful per day. Raw is always preferred but roasted and unsalted is acceptable as well. Avoid chia, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds.

Animal protein – Wild fish is optimal but small amounts of pastured poultry and beef would work as well. I recommend no more than 8-10oz daily.

Bottom line is your plate should look like this:

  • 80% greens/veggies
  • 10% healthy fat
  • 10% animal protein

Hungry for more info on lectins? Check out Dr. Steven Gundry’s book “The Plant Paradox” as it goes into great detail about lectins, the science behind them and the recommended foods.

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