Ask Gerda: Do lectins in food damage my intestines?


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Dear God, I have heard that many plant foods contain lectins that supposedly damage the intestines and cause problems all over the body. I’m a vegetarian and I wonder how that can be – do lectins in food really hurt me? – Desire

Hello, Desiree. There is evidence that if certain lectin-rich foods are not well cooked, they can damage the intestines. Poisoning from undercooked beans is documented, and the lectins are to blame. However, legumes have been part of the human diet, providing fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals for at least 8,000 years, and damage the intestines of well-cooked beans not demonstrated.

But let me tell you, some doctors i researchers have suggested that lectins in many common plant foods can cause inflammation, intestinal leakage, and autoimmune diseases. And preliminary research shows that these concerns are worth exploring.

Lectins are proteins, and we digest most proteins, which means that our digestive enzymes break them down into harmless amino acids. However, lectins are difficult to digest if they are not cooked. These are uncooked undigested lectins that can damage the intestines. They are not unique in this respect; gluten is another problematic protein that resists digestion. Incompletely digested proteins can cause allergic reactions and allergies to lectins in wheat, bananas, avocados, chestnuts, beets and corn are reported. But allergies are not the biggest problem.

Lectins in uncooked food cause the intestines to leak by punching holes in the layer of cells – mucous membranes – that line the intestines. Lectins also prevent intestinal wall cells from digesting and absorbing nutrients, and they also activate white blood cells, encouraging inflammation. And preliminary research suggests that lectins can affect the immune system and other tissues outside the gut. Inflammation research is underway effects of peanut lectin, especially.

Two of the best studied and most powerful lectins are PHA (phytohemagglutinin), from beans, and WGA (wheat germ agglutinin), from wheat. WGA could be one of the reasons – other than gluten – that some people feel that wheat doesn’t agree with them. WGA can bind to intestinal cells and preliminary research suggests that it can increase bowel permeability. It can also activate white blood cells and is proinflammatory. WGA is found in the grain-rich germs of grains, which are removed when the grains are refined. There is more information about wheat in our country goop doctorate article on celiac disease and gluten intolerance.

Should you avoid lectins? They’re everywhere, so you can’t really. And you don’t have to because not all lectins are harmful. They are found in almost all organisms, including animals, microorganisms, and plants, where they are concentrated in seeds. Foods that contain the highest amounts of potentially harmful lectins are cereals and legumes, in order of highest to lowest lectin content –according to one analysis– soybeans, other beans, lentils, peas, fava beans and chickpeas.

We all ate beans without suffering from food poisoning. Lectins are inactivated by cooking or cooking under pressure. They they were not destroyed microwave, baking or roasting. You cannot count on germination or fermentation, although these processes can help reduce lectin activity. The recommendation is: Soak the beans, then boil them or cook under pressure until done. Should we have listened to those cooks and grandmothers who cooked vegetables to gray and mushy? Should we consider Ayurvedic practice, where raw salads are not great on the menu?

There is a lack of evidence that lectins in raw plant foods create problems for most of us. But we know that physiology is very individual and that food intolerances are poorly understood. It is possible to eat small amounts of uncooked lectins could contribute inflammation, immune system disorders and problems with nutrient absorption. If you think you are bothered by certain raw foods, try to cook it thoroughly and see if it helps. Listen to your insides.

It is possible that it is not yet well understood to what extent lectins affect our health. But one thing is clear: Too much alcohol falls hard into the intestines. I love having an alternative during cocktails, and my go-to prepared mocktail is Kin Spritz. It is sophisticated, sparkling and refreshing.


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