The Lowdown On Lectins

Little known to the public at large. Little understood by the health community. Omnipresent in our conventional food culture. Proven to be at least mildly detrimental for everyone and downright destructive for the more sensitive (and often unsuspecting) among us. We’re talking lectins today: common natural agents on the one hand, cloaked thugs of the anti-nutrient underworld on the other. Our popular health media, if they’ve heard of lectins, certainly never make mention of them. Famous health gurus never deign to speak of them. In short, lectins thrive in the American diet basically unfettered, unscrutinized. Make no mistake, however. They’re a menacing power to be reckoned with. I’ve addressed them on Mark’s Daily Apple in the past ( Why Grains Are Unhealthy ) and in my book ( The Primal Blueprint ), but I still get a fair number of emails and forum questions asking for more info. As I always say, let’s break it down….

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What Are They?

Before Monsanto, Mother Nature had her own pesticide strategy. (Humans being among the “pests” to be warded off.) In order to avoid being completely decimated by insects, foraging animals and Groks , plant species evolved assorted anti-nutrients that would make said pests regret their gorges with a variety of mostly digestive related ailments. Low grade toxins, in a sense. A workable balance developed between plants that were able to safeguard their species’ survival and the “pest” patrons that were able to benefit from the plants’ nutrition but learned to partake more sensibly from their supply. Given that our primal forefolk foraged widely and ate a surprisingly diverse diet, the system worked.

Lectins are essentially carb-binding proteins universally present in plants (and animals). Just as they protect plant species from Grok-sized predators, lectins also support other immunological functions within plants and animals (against pathogense, parasites, etc.) They also assist in other functions like protein synthesis and delivery in animals. They’re relatively sticky molecules, which makes them effective in binding with their sought after sugars but undesirable for our digestion, in which their binding powers can lead them to attach to the intestinal lining and wreak havoc. (More on this in a minute…)

Given their omnipresence in nature, a certain amount of lectin consumption has always been inevitable. To the benefit of the plants, lectins are also hard to break down. Regular old digestive enzymes only do about half the job . Human ingenuity evolved across traditional cultures to “predigest” lectins through food preparation practices ( fermenting , soaking , etc.). In our contemporary dietary culture, however, we too commonly skip these practices yet rely on the highest lectin-containing foods for our primary food sources.

What Foods Contain Them?

The short answer here is basically all plants and animal products (PDF) to varying degrees. Nonetheless, lectins are concentrated more in some sources than others. Foods with the highest lectin activity include: grains of all kinds (especially wheat), legumes (especially soy ), nuts , dairy , and nightshade plants (e.g. eggplant , tomatoes , potatoes, peppers , etc.). Add to this list the oils and other derivative products from these food sources. And yet another, lesser known category: GMO food, … Continue reading The Lowdown On Lectins