Every year it seems a new food villain is declared as the culinary culprit behind weight gain, stomach aches, or inflammation. Lectins are the latest ingredient to be targeted for elimination by fad diets and food headlines, but do they deserve all the negative press?
What foods are lectins found in? What are the negative and positive effects of lectins? Here are answers to all your questions about lectins and their place in our diets.
What Are Lectins?
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrates, and they're found in all plants. Raw legumes and whole grains contain the highest amounts of lectins.
So, what foods are lectins found in? Here's a list of the most common sources of lectins:
An article in Frontiers in Plant Science explains that in nature, lectins help to protect plants from pathogens and herbivorous insects. Lectins are a key component of a plant's immune system and act as a defense against bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Potential Side Effects of Eating Lectins
Lectins resist being broken down, thus they may cause problems during digestion, explains the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Eating raw or undercooked beans can produce side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea as well as milder issues like bloating or gas.
Some studies have shown that lectins can also interfere with the absorption of calcium, iron, zinc, and other minerals.
To Eat or Not to Eat Lectins?
As much hype as there has been about the negative side effects associated with eating lectins, humans don't consume them in large amounts all that often. Lectins are most potent when eaten raw, and ingredients high in lectins like beans or legumes are consumed after the dried versions are soaked and boiled. This disables most of the lectins' active properties, explains the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In actuality, foods containing lectins are often considered a healthy part of a balanced diet. Legumes, beans, and nuts are rich in fiber, healthy fats, and minerals.
Now that you know what foods lectins are found in and what effects they have on the body, you can decide whether or not to include them in your diet. As with any dietary change, it's a good idea to consult with your doctor before starting a new program.
What do you think about lectins? Do you love 'em or leave 'em? Check out the Smart Snacking board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest for some additional healthy food ideas!
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Why It's Good
Diet gurus associate eating foods high in lectins with everything from stomach issues to weight gain, but with proper preparation, you can avoid many of their negative side effects—and enjoy all their nutritional value!