I know after reading the title you may be thinking oh no, I was following a vegetarian eating plan with lots of beans to improve my health and increase my daily protein intake, so was I was wrong? Don’t worry, you maybe right, but …
Beans are high in protein, fiber and low glycemic index carbohydrates. They also contain a high concentration of the lectin phytohaemagglutinin. Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins, found in most plants, especially seeds and tubers, including cereals, potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, peanuts, and many beans, such as red kidney beans and soy beans.
They can increase inflammation and intestinal permeability, and raise the risk for many chronic diseases, such as obesity, autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 2 diabetes.
Grain/cereal lectins, dairy lectins, and legume lectins are the most common ones associated with aggravation of inflammatory and digestive diseases in the body. Big improvements of these diseases and reduction of symptoms are often seen when these lectins are avoided.
Recent research has suggested that these lectins may effectively serve as a vehicle allowing foreign proteins to invade our natural gut defenses and cause damage well beyond the gut, including in our joints, brain, skin, and various body glands. Many lectins have a toxic and inflammatory effect, and are resistant to cooking and digestive enzymes. As they are present in much of our food, they can sometimes cause food poisoning too.
So if you have gluten allergies or sensitivities, you may be wondering and not understand why you still have symptoms, even while following a gluten-free diet. Gluten and lectin (lectin in gluten) may trigger each other. You may feel indigestion, bloating, and gas after consuming high-lectin food. Also, you may be unable to process high fiber food if your gut function is impaired.
If the lectins in our diet can cause or initiate so many diseases, should it not be possible to identify and modify or remove them so as to make our diet healthier? Many foods containing lectins also contain many beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So you may just need to minimize foods that are high in lectins, and be sure your food is prepared properly.
Cooking methods that use moist heat are helpful for decreasing the number of lectins in plants. Cooking also breaks down some plant starch into the simplest carbohydrates; lectins like to attach to carbohydrates, and are removed from the body before they cause negative effects.
The best ways to decrease lectins in foods include boiling, fermentation, sprouting, peeling, soaking 12 hours before cooking, and pressure cooking. Slow cookers, for example, are not recommended for preparing kidney beans, because the temperature is not high enough to eliminate lectins.
Small amounts of lectins can also have some positive effects in helping the good bacteria that live in our digestive systems. Personally I use Eden brand canned beans, because they have already been pressure cooked, and the packaging is BPA free.
We cannot avoid all food sources with lectins, and it would not be healthy to do so either. But we can minimize high-lectin food, and consume lots of dark green vegetables, and seasonal fruits such as berries and avocados, so that we can heal our gut and improve our immune system to fight external substances that can be harmful our body.
Ayda Ersoy is a nutrition and fitness director at The Diet Doc Hawaii. She can be reached at DietDocHawaii.com, Ayda@DietDocHawaii.com or (808) 276-6892