If you’re like many adults you’ve tried numerous diets only to remain fat, sick and tired. A lectin free diet, as we promote in the carnivore diet, may be just the thing you need to finally achieve good health.
You see, most foods encouraged in a traditional “healthy diet” are in fact poisoning you and ravaging your gut. “Gut” does not refer to your beer belly, although the carnivore diet will probably fix that too.
When I say “gut”, I’m talking about your digestive tract, the center of health as we know it. The home to our immune system, a superhighway to our brain and cognitive health and our main tool for using food for energy.
You’ve undoubtedly heard “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” This is pure and utter nonsense. Nevermind the fact that apples are nothing short of small pesticide bombs, they are a prime example of nature’s defense system. I hate to break it to you but fruits, vegetables, beans and other plants are not put on this earth to serve us humans.
In fact, they don’t want to be eaten. Over millions of years evolving with animals, they’ve developed innate defense mechanisms.
Remember, evolution is about maximizing genetic fitness. That is, increasing the chance genes are passed down to the next generation. If a plant’s seeds are eaten, it cannot reproduce more plants.
So, to protect themselves most plants are equipped with edible land minds that poison their predators. Lectins are one such defense tool used by many plant foods to survive and reproduce.
What are lectins?
Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins designed to damage cellular communication.
I know what you are thinking: “Come again?”
Let me rephrase that. Lectins are sticky, carbohydrate-binding proteins that function as a defense mechanism for plants. They are designed (by evolution) to cause a severe immune response in the animals that eat them (including humans) which ultimately results in paralysis.
Lectins are associated with both mental and physical health problems. They bind nerve endings, cause blood cells to clump and also attach to viruses and bacteria. In some cases people with lectin sensitivity are more likely to get sick because of this.
Health problems associated with lectins include:
- Leaky gut (intestinal permeability)
- Brain fog
Lectins are highly inflammatory, and resistant to cooking and digestion. So, they pass right through the gut where they wreak havoc.
After passing through your gut undigested, Lectins attach directly to the intestinal lining. There they cause digestive discomfort and can even pry your gut lining open. Additionally, lectins like gluten also stimulate the release of zonulin which opens up a space in the lining, causing leaky gut.
Yet we humans continue to try to eat them. Oh hello wall, let me keep running into you…
Compare this to an insect, who after having an adverse reaction, will actually avoid eating the food again in the future. On the contrary we humans just down acid blocking medications like candy, instead of avoiding the foods that caused discomfort in the first place.
Is a Lectin Free Diet Healthy?
Yes, in fact, there is research that a lectin free diet can heal the gut, quiet an overactive immune system and calm inflammation (*).
In addition, you can get all the protein, vitamins and minerals you need from a lectin free diet. The hardest part will be breaking your addiction to food and the social pressures of avoiding the normalized SAD diet (Standard American Diet). So, you’ll feel amazing but you may have to practice how you’ll turn down Aunt Betty’s famous pumpkin roll over the holidays.
Foods to Avoid on a Lectin Free Diet
There are 5 main categories of foods highest in lectins:
- Beans and legumes
- Squash: pumpkin, butternut, zucchini
- Grains: new food to us. Lectin bombs. Even gluten free
- Nightshades: tomatoes, potatoes, peppers
- Fruit: out of season. If it has a seed it’s a fruit. Peppers and cucumbers.
The most infamous damaging lectins are gluten and wheat germ agglutinin.
Gluten is the most renowned lectin.
Gluten is a complex of 100s of different proteins mainly consisting of: gliadin and glutenin. It is the main protein in wheat, barley and rye.
Gluten can cause a whole spectrum of reactions. It can even kill people that are highly allergic. This alone should make you skeptical of all the health claims around gluten containing foods. But even if you’re not allergic, you do not have the enzymes to break down gluten’s amino acid structure. It is incapable of being digested and anything that cannot be digested or expelled causes harm.
It should be noted that Celiac disease — a severe gluten allergy — is on the rise.
However, gluten is not just a concern for people that have celiac disease. It increases intestinal permeability in all people.
When you eat gluten, it stimulates the release of zonulin, which prys the gut open. This is why gluten has been linked to so many autoimmune disorders.
Don’t think you can just buy the gluten free versions of all your favorite foods – many can be even worse, filled with refined flours, gums and stabilizing agents. Your best bet to improve your health is to avoid common gluten containing foods and the imitation gluten free products.
Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA)
Gluten is not the only damaging lectin. The other lectin that’s especially pernicious is wheat germ agglutinin.
An agglutinin is a protein that is in seeds to protect against insects. Crops today are modified to contain higher levels of agglutinin to make them even more resistant to insects.
Wheat Germ Agglutinin is an especially small lectin. So even if the gut wall isn’t compromised, it can still pass through the walls of the intestine easier.
Some of the damaging effects of WGA include [*]:
- Disrupting endocrine dysfunction by binding to insulin receptors
- Blocking sugar from getting into muscle cells
- Interfering with protein digestion
- Increasing inflammation
- Crossing blood brain barrier
- Stimulating weight gain.
One of the biggest reasons the damage from WGA is so insidious is because it is in the bran.
Given this fact, whole wheat grains are worse for you (mind blown, right???).
So what is the solution? If you’re having health issues, try cutting out lectins for 30 days.
After that, you’ll probably feel amazing and not look back but, if you do decide to eat lectin containing foods check out this awesome post about reducing lectins in food from Kevin Stock.
Foods to Eat on a Lectin Free Diet
Now that we’ve thrown the food pyramid and all conventional diet wisdom out the window, you are probably wondering what the hell you are supposed to eat.
Don’t worry, we are getting there. Now, we’ve been conditioned to think that variety is better in the diet. I’m actually going to make the argument for simplicity here. In the age of information overload, why not embrace the fact that simplicity is the key to health when it comes to diet, so long as you are choosing the right foods.
Here is what you can eat on a lectin free diet:
- Pasture-raised meats
- Butter and ghee from pasture-raised animals
- Olives and extra virgin olive oil
- Cooked sweet potatoes (note that this is a starch and will interfere with ketosis, aka burning fat for energy)
- Leafy greens
Not all low lectin foods promote health so, use some caution with these next few.
- Eggs and dairy
Both eggs and dairy products can be inflammatory triggers for some people, but you know your body best. It’s up to you to determine what works and what doesn’t.
Egg whites contain protective proteins that can irritate the gut, trigger autoimmune disease and cause acne. Egg whites are actually one of the most prevalent causes of allergies, affecting 1-3% of the population.
Dairy can cause inflammation for two reasons: lactose and dairy proteins . If you’re just lactose intolerant, you can try hard cheeses and fermented products that have had the lactose fermented away.
If that still irritates you, then you should drop the dairy altogether – it’s likely the proteins that bother you.
- Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and any other vegetable that smells like sulfur (aka farts) is a cruciferous vegetable. Goitrogens can block iodine from entering the thyroid and eventually cause a swollen thyroid or goiter.
Iodine is required for thyroid hormone production. Without it, the thyroid cannot produce the T4 and T3 hormones.
Low thyroid is diagnosed by abnormal thyroid lab values and presence of goiter. You may also have symptoms including fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, trouble sleeping and constipation.
I know, this is a post about lectins and now I am springing this on you! But, let’s not trade one problem for another, ok?
Lectin Free Diet Trial for Good Health
A brief but spectacular recap for those of you who skipped to the end for the bottom line:
- Lectins are natural defense mechanisms found in plants that damage the gut
- Plants are trying to teach you a lesson to not eat them, you should listen
- If you have health problems or would like to optimize your diet, try a lectin free diet (such as the carnivore diet) for 30 days
- After that, avoid lectins all together or prepare foods to reduce lectins