The Truth About Lectins And Trendy Lectin-Free Diets

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Every so often, someone in the nutrition world (or on the periphery) raises a red flag about a seemingly harmless component in the food supply. Most often, these are only red herrings that tend to dissipate – or are disproven – with time. First it was fat, then wheat, and now it’s something called lectin.

A popular book titled The Plant Paradox suggests this carbohydrate-binding protein is one of the root causes of inflammation. In it, the author claims that regularly consuming lectin-rich foods could increase your risk of chronic diseases including cancer and obesity.

The end result: A growing number of Americans are abandoning a large category of plant-based foods (including grains, nuts and even tomatoes). But is this claim legit? And where does that leave lectins?

Lectin 101

Lectins represent a family of proteins that occur in all foods to some degree. They’re most concentrated in grains and legumes but are also found to a lesser degree in produce and animal foods. While some experts liken lectins to gluten, which can be harmful to some people, evidence to support that theory is lacking.

Lectins’ primary role is to help molecules and cells stick together.

Cautionary Notes

For most people, eating lectins poses zero health concerns. There are no human studies suggesting lectins are harmful. Laboratory and animal studies are limited and largely inconclusive. In fact, research overwhelmingly concludes that lectin-rich foods, including whole grains, nuts, beans and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, onions, eggplants and bell peppers) can actually reduce your risk of chronic disease.

The only way to get too much lectin is if you eat undercooked beans. Even then, you would have to eat quite a bit to notice any negative effects. If you do happen to consume a ton of undercooked beans, you might suffer from short-term tummy troubles – things like gas, bloating, diarrhea or cramping.

The bottom line: Instead of focusing on the effects of a specific food component or nutrient, strive to eat a balanced diet featuring plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.


Talk to your doctor about how changes in your diet and lifestyle can help your health. To find a doctor at Henry Ford or make an appointment, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). To meet with a registered dietitian, call 1-855-434-5483.

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Categories: EatWell