Lectin. Remember this word. For your health and well being you need to know about lectin.
Lectin is a family name of a group of proteins found in both plants and animals. Their roles in life are still being studied, but one role they perform is to recognize and bind up substances that may challenge or compromise the survival of its host. One member of this protein family, known as phytohemagglutinin, is plant based and is highly concentrated in seeds like beans and grains; many that are common in the human diet. Its purpose is to protect the seeds from microorganisms, pests, insects and other challenges, even digestion.
Lectin, itself, is indigestible by many animals including humans. Its presence is to shield the seed from digestion too. It is common to see whole and partially chewed seeds pass undigested in the feces of animals that eat them. However, here is the problem; lectin (although indigestible) can pass intact from human intestines into the blood stream with bad results that you may not associate with their cause.
What’s the harm if lectin passes into your bloodstream? Remember, lectin likes to bind to things. So, if by chewing or grinding into flour for example, the lectins have been freed from their seed hosts and the lectin ends up in your blood stream, it will bind to something, none of which your body will recognize as friendly.
Lectin is fond of joint tissue and will often bind to your joints. When your body fails to recognize it, your immune system will go to battle against the lectin by inducing swelling, pain and general inflammation around it. You’ll wonder why your knees hurt or your shoulder aches. It is unlikely that you’ll blame the bread you ate last night, unless you understand how lectin, from the flour, in the bread you ate last night, found its way into your joint tissue.
Lectin may bind to other foods you’ve eaten and prevent them from being properly digested too. If you’re lucky, you’ll only feel the gas or constipation that comes from undigested food.
If you’re unlucky, lectin may actually bind to the walls of your intestines and disrupt the activity of the cells of your intestines, further affecting digestion or even causing those cells to separate sufficiently to allow lectin and other undigested food to enter directly into your bloodstream. This likely will cause a host of immune system responses.
Worse things can happen. In sufficient quantity, lectin may choose to bind to the sugars of your red blood cells and make them clump together, actually acting as a poison. Not a good outcome.
So how do you prevent these bad consequences from happening? Naturally, the best way is simply to avoid eating seeds that contain the lectin. That would include most grains and beans. How likely is that? Many people have quit eating grain products and beans and have experienced amazing health benefits. The elimination of grain and beans is highly promoted by those folks following a paleo or primal eating template. Ideally, this is what one does. Then, there can’t be a lectin issue at all.
Falling short of that, it is important that measures be taken to at least minimize the amount of lectin that is consumed. Eat less of it and learn to recognize the symptoms of lectin ingestion. Learn. Learn which beans and grains bear less lectin than others. For example, white rice is near the bottom of the list for lectin content as are lentils. Kidney beans and wheat are at the top of their respective lists. Or, learn and strictly abide by the old, traditional ways of preparing beans and grains, while understanding that even these methods are compromises that will not totally eliminate the potential consequences. Soaking, sprouting and fermenting beans and grains prior to preparation will reduce lectin content but not eliminate all.
What about that grain protein everyone wants to argue about called gluten? Is gluten a lectin? No, but it has been described as an ugly cousin of lectin. Some people appear to be more sensitive to gluten than others, but the argument is pointless. It overshadows the issue of lectin. If one takes measures to avoid the known dangers of lectin you’ll automatically avoid any dangers of gluten.
Avoidance of lectin, or at least minimizing lectin intake, can only benefit your health and well being.