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Living a Lectin-Free Diet as a Vegan? The Impossible is Possible!
Veganism is on the rise, and so are various forms of diets, such as eliminating lectins. While many can easily wrap their head around why a vegan diet is healthy, a lectin-free diet might be a bit confusing. That’s because many lectin-rich foods are amazing sources of plant-based proteins. However, lectins are also a significant cause of gastrointestinal distress. What gives!?
Don’t be down and out if you’re plant-powered. There are options for you. Let’s figure out the lectin-free diet, and how you may be able to follow it if you are already on a fairly restrictive menu plan.
What are Lectins?
Lectins are a form of protein that binds to carbohydrates 1. This action can benefit communication between the cells. There are many types of lectins, so their preference in types of carbs differs as well. For instance, the lectin known as wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) is predominantly found in wheat products and likes to bind to human cartilage.
You can discover lectins all throughout nature, including microbes and algae. However, you tend to find the most lectins in the foods we consume.
Types of food that are rich in lectins include:
- Nightshade Vegetables
There are only small quantities of lectins in certain animal-based foods, such as eggs. So, a lectin-free diet seems like a vegan nightmare. However, some people must choose a lectin-free diet for GI problems. When these people consume too many lectins, it may cause long-term gastrointestinal distress that can develop into a slew of gastroenterology diseases.
Why A Lectin-Free Diet?
The main reason that many people avoid lectins is due to concerns over gut health. Thanks to the gelatinous textures of these proteins, lectins bind to particles. This reaction causes lectins to zap the particular particle of its nutrients.
Research on lectins found,
“Approximately 30% of our food contains lectins, some of which may be resistant enough to digestion to enter the circulation. Because of their binding properties, lectins can cause nutrient deficiencies, disrupt digestion, and cause severe intestinal damage when consumed in excess by an individual with dysfunctional enzyme 1.”
–Altern Ther Health Med.
Since the digestion of food gets complicated by lectins, more GI problems will slowly arise.
Lectins and Leaky Gut SyndromeBuild-up causes pores in the gut lining to become more significant. This reaction allows toxins and undigested food particles to leak out of the gut and into the blood. When gut permeability becomes compromised, it is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Lectins and Autoimmune Disease
Eventually, your immune system gets a bit tired of starting inflammation to fight off the problems lectins have caused. Therefore, the adaptive immune system tries to figure out a plan of attack. Unfortunately, this can cause havoc for someone with lectin sensitivities.
“Shared amino acid motifs between dietary lectins, exogenous peptides, and various body tissues may lead to cross-reactivity, resulting in the production of antibodies against lectin and bacterial antigens, followed by autoimmunity. The detection of immunoglobulin G (IgG) or immunoglobulin A (IgA) antibodies against specific lectins may serve as a guide for the elimination of these lectins from the diet 1.– Altern Ther Health Med.
While there is a lot of evidence pointing toward a lectin-free diet, it might not be the way to go. After all, lectins provide our cells with so much nutrition. Here is why you should think twice about a lectin-free diet. Then we’ll help you navigate the lectin-free diet as a vegan.
Why a Lectin-Free Diet May Not Be the Answer
Adverse effects such as gastrointestinal distress caused by legumes can be attributed to eating the food too fast. Slow down and enjoy your food.
Sometimes, your intestines don’t have enough time to break the food down. Inevitably, this inconvenience causes cases of constipation.
In other cases, GI problems from lectins can be due to eating the foods containing these proteins in an uncooked state.
For instance, consuming beans in their raw form can lead to unfavorable GI problems, such as diarrhea and vomiting 2.
According to a spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of America,
“In some cases, lectins causes irritation of the gut lining and can lead to symptoms such as bloating, vomiting and diarrhea. This can particularly be seen when eating raw/uncooked legumes, as the lectin in these foods bind to and effect the lining of the gut, causing vomiting and diarrhoea in the consumer. However the reality is, that we don’t often eat food high in lectin (e.g. kidney beans) in their raw state, and once soaked and cooked, the lectin content is significantly reduced 3.”– Dietitians Association of America
Whenever you do consume lectins, there are some tips you can follow to ease the digestion.
How to Ease GI Problems from Lectins
There are many health benefits to lectins. So, make sure you have a real issue digesting these proteins before you cut them out. Try these tips to help ease GI problems that you think may be associated with lectins.
Cooking with beans? Make sure you soak them first. That way, the gooey proteins can leach to the water and you can strain them away. A couple of hours should suffice, but you may soak up to a full day.
In some instances, you might be better off purchasing organic canned beans. Not only are they softer, but canned beans contain fewer lectins. Just be careful of the packaging your beans come in. BPA packaging may open a whole new world of GI issues.
Like soaking, boiling is also an efficient way of limiting your lectin intake. Eliminate even more by preparing your beans with a pressure cooker.
Deseed or Peel Them
In some cases, the peels or seeds of foods cause GI problems. For instance, apple peels have too much fiber and may increase problems associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Furthermore, seeds like flax are hard to digest. So, they can cause a sour stomach. After all, your system is trying to pass this rock-hard shell!
If you know a food may cause issues, either grind the seed, peel the skin off the fruit, or remove seeds from the fruit altogether.
Fermenting is a lot like soaking. You are putting the fruit or vegetable into a brine, and the lectins will leach onto the water. In addition, the healthy bacteria will feast on the lectins. One analysis found that fermenting foods can lower lectin levels by 95%!
The research concluded,
“In natural or pure mixed-culture fermentations of plant foods by yeasts, molds, and bacteria, antinutritional components (e.g. phytate in whole wheat breads) can be reduced by up to 50%; toxic components, such as lectins in tempe and other fermented foods made from beans, can be reduced up to 95%. These reductions in antinutritional and toxic components in plant foods during fermentation are discussed 4.”– Science Direct
On top of eating fermented foods, limit the number of lectins you eat. See if your gastrointestinal distress subsides. If so, you might avoid having to implement a lectin-free diet completely.
How to Stay Vegan on a Lectin-Free Diet
If you have to avoid lectins for any reason, being vegan is going to be that much harder to stick to, but it is something that can be done.
The main foods to avoid on a lectin-free diet are:
Most importantly, make sure you get enough protein, iron, and zinc. The best plant sources of these minerals are nuts and seeds.
The good thing is that most nuts and seeds are low in lectins. Therefore, you can include these plant proteins to a lectin-free diet.
While coconuts, Macadamia nuts, and pistachios are excellent low-lectin protein sources, you’re going to need more than just nuts and seeds. Sadly, since most proteins on a low-lectin diet come from meat and dairy. So, you might have to be a little more creative when it comes to getting in more protein.
For instance, broccoli and leafy greens have a fair amount of protein per calorie. So, instead of chickpea tacos, try broccoli and cauliflower tacos.
If you are worried about more protein, some plant-based vegan protein powders are low in lectins and also high in protein and other nutrients.
A Vegan Lectin-Free Diet
There are many foods that are high in protein and low in lectins. You might just need to increase some of your food intakes throughout the day to meet some of your nutritional requirements.
Otherwise, here are some low-lectin foods to consume for a lectin-free diet:
As you can see, there is a pretty exhaustive list of vegan foods here. For optimal nutrition, try to consume as many different colors as possible. Also, be sure to eat protein-rich foods like watercress, wild rice, and spinach.
While living a lectin-free diet as a vegan is difficult, it’s not impossible. You can still get plenty of gut health-friendly foods that will bring you a balanced diet. However, you should consult a physician before making any drastic dietary changes.
- 1 A, V. (n.d.). Lectins, agglutinins, and their roles in autoimmune reactivities. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25599185.
- 2 Lectins. (2019, February). Retrieved April 28, 2019, from The Nutrition Source website: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/lectins/.
- 3 Reddy, N.R., and M.D. Pierson. “Reduction in Antinutritional and Toxic Components in Plant Foods by Fermentation.” Food Research International, Elsevier, 22 Sept. 2003, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0963996994900965.