10 Lectin-Free Foods for Improved Gut Health

Are lectins the new diet demons? The answer will surprise.

lectin free foods gut health

Dr. Steven Gundry popularized lectin-free foods in his book “Plant Paradox.”

He proposes that eating lectin-free foods can help reduce certain lifestyle diseases such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune diseases.

But here’s comes the challenge:

Lectins are found in many plant food sources! But plant-based foods are known to be highly healthy and nutritious, right? 

So what’s the buzz about these innocent lectins lately? Read on to find out. 

What are lectins?

Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins. They play a role in cell development, cell communication, and immune response.

They are ubiquitous. You can find them inside our bodies, in animals, plants, and microbial species.

And there are about 30% of the foods you eat contain significant amounts of lectin. 

For plants, lectin acts as their natural self-defense against predators like insects and some animals.

They bind in the cells of the gastrointestinal tract causing stomach sickness. Lectins are found in the following food sources:

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  • Legume family (beans, peas, lentils, peas, peanuts, and soybeans) – contain legume lectins, agglutinin, or hemagglutinin
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers)
  • Other vegetables like cucumbers and squash – contain Cucurbitaceae lectins
  • Skin and seed of most fruits
  • Dairy products (cow’s milk)
  • Meat from corn-fed animals 
  • Whole grains (rice, corn, wheat, barley, and quinoa) – Agglutinin or hemagglutinin, or prolamin. 

Dr. Steven Gundry, a former cardiothoracic surgeon, developed a so-called lectin-free diet.

According to his findings, lectins are the ones that disrupt cell communication.

And then allow unhealthy bacteria to take over and disturb the gut microbiomes, making your gut leaky.

As harmful bacteria take over in your gut, your body fights them, then inflammation occurs. 

In other words, high lectin consumption can result in poor gut health.

It can potentially cause digestive problems such as weight gain, bloating, gas, or diarrhea.

Furthermore, lectins can mess up your hormones that can contribute to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and type 2 diabetes. 

For specific conditions, a 2019 review found that a diet free from lectin foods can help people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS). 

Moreover, lectins are identified as antinutrients.

Animal studies suggest that particular types of lectins reduce your intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients. 

When to eat foods with less lectin?

Dr. Gundry states that plants are intelligent. They possess the ability to defend themselves with the use of certain chemicals.

Lectin is one of those chemicals. And these chemicals can disturb the gastrointestinal condition of anyone who eats them. 

According to a study, agglutinins in plants possess the ability to clump blood cells.

It suggests that people with certain blood types are potentially susceptible to lectin-related health issues. 

In an in vivo study, there are specific lectins from beans that are highly toxic to rats.

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It causes blood agglutination. And it can be a potential chemical to be used for genetically engineered herbicide or a chemical used in warfare.

The effects of lectin on your health may vary. It will depend on how your body deals with its entry and tolerate its impact.

If your body can’t handle large amounts of lectin, that can be a sign that you have lectin sensitivity.

The symptoms of lectin sensitivity range from mild to high.

One of the objectives of a lectin-free diet is to relieve you from gastrointestinal discomforts.

Lectin-free foods to consider

For people who want to limit their lectin intake, Dr. Gundry recommends the following foods:

Protein sources 

meat

Most animal protein sources are allowed for a low-/free- lectin diet. The protein intake for adults is 0.8g protein/kg body weight per day.

Typically, 20 to 30% of your diet must-go-to protein. For a lectin-free diet, here are your protein sources: 

1. Fish or seafood

Seafood of low toxicity

2. Grass-fed meat products

Specifically grass-fed

3. Chicken (meat and eggs)

4. Pork

Carbohydrates sources

You need carbohydrates as your primary source of energy. That should cover 55% to 65% as part of your daily intake (200 g to 300 g per day).

Some starchy foods, vegetables, and fruits are low in lectins. They are even rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. 

5. Starchy foods 

  • Sweet potatoes
  • wild rice, and
  • amaranth

6. Fruits (and in-season fruits)

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  • blackberries
  • blueberries
  • cherries
  • cranberries
  • lemons
  • oranges
  • raspberries
  • strawberries
  • avocados
  • pineapple
  • citrus
  • golden berries
  • papaya
  • mulberries
  • mango

7. Cruciferous vegetables

  • Bok Choy cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • collards
  • kale

8. Other vegetables

Here are more vegetables for you to choose from!

  • Artichokes
  • arugula
  • lettuce
  • asparagus
  • carrots
  • celery
  • chives
  • leeks
  • mushrooms
  • okra
  • onions
  • pumpkins
  • radishes
  • scallions
  • Swiss chard
  • sprouts 

As for cooking with oil for frying, stir-fries, and sauteed dishes, you may use:

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9. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

10. Avocado oil

Lectin free foods precautions

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A diet typically includes a variety of foods. If you happen to feel unwell, it would be difficult to point out the specific source of the problem.

You cannot immediately self-diagnose whether or not it could be food intolerance or allergies. Or, it might not be related to the food you ate. 

If you are experiencing such discomfort, consult your doctor and a registered dietitian to help identify a specific diagnosis.

There are health and medical centers that have a nutrition expert that specializes in gastrointestinal issues. 

Your dietitian may recommend you doing a short-term elimination diet by excluding specific categories of foods that may have caused a reaction.

After such foods were banned in a diet, it is carefully reintroduced to find out what causes those food-related symptoms you experience.

From there, the dietitian can prescribe a suitable diet for you.

The idea of pushing for a lectin-free diet may sound promising for your health. But studies about its health benefits are still unclear and limited to a small population.

Further human studies should be conducted in a more immense scope or population to prove its full potential to cure certain conditions. 

As far as large population studies claim, foods that contain lectins such as legumes, whole grains, and nuts. These are linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

These foods are sources of protein, B vitamins, fiber, and minerals, and healthy fats. 

Reducing the lectin levels in food

For legumes such as beans, you will have to soak them in water for two hours and cook it to destroy the lectins.

If you want to have a shorter preparation, pressure cooking can also effectively destroy lectins in other foods.

Takeaway

Pushing for a lectin-free diet means that you’ll be restricting yourself from a wide range of foods! 

Doing it for an extended period can be difficult.

This is because you’ll have to eliminate or limit the consumption of certain nutritious foods from your diet. For example whole grains, milk, legumes, and other vegetables. 

Take note that most of the research about lectins is done via animal or cellular studies.

There is still a need to perform research that supports the exclusion of lectin-containing foods in the human diet. 

Following a generalized approach to the idea of avoiding all lectin-containing foods must be avoided as much as possible.

Make sure to see your health provider help you with your dietary needs.

A diet calculated and prescribed by a registered dietitian applies an evidence-based approach. You will get to have a diet that is customized to accommodate your food sensitivities. 

(Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian)

Dorothy is a Registered Nutritionist-Dietitian and a candidate for a master's degree in Public Health (MPH) major in Public Health Nutrition. She has a passion for teaching to her university students about food, nutrition, and health. Dorothy is a coffee lover and she enjoys traveling, writing, cycling, running, cooking, baking, and cooking.