If you keep up with nutrition trends, then you’ve definitely read about lectins recently. And what you’ve read has likely told you that lectins are horribly bad for you and will cause terrible problems in your digestive tract if you eat them.
Lectins are a class of low-level plant toxins, found in most plant foods. Think about it: plants can’t move; they can’t fight; but they, like every other living creature, want to survive and proliferate their genetic material! So, while animals can physically fight, plants have to form other defenses against those things that will potentially kill them. Enter the lectin: lectins are small molecules that, when consumed by an animal – like a human, can cause discomfort in that animal, and thus discourage the animal from further eating that plant. The extent of the discomfort varies from person to person – and plant to plant.
100% avoidance of all lectins would mean 100% avoidance of plant foods.
A few of the medical-doctors-turned-nutrition-experts whom I follow have been championing the anti-lectin diet for the past couple of months. Visit mercola.com and drgundry.com to learn more about the potential negative side effects of consuming lectins. I promise it’s not all bad; but I can’t promise that it won’t confuse you!
Now, after a few months of this trendy anti-lectin-containing-food onslaught, I feel it necessary to speak out on behalf of the benign bean and other high-lectin foods!
Certainly Mercola and Gundry – and other lectin researchers – are not incorrect to say that when a human consumes (eats) lectins, the lectins do pose potential dangers to the human’s digestive tract – especially if that person’s digestive tract is already weakened or otherwise unhealthy.
You may be familiar with the term “leaky gut”. Leaky gut is a condition in which the little cells that line a person’s small intestine have become weak (not functioning properly), and thus lose their capacity to really stick to one another and create a barrier around the inner intestinal space. Leaky guy is a great example of an already-weakened digestive tract. A person with leaky gut who eats lectins is likely to suffer from the proposed negative symptoms that lectins can cause – cramping, nausea, fatigue, inflammation. The reason for this is because, in the case of leaky gut, lectins can fit through the space that exists between the weakened cells that line the small intestine, thus entering into the blood stream relatively undigested. So now you have full-capacity lectins floating around in your blood stream, and their job is to cause discomfort!
A person with healthy digestive tract, on the other hand, is certainly not immune to the potential side effects of lectins. However, the person with a healthy digestive tract definitely has the potential to suffer less when consuming lectins.
My overall take on this lectin issue – and other experts support this, too – is that beans and other lectin-containing foods like grains, nightshades, and nuts, can be safely consumed without experiencing the negative effects of the lectins.
The safest way to consume lectin-containing foods is to sprout them. The second safest way is to soak and cook them thoroughly.
There are a few companies selling already-sprouted beans, nuts, seeds, and grains. And more companies seem to be popping up, which is awesome! Here are a few of my go-to sprouted foods brands:
Alternatively, sprouting lentils, nuts, and seeds is fairly easy to do at home. Here’s a recipe for sprouting lentils at home (you can follow these same steps for nuts, seeds, and beans like the mung bean):
Personally, I sprout lentils, nuts, and seeds, but I seem to prefer beans that are just thoroughly soaked and cooked.
Dry beans should be soaked in warm water with either lime juice or baking soda for a minimum of 8 hours, or up to 48 hours. The warm water and the lime juice or baking soda neutralize the lectins so that they no longer cause harm to our bodies. If you go the soaking route, be sure to drain and rinse the beans every few hours, and then return to soaking in fresh, clean warm water.
Once your beans have properly soaked, then they should be cooked thoroughly. Put your beans in a large soup pot with about three times as much water. Bring to a boil and then let simmer. Simmer like this for at least two hours, or until the beans are very soft. I like to add onions, garlic, carrots, celery and rosemary to the boil.