Should you eat a lectin-free diet? (2024)

You’ve probably heard about the heart-healthy diet, the Mediterranean diet and even the keto diet. If you’re a cancer patient or caregiver, you might also have heard about the Budwig diet, the alkaline diet, the low-iodine diet or the neutropenic diet.

But what about a lectin-free diet?

If you’re not even sure what lectin is, you’re not alone. We went to clinical dietitian Sarah Cooke for insight. Here’s what she shared about lectin and why certain people might choose to limit their lectin intake.

What is lectin?

Lectin is a type of protein that binds to carbohydrates. It’s found in virtually all plant foods, but some contain much higher levels than others.

Some of the most common high-lectin plant foods include:

  • beans
  • bell peppers
  • cashews
  • chickpeas
  • corn
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • green beans
  • green peas
  • Irish potatoes
  • lentils
  • melons
  • oats
  • peanuts
  • pumpkin
  • soy
  • squash
  • tomatoes
  • wheat
  • wild rice
  • zucchini

But you shouldn’t necessarily avoid any of these foods. All of them can be part of a healthy diet. MD Anderson dietitians recommend that people eat a wide variety of healthy, nutritious foods to reduce their chances of developing cancer and other diseases. That means aiming for two-thirds of what’s on your plate to be made up of vegetables, grains, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds; the remaining third can be lean protein and dairy products.

How does lectin affect our bodies?

While there’s some concern that lectin may cause gastrointestinal (GI) distress, it’s important to distinguish between active lectins and inactive lectins. Active lectins are what’s found in raw plants. But boiling, baking, pressure-cooking and soaking can deactivate those lectins, so they’re not going to have the same effect as they would if you ate them raw. Fermentation, sprouting and removing peels and seeds can also reduce the amount of active lectin in plant foods.

But eating a large amount of active lectin is actually pretty rare. That’s because lectin is water-soluble and usually found in the outer parts of a plant that are sometimes removed, such as the rice husk or the oat hull. Most high-lectin foods — such as hard beans, lentils and wheat — are not usually consumed raw. They’re canned in water and pasteurized at high heat, cooked in stews or chilis, or baked in breads.

Are there any benefits to consuming foods that contain lectin?

Yes. Many also contain fiber, B vitamins, protein, healthy fats and minerals. They act as antioxidants, too, which can help protect against cell damage. And, lectins slow down the absorption of food, so they can be helpful in stabilizing blood sugars, especially for diabetics.

Why might someone want to reduce the amount of lectin they eat?

The body produces enzymes that break down some lectins naturally. But others may still be harmful to people who have certain food sensitivities or autoimmune disorders, such as Celiac disease.

Tolerance levels can also vary widely from person to person. So, people who have irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, or other GI sensitivities are more likely to experience discomfort after consuming lectins than others.

If a lectin-rich food isn’t properly prepared, it can cause a lot of distress. But that’s true of a lot of other things, too. So, before ruling out lectin-rich foods entirely, I’d suggest examining the preparation methods first and the amount being consumed. Then, try eliminating potentially problematic foods and adding them back one at a time, to see if you can identify which one is causing the distress.

Should cancer patients avoid high-lectin foods?

No. We don’t normally recommend avoiding high-lectin foods, though if a patient is experiencing nausea or some other type of GI distress, we might suggest that they’d benefit from a low-fiber diet. Fiber is harder for the body to break down.

But patients who have nausea that’s only triggered by certain smells might be able to tolerate high-lectin foods just fine. So, it really depends on the individual.

I would also suggest a low-fiber diet at least temporarily for anyone who recently had a colonoscopy or GI surgery, for the same reason: a high-fiber diet might cause them gastrointestinal distress.

In those situations, I advise patients to stick to bland, more easily digestible foods. Choose white bread, for instance, instead of the nuttier, whole-grain varieties.

How are lectins linked to inflammation?

Aside from Celiac disease, which is specific to gluten, there is currently no strong evidence in human studies to support the claim that foods high in lectins consistently cause inflammation.

Do you recommend a lectin-free diet for anyone?

Virtually all plant foods contain at least some lectin. So, eating a totally lectin-free diet is not really realistic, unless you’re willing to be very restrictive. And, I would not personally recommend that.

For the average person, I think following the proper steps to deactivate lectins by soaking, boiling or otherwise preparing high-lectin plant foods is sufficient. Unless and until further studies come out proving otherwise, the many benefits of consuming lectin-rich foods seem to outweigh any potential negative effects.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or call 1-877-632-6789.

Should you eat a lectin-free diet? (2024)

FAQs

Should you eat a lectin-free diet? ›

August 15, 2023 – In spite of claims that diets eliminating all lectins can cure some health conditions, these claims are not backed by sufficient scientific evidence—and going lectin-free may in fact do more harm than good, according to experts.

Is a lectin-free diet healthy? ›

Despite many claims, no scientific evidence shows that eliminating dietary lectins will cure any medical disorders or conditions, including autoimmune diseases.

Should you eat or avoid lectins? ›

We don't normally recommend avoiding high-lectin foods, though if a patient is experiencing nausea or some other type of GI distress, we might suggest that they'd benefit from a low-fiber diet. Fiber is harder for the body to break down.

Are lectins really a problem? ›

Certain types of lectins can prevent your body from absorbing other substances that have nutritional value. This can eventually lead to serious problems such as malnutrition. Some sources of lectins are considered seriously poisonous. Castor beans, for example, contain a potent lectin poison called ricin.

Is the lectin-free diet a fad? ›

The Lectin-free diet (also known as the Plant Paradox diet) is a fad diet promoted with the false claim that avoiding all foods that contain high amounts of lectins will prevent and cure disease.

What cancels out lectins? ›

Cooking, especially with wet high-heat methods like boiling or stewing, or soaking in water for several hours, can inactivate most lectins. [6] Lectins are water-soluble and typically found on the outer surface of a food, so exposure to water removes them. An example is dried beans.

Are eggs high in lectin? ›

Eggs are not full of lectins. Chickens raised on pasture and not fed grains or soy produce eggs that contain little to no lectins. How do lectins work? Lectins are proteins found in plants that can bind to carbohydrates.

Do lectins really cause leaky gut? ›

Incompletely digested proteins can elicit allergic reactions, and allergies to lectins in wheat, banana, avocado, chestnut, turnip, and corn have been reported. But allergies aren't the major problem. Lectins in uncooked foods cause leaky gut by poking holes in the layer of cells—the mucosa—lining the intestine.

Are blueberries high in lectins? ›

Lectin-free fruits include pomegranates, lemons, beets, blackberries, blueberries, apples, plums, sweet oranges, tangerines, and dates.

Are bananas high in lectins? ›

Some fruits, such as bananas and apples, contain lectins, but they are generally found in lower amounts compared to lectin-rich foods like grains and legumes.

Are avocados high in lectins? ›

Avocados – You might think of the avocado as a vegetable, but it's actually a fruit. However you label it, you can feel 100 percent comfortable eating it – as long as you make sure it's ripe. Not only are avocados lectin-free, but they're also packed with antioxidants. Avocados are also high in good fats and fiber.

Is oatmeal high in lectins? ›

Yes, oats contain harmful lectins, and most of the time, they are also contaminated with gluten. If, for some reason, you don't care about the other lectins in oats, make sure you get oats that are labeled gluten-free, especially if you are celiac. Remember, gluten is a type of lectin.

How do I get rid of lectins in my gut? ›

Soaking or sprouting high-lectin foods deactivates the lectins, as does cooking them with high heat (boiling, stewing, etc.) This is one of the main reasons we cook (and sometimes also soak) beans—raw beans are full of active lectins that will upset your stomach.

What are the worst foods for lectins? ›

Some foods that contain higher amounts of lectins include beans, peanuts, lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, fruits, and wheat and other grains.

How did Kelly Clarkson lose weight? ›

Clarkson also revealed that the heaviest she weighed was 203 pounds. She was accused of using Ozempic to achieve her slimmed-down look last year, but she claimed in January that she lost all the weight thanks to diet and exercise. She ate a healthy mix and dropped weight because she've been listening to her doctor.

Are there benefits to not eating lectins? ›

For weight loss, more energy, and better digestion, some people have found success with a lectin-free diet—but the jury is still out on whether the evidence supports its use for any health condition.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of lectin? ›

Some research shows that they may have antimicrobial properties and could also aid in cancer prevention. However, consuming high amounts may irritate the digestive tract and contribute to inflammation and impaired nutrient absorption.

Can you eat fruit on a lectin-free diet? ›

No, not all fruits are lectin-free. Some fruits, such as bananas and apples, contain lectins, but they are generally found in lower amounts compared to lectin-rich foods like grains and legumes.

Is the Gundry diet healthy? ›

While this diet has gained popularity due to claims it can be a cure-all for many major health conditions, there isn't a lot of scientific evidence supporting the removal of all lectins from one's diet, and this way of eating may be harmful due to its restrictive nature.

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