Lectins are sugar-binding proteins (not to be confused with glycoproteins, which are proteins containing sugar chains or residues) that are highly specific for their sugar moieties. They play a role in biological recognition phenomena involving cells and proteins.
There are a number of different lectin types in foods. Not all are damaging to us. Some should be avoided, especially the ones in cereal grains and legumes. Plants use lectins as part of their natural defense systems. They help plants defend against attackers such as mold, fungus, and parasites.
Grain lectins are able to pass through the gut into general circulation, and cause numerous problems throughout the body, including systemmic inflammation, a leading cause of many diseases and obesity.
Lectins are not digested by stomach acid or enzymes. So still intact, lectins can then attach to, and attack, cell membranes. Recent research is beginning to reveal how the body’s response to these lectins is a major cause of many immune system imbalances. Based on this recent research, many symptoms once attributed to aging or “wear and tear” may need to be reclassified as immune reactions caused by lectins.
The problems with eating grains can be compounded further. As I mentioned in the first post in this series:
Combine a diet high in cereal grains, low in total fat, low in saturated fats, and possibly low in high quality animal proteins, and it’s obvious why an individual might start to run a deficiency in iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, B-vitamins, etc. Some people will argue that grains can be a good source of many nutrients… in the lab. These same people need to understand the difference between ingestion and digestion. Just because a food has a particular nutrient profile analysed in a lab setting, it does not mean it can be digested and absorbed by the body. Grains in particular are spectacularly good and binding nutrients, minerals especially, and preventing them from being absorbed (grain intake might even see a higher turnover in the likes of vitamin D).
So you’re not doing yourself any favors by trying to carb load on grains. Especially athletes. Where the goal is to minimize inflammation, grains have an incredibly pro-inflammatory tendency. You need to start using clean carb sources like sweet potatoes, potatoes, squash, and other starchy vegetables. You’ll be able to avoid the inflammation, gut stress and emegency sideline bathroom breaks, along with the bloating and discomfort. At the same time you’ll be getting many times more vitamins and minerals in your diet, a key for proper recovery and immune function.
So on top of the anti nutrients discussed in the previous post, lectins from grains and legumes compound the risk. Now it’s easy to see why obesity and disease rates are so high in industrialized countries like America. We rely so heavily on grains as a staple food source, it makes up the bulk of what most people are told to eat. Yet they are nothing but cheap sugar calories, void of any nutritional value, and they cause systemmic inflammation that catches up to you as you age.
Even before you are very old, systemmic inflammation from poor diet can rear its ugly head in the form of acne, depression, IBS, celiac, arthritis, and abdominal fat accumulation, just to name a few.
How do lectins cause these problems?
Lectins cause cells to “agglutinate”, or stick together. Your body’s immune system then sends out white blood cells to destroy the lectins, as well as the cells that have agglutinated. This can result in systemmic inflammation.
In the intestines, agglutination allows lectins to bind to the intestinal wall, particularly the villi, of the small intestine. This causes damage and impaired cellular repair potential, cellular death, and compromised intestinal villi, reducing the absorption of other nutrients, including vitamins, minerals and protein. Add to this altered gut flora, which can allow certain harmful bacterial strains like E. coli to run rampant. Since the body is now responding full-time to the needs of the injured gut lining, proteins and other resources are redirected from other basic growth and repair processes.
This process also causes leaky gut, allowing other toxins and partially digested food to enter circulation, leading to food allergies and autoimmune reactions, when your immune system attacks these particles, and the healthy cells they are attached to.
That’s why lectins are linked with autoimmune disorders like IBS, Crohn’s. colitis, thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and arthritis. Specific lectins have been associated with particular ailments (like wheat with rheumatoid arthritis), but more research is needed to trace and confirm these connections. However, it is clear that potent autoimmune destruction can result when the intestinal lining experiences this level of damage. Lectins also cause discharge of histamine from gastric mast cells, which stimulate acid secretion. So the three main pathogenic factors for peptic ulcer – acid stimulation, failure of the mucous defense layer, and abnormal bacterial proliferation (helicobacter pylori) are all theoretically linked to lectins. The mucous stripping effect of lectins, also offers an explanation for the anecdotal finding of many allergists that a “stone age diet”, which eliminates most starchy foods and therefore most lectins, protects against upper respiratory viral infections.
One more thing to be aware of is how easily you can over eat these calorically dense, yet nutrient void grain based foods. Since grains (and sugar) give you nothing your body actually needs, your satiety mechanisms quickly make you hungry only a few hours after a meal. That’s your body telling you to eat. It’s looking for nutrients that it needs, yet getting none. This happens time, and time again. We over eat. We get fat. And all the systemmic inflammation makes us sick, weak, and prone to disease. Blasted!
There’s an easy way to mitigate all this. Stop eating grains and sugar and legumes. And eat lots of healthy natural fats (not the kind made in a factory).
If you have autoimmune issues, avoiding the following foods, as well as grains, should help releive your symptoms. You can experiment with adding foods back, and see which ones you are most affected by:
Beans, kidney, lentils, peanuts and soybeans. Seeds and nuts such as sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds and walnuts. Oils made from corn, peanuts, soy, etc. Dairy foods, all milk products, cheese, cottage cheese, kefir andyogurt. Eggs and all products that contain them. Fruits such as cantaloupe and pomegranate. Vegetables in the nightshade family: potato, tomato, eggplant, cucumber and peppers. Processed foods containing added flavoring agents, thickeners, fillers and binders. GMO Foods, as lectins are spliced into modified varieties to enhance “natural” pest & fungal resistance.
Fat doesn’t make you fat < Read on! Get Stoneage!