As if the landscape of eating grains wasn’t already confusing enough:
- Refined or whole? Will white flour spike my blood sugar? Will whole grains leach my minerals?
- Sift the bran? Will whole grains cause cavities?
- Freshly milled or store bought?
- Soaked? sprouted? soured? What’s the most nutritious?
- How much phytic acid is there? Enough phytase?
- Is soaking traditional? Scriptural? Does it matter?
- Will the gluten cause me to have leaky gut or other reactions?
I’m so sorry, but I have to throw another evil nutrient into the mix: lectins.
What are Lectins?
In simple language, lectins are proteins that bind to sugars/starches found in all food substances. Stomach acid has little effect on lectins, so they’re virtually indigestible. The way they stick to other substances in the body plays a large role in inflammation, which means they’re pegged as possible causes or players in diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.
The highest levels of lectins are found in grains, legumes, dairy, eggs, and the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, pepper, corn, and a few more), including oils from lectin-containing foods like soybeans. Doesn’t that list look a little like a list of common allergens? Wheat, dairy, peanuts, eggs, soy, corn… It’s likely that grain-fed dairy and pasteurized dairy allow lectins to be even more toxic.2
It’s likely that our current diet contains more lectins than in years past, because we have hybridized and genetically modified things like wheat to increase its protein content. Since lectin is a protein, our lectin load is increased.
How do Lectins Hurt People?
"The important point is that some of the lectins consumed in everyday foods act as chemical messengers that can in fact bind to the sugars of cells in the gut and the blood cells, initiating an inflammatory response." 1 For example, gliadin is a term you may have heard of if you’ve look very deeply into the gluten issue. Gliadin is actually a lectin and component of wheat germ and gluten. It’s highly theorized that gliadin is the culprit in many issues blamed on gluten, particularly those autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
Gliadin likely disrupts intestinal flora (good/bad bacteria balance), damages microvilli in the intestines, decreases immune response and causes gut permeability ("leaky gut syndrome" which allows all sorts of large, undigested food particles to enter the bloodstream, causing immune responses and harming the person’s body pretty intensely).
Different people respond differently to lectins, based on their genetics, bacterial or viral infections, use of NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) and other variables.2 Ironic, because NSAIDS are prescribed to treat inflammatory bowel disease.
What is food for some, is poison for others. For example, "The intestinal lining of people with Crohn’s disease and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) appear to be more sensitive to the effects of food lectins because the lining is constantly being replaced by new tissue that is made up of immature cells that are more glycosylated and thus more susceptible to lectin attachment. It becomes a vicious cycle."1
Lectins and Inflamed Joints
Inflammation of the gut is clinically related to joint inflammation. Lectins are pegged again, and one proof is that nightshade vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes, very high in lectins, often exacerbate symptoms of arthritis.
Lectins and Weight Gain
One possible reason why low carb diets contribute to weight loss is that lectins, found in most abundance in those starchy foods like grains, legumes, and potatoes, can mimic hormones, namely insulin. Their binding property can cause them to bind to the insulin receptor and mimic insulin, telling the body, "Make fat." Bummer. It also stays attached to the insulin receptor, delivering its message constantly. Bigger bummer.
How Can we Avoid Lectins?
Cooking doesn’t really affect most lectins, but two traditional food preparation methods destroy or nearly completely diminish lectin content:
- Sprouting not only increases the overall nutrition of seeds, but it completely destroys the lectin. You can sprout both grains and legumes.
- Soaking beans in water and tossing the soak water also dramatically reduces lectin content.
Some seaweeds can bind to the lectins, preventing them from doing their dirty work in your system.1
Sullivan2 recommends an elimination diet, cutting all high-lectin foods for 7 days, then eating them from one family (for example dairy OR nightshades, but not both) at every meal for one day, then taking two more days off and examining your reactions/symptoms. You can practice the elimination for each group to see where you might be sensitive, then learn to avoid those foods.
Let’s take solace in that at least we know how easy it is to sprout legumes and how to make sprouted flour, and since we can’t really avoid 100% of lectins, we can’t worry our little heads about it. It’s just another piece of information to add to the puzzle.
The rest of the week will include soaking vs. sprouting, some soaking FAQs and the final post: To Soak or Not to Soak, including everything I know (which isn’t as much as I’d like!). Also watch Friday for the roundup for the soaked grain recipe book – if you have a soaked, soured, or sprouted recipe to contribute, link up or get it ready to copy in the comments. Big fun!
Wish you understood more about soaking grains? Catch up on what I’ve done at the soaking grains exploration page. Enjoy!
1. Lectins Their Damaging Role in Intestinal Health, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Weight Loss by Carolyn Pierini, CLS (ASCP), CNC, here.
2. The Lectin Report by Krispin Sullivan, CN