In order for plants to avoid being eaten, they use chemical warfare to protect themselves. Their main line of defence are lectins, a group of proteins that latch onto certain sugar molecules in our blood, the lining of our gut, and on our nerves. When they find a comfortable spot, they cling to those cells, breaking down these cell’s ability to communicate with our immune systems.
Most of us have heard of gluten and there has been fierce debate over the last several years as to what extent gluten is the root to all evil. It transpires that there are lectins that are much worse than gluten, notably wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) found in the bran of wheat. WGA is a very small protein that can easily slip through the intestinal wall and cause all sorts of havoc in the body. Our move towards “wholesome wholegrains” has inadvertently made us more unwell. We have for generations worked on making more effective grinding tools to remove the external fibrous parts of wheats and other grains and all this has been countered over the last few of decades in our drive to eat more “natural” food!
When we eat lectins and experience discomfort, pain, upset stomach or weight gain, we are feeling the inflammatory effect of the lectins. The evolutionary theory is that we should then avoid eating the foods that have such an inflammatory effect on us. We’ve been ignoring these signals.
Which foods contain the highest amount of lectins and how do we make them safer to eat?
Beans and Legumes. Beans and legumes such as beans, peas, lentils and other legumes (NB peanuts are a legume) contain more lectins than any other food. If you do consume beans and legumes (not allowed during the Cleanse!), invest in a pressure cooker. Pressure cooking beans and legumes will dramatically reduce the amount of lectins.
Grains. Most grains (e.g. wheat, kamut, spelt, oats, rye, bulgur, barley, rice, corn, wheatgrass) and pseudo-grains (e.g. quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth) contain plenty of lectins. Pressure cooking will not remove the lectins from grains, but it will dramatically reduce lectins in quinoa. If you do want to eat grains, opt for the highest quality white (!) variety where the outer lectin-containing hull has been removed. Note that GMO crops are engineered to withstand the attack of insects and pests by artificially inserted extra powerful lectins! If you want to eat bread (Not during the Cleanse!), the best option is sourdough bread, which involves a fermentation process whereby the yeast and bacteria consume the majority of lectins and sugars.
Fruit. In our global supermarket economy, we have grown accustomed to buying any fruit and vegetable that tickles our fancy no matter the season. This has resulted in fruits being picked when unripe, transported across the globe and then synthetically being ripened before being put on the supermarket shelf. Unripe fruit contain more lectins. You may recall tummy aches during childhood when you spent the afternoon eating green apples! Also, our bodies are designed to eat fruit and other sweet things only for a short period of time each year when we are preparing for the harsher winter. Our modern lifestyles are signalling to our bodies that there is constant summer, resulting in weight gain and other metabolic issues.
Courgette, pumpkin, squash, cucumber. Any vegetable with seeds is classified as a fruit! It should therefore only be consumed in season during the summer months when we biologically have needed more sugar to fatten up in time for winter. The lectins can be found in the peel/rind and seeds. If you do eat any of these fruits(!), remove the peel and seeds.
Nightshades. Nightshade vegetables include aubergine, peppers (including chilli), potatoes (not sweet potatoes) and tomatoes. People with rheumatoid arthritis often experience relief when cutting out nightshades. If using, peel and remove the seeds. Fermenting or pressure cooking them reduces the amount of lectins. Tomatoes and peppers have been used a lot in Mediterranean cooking, but traditionally only when peeled and de-seed.
Grain-fed meat and fish. You are what the animals you eat have eaten eat! Choose pastured meat and wild-caught fish that have eaten a natural diet. Read the labels carefully - “organic” or “free range” makes you believe that the animals have led a natural life, but they may have been fed organic grains! We find that butchers and fishmongers are much more used to answering these kinds of questions than they were just a few years ago. You have every right as a consumer to ask these questions. Your health is at stake!
Dairy produced by Northern European cows. A few thousand years ago a mutation occurred in Northern European cows causing them to make the protein casein A-1 instead of casein A-2. When digested, the casein A-1 protein turns into a lectin-like protein. The milk of the Holstein cow, which is used extensively for milk production as they are hardy and produce a lot of milk, contain this mutated protein. Southern European cow species, Guernsey cows and many Jersey cows produce milk containing the un-mutated casein A-2. For anyone who experiences an allergic reaction to milk, the breed of cow can make all the difference.
For anyone interested in learning more about lectins and the effect they have on us, we recommend Dr. Steven Gundry’s book “The Plant Paradox”. Dr Gundry is the director of the International Heart and Lung Institute in Palm Springs, California, and the founder and director of the Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs and Santa Barbara. For many years his prime focus has been on curing modern diseases through dietary interventions.