Will Removing Lectins From Your Diet Help you Lose Weight and Be Healthier?
With every new bikini season comes a new trendy, fad diet that swears it will help us lose weight and fat, and get us trimmed, lean, and toned for the beach. Most of these fad diets focus on cutting out certain foods and certain food groups. As a result, millions of people try going gluten-free, take on the Whole 30 challenge, break out the raw foods for the Paleo diet, and load up on avocados, salmon, and other fatty foods for the keto diet… but usually end up right back where they started a few months later, and often even heavier than when they first began.
And the list of fad diets just got longer, when Dr. Stephen Gundry, a cardiologist in Southern California, introduced the idea that lectins (a source of natural proteins) found in many foods are stopping dieters from successfully losing weight, and is advocating that they are removed from our food choices completely.
But does it work? Will removing lectins really help us lose weight or is it just another fad diet that is here today and gone tomorrow?
What Are Lectins?
To know what exactly you would be cutting out, it is helpful to first explain what lectins actually are. Lectins are a type of protein that occurs naturally. They are particularly abundant in foods like legumes, grains, and certain vegetables, and they readily bind to sugar (carbohydrate) molecules. Lectins are not actually digested by the human body though, so they travel through the digestive tract and gut completely unchanged. Foods that are high in lectin have the most concentration of lectin in their raw form.
When consumed in this form, some might have high enough lectin levels that could potentially lead to gut irritation and discomfort, and the consumer may even experience such negative side effects as diarrhea and vomiting. And because it is temporarily causing such negative side effects, it might run the risk of your digestive tract failing to absorb certain key nutrients. Fortunately, cooking or fermenting these foods (instead of consuming them in their raw forms) will greatly reduce the actual amount of lectins that they contain.
On the flip side are the benefits of lectins. They help keep your gut and digestive tract “regular”. Much like fiber, they contribute to a healthy diet and lifestyle and are often integrated into diets specific for weight loss and blocking fat absorption because of their “antinutritive” tendencies to stop the absorption of certain nutrients. They also play several critical roles in certain bodily processes. Specifically, they are involved in helping new cells form and grow, and in normal immune system functioning. And studies have even linked them to play a positive role in cancer therapy.
What Specific Foods Contain the Most Lectin?
- Nightshade Foods and Vegetables
Foods belonging to the nightshade family can be characterized by vegetables and fruits that all sprout the same greenery (that closely resembles something like a small green elf hat). Commonly consumed nightshades include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers (bell peppers, chili peppers, paprika, tamales, tomatillos, pimentos, cayenne, etc) and potatoes. However, there are also several plants in the nightshade family that are extremely poisonous and serve as natural pesticides because of their high glycoalkaloid content.
Grains also contain a fair amount of lectin. Wheat is particularly lectin-filled, but lectin is also found in other grains such as quinoa, rice, oats, corn, millet, barley, rye, and buckwheat.
No homemade chili recipes are safe! All dried beans (kidney, black, white, great northern, navy, etc) contain lectins. But be careful with that pb&j sandwich as well – all nuts, and thus all nut butters, contain lectin.
- Dairy Products
The lectin levels in dairy products will typically be less than other products because it will be a second-hand source, meaning the lectin might be present because of what the cow that the dairy product came from was eating, and not so much because of the lectin found in dairy products themselves. If the cows are generally eating grains instead of grass, their milk might contain higher lectin levels.
Will They Help You Lose Weight?
Just like fiber, foods that help promote digestive health and which lessen the body’s absorption of excess calories consumed through food are often incorporated into a diet for weight loss purposes. Furthermore, the foods that lectins are found in are extremely conducive to a low-calorie diet and will help the consumer load up on nutrient-rich foods that are low in calories but help keep them fuller for longer. Furthermore, most of these foods are typically very cheap when bought in season in the grocery store, and so can fit well into most people’s budgets (which can be tricky when trying to eat healthily).
The bottom line, like most foods, is that dieters must be conscious that they are still getting in ALL the nutrients their bodies need. Dieters often run the risk of becoming malnourished, and the same can be true for diets that focus on high lectin foods because they stop the absorption of some nutrients. Be wary of overeating any of these foods – through the research does show that even if you include them in every meal during the day, you probably still are not consuming high enough amounts for them to seriously negatively impact you. The one exception to this rule are folks who have food allergies and autoimmune disease. Often, these are the people who experience the most intense gut trouble from lectin foods and need to be extra careful when consuming them.
Overall, lectins CAN help you lose weight because they are found in foods that help keep you fuller for longer, are high in other nutrients and help keep your gut health regular. Eating too much might potentially cause discomfort and some unhealthy, malnutrition side effects, but as long as you are aiming for moderation in all ways, you will likely see your health increase and your weight decrease.