What are lectins? What foods contain lectins? Should I add them to my menus or avoid them? Do lectins fight cancer? PearlPoint’s dietitian hears these questions a lot. Learn the answers to all your lectin question from registered dietitian and the founder of www.CancerDietitian.com, Julie Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN.
Blog post reposted with permission from www.CancerDietitian.com .
For my regular readers… let me give you the cliff notes version and see if you can answer this question yourself!
- Lectins are found in many fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- If you eat foods in the ways that they have historically been prepared and consumed, there is no evidence of lectins contributing to health problems.
- There is some evidence showing lectins can promote health and immunity, and therefore reduce cancer risk.
So go ahead… guess the answer! What does your common sense tell you?
I guess you’ve probably figured it out by now. All those people either hating on lectins, or promoting them as a cancer cure, are not basing their advice on any kind of good, solid evidence.
Anyway, for those who want to know more, here’s some helpful information!
All About Lectins
What are lectins?
- Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins that are present in plants, found in highest amounts in grains and beans (legumes)
- They are found in foods like potatoes, tomatoes, wheat, peanuts, and soybeans, just to name a few
- When the food is growing, lectins help to protect the plant against pests
- They are not easily digested
- They are “deactivated” and removed when food is cooked properly (side note – this is why I tell people that we should not consume an all raw food diet!)
Something that I did learn when doing all this research was that kidney beans have the most lectins of any foods. Obviously, we’re not going to eat kidney beans raw. However, you do want to make sure that beans are cooked well before eating.
It is suggested that boiling them for 30 minutes will be enough to get rid of the lectins. It’s also recommended not to cook them in a crockpot because it doesn’t heat them hot enough. This was kind of surprising to me, and I love a crockpot!
My take home is to use canned beans for the crockpot meals, or make sure that I boil the beans for 30 minutes before using the crockpot. Or… another alternative –> Instant Pot anyone?*
How do lectins function in the body?
- Lectins actually are known to have some health benefits, from antimicrobial, to possibility of cancer prevention
- Lectins can cause illness if consumed in large amounts and if they are not cooked properly
- High intake of lectins can cause damage to the intestinal lining
- If you become sick because of lectins, YOU WILL KNOW IT! It causes symptoms like food poisoning – upset stomach, diarrhea, bloating.
Now, let me first say that more research is needed before lectins can officially being recommended for helping cancer. The evidence currently is very limited, although interesting.
- Lectins may be able to bind to the surface of cancer cell membranes and leads to death of cancer cells and/or suppression of tumor growth.
- Another study looked at the potential for lectins found in mushrooms as basis for developing new cancer drugs.
It seems like it may be a while before we have any conclusive answers on lectins, but in the meantime, we can use some common sense and evidence-informed knowledge about how food works in the body to come up with a reasonable approach to lectins!
Common Sense Approach to Lectins
Here are your take home points:
- Lectins should not be consumed in pill form! Your body always prefers nutrients in food over supplements.
- When consuming beans and grains, cook them completely.
- If cooking beans in a crockpot, use canned beans, or boil them for 30 minutes before putting in the crockpot.
- Consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean and/or plant proteins is the best cancer fighting diet that is on the market! Research seems to prove it time and time again.
Be sure to eat your plants and cook the ones that need to be cooked. DUH! : – D
Check these articles for more reading on lectins!
- Consumer friendly – easy read from the Washington Post on Lectins
- Today’s Dietitian Article from Oct 2017 – Ask the Expert: Clearing Up Lectin Misconceptions
- Very comprehensive review of Lectins and “lectin-free diet” from Abbey’s Kitchen (another blogging dietitian).
About the Author
Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, is the Wellness Director for Cancer Services, a non-profit in Winston-Salem, NC. She is a registered dietitian, licensed nutritionist and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition with over 10 years experience working in oncology.
Lanford developed www.CancerDietitian.com a healthy living web site for Cancer Services that translates evidence based nutrition guidelines into consumer friendly messages for everyday life. The site reaches thousands of people across the country who are interested in cancer nutrition and the most current topics on healthy lifestyle in our culture.
*PearlPoint Cancer Support does not endorse any commercial products or services. Mention is for informational purposes only.