The Truth About Lectins
Lectins are a diverse family of carbohydrate-binding proteins in plants and animals. Nearly all foods contain some amount of lectins. But lectins remain controversial, particularly in the paleo community, which is why proponents of the paleo diet avoid all legumes and grains. But if humans have been eating lectin-containing foods for centuries, are they really that bad for us? We'll explain everything you need to know.
Lectins In Plant Foods
The foods with the most lectins are plant foods, specifically beans, soybeans, peanuts, grains and plants in the nightshade family. While animal lectins play various roles in physiological functions, plant lectins are not as well understood. What is currently known is that plant lectins help ward off insect predators. This is why some lectins are toxic like raw, uncooked kidney beans.
What The Naysayers, Say
Proponents of the paleo diet claim that lectins are not beneficial for our health, as they believe that the carbohydrate-binding proteins can cause gut issues and ultimately create auto-immune diseases in the body. This is why all legumes and grains are eliminated from this diet plan. Paleo eaters believe that our Paleolithic human ancestors did not eat high-lectin containing foods. Yet, many archeological studies have found that our ancestors did in fact eat grains and legumes. Evidence comes from both from Paleo fossilized human dental plaque and from plant-grinding tools.
Cooking Negates Most of The Lectins In Foods
It is true that consuming large quantities of lectins can be harmful to human health. This is why you should never eat raw beans or lentils (also, yuck!). However, lectins found in plant foods are almost entirely eliminated through cooking, making legumes and grains perfectly safe to eat! Lectin-containing foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other beneficial compounds. These healthy nutrients far outweigh the negligible effects of trace lectin activity in foods.
Plus, lectin-containing foods like grains & legumes are a prominent part of Blue Zone residents' diets. Blue Zones are the regions of the world where individuals are known to live the longest. In fact, 95% of the "Blue Zone Diet" consists of plant foods. If people who live the longest are eating lectin-containing foods like rice and beans -- we'll have what they're having!
Eat To Live & Live To Eat
So, do you need to be afraid of eating beans and rice? No way! The old-world staple food is well -- old. Many healthy communities have eaten lectin-containing foods for, forever. Beans and rice in particular bond to make a complete protein, which is ideal for vegetarian and vegan eaters. Also, more and more shows that reducing meat and animal food consumption can greatly contribute to overall health and wellness. So, go ahead and eat those delicious beans!