In my last article, you discovered how lectins – tiny compounds found in a variety of “healthy” plant foods – can harm your health. To recap, lectins have been found to:
- Promote leaky gut
- Negatively modify the microbiome
- Increase inflammation
- Contribute to obesity and diabetes
- Impair brain function and mood
- Trigger the immune system
If you’re living with an autoimmune illness, the symptoms on this list may seem all too familiar. That’s because autoimmune diseases – which now affect over 60 million Americans – notoriously include this milieu.
These symptoms are triggered by a combination of dietary and environmental factors in the presence of a genetic predisposition. Think of it this way: Our faulty genes are like a string of unplugged holiday lights in a dark cave. They exist, but their presence is unknown… until an outside influence “plugs them in” and turns them on.
A poor diet, stress, pesticide exposure, MSG, artificial sweeteners – and lectins – are just a few of the factors that can cause these genes to “light up”.
This means that we are not doomed to develop autoimmune disease… just because it’s in our genes. Furthermore, if we do have an autoimmune disease, it does not mean we have to suffer for the rest of our lives.
Consider rheumatoid arthritis, for example…
From the British Journal of Nutrition:
“Eliminating dietary elements, particularly lectins […] it is proposed that the peripheral antigenic stimulus (both pathogenic and dietary) will be reduced and thereby result in reduced disease symptoms in certain patients with RA.”[i]
During a study published in Circulation, 800 patients with an autoimmune condition were placed on a diet which excluded grains, sprouted grains, pseudo-grains (like quinoa), beans and legumes, soy, peanuts, cashews, nightshades, melons and squashes, dairy products (casein A1) and grain/bean fed animals.
After six months, patients with elevated TNF-alpha levels returned to normal.[ii]
Now that you know about how lectins can impact your health, let’s take a look at how you can reduce your exposure.
5 Steps to Reduce Lectins in Your Diet
Step 1: Remove the Worst Culprits
Begin by removing foods that are highest in lectins. These include whole grains, soy and legumes. It is also advisable to avoid nightshades (white potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and goji berries). Consider phasing out beans, lentils, peas and dairy foods, as well.
Step 2: Gauge Your Sensitivity
Each one of us is unique. That means our bodies can react in different ways to the same stimulus. That’s why it’s important to gauge your personal sensitivity to lectins. If you are especially sensitive, you may have already suffered intestinal damage and may need to avoid lectins completely.
For those who aren’t so sensitive, less dramatic measures may reduce symptoms and restore gut health.
A surefire way to test for food sensitivities is the elimination diet. This means, eliminating any and all sources culprit foods (in this case, those that contain lectins) for a minimum of six weeks.
Then, reintroduce desired foods into the diet by “family” (for example, dairy, then beans, then nightshades, etc.). It is also helpful to keep a food journal. This helps you to be more mindful of physical and emotional sensations (however minor) you may experience as each new food family is reintroduced.
Step 3: Prepare Foods High in Lectins the Way Our Ancestors Did
Another way to significantly reduce the lectin content in certain foods is to utilize the wise traditions of our ancestors. These may include soaking, fermenting, sprouting and thoroughly cooking.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that common edible beans that are prepared and cooked properly are unlikely to cause lectin-related adverse effects in healthy people. The same study found that cooking beans for only 7.5 minutes in a pressure cooker was enough to completely inactivate their lectin activity![i]
In addition to reducing lectin levels, these culinary practices also help to liberate beneficial nutrients the body needs to function at its best.
Step 4: Avoid Going Completely Raw
If you are sensitive to lectins, a completely raw diet is not advisable. We’ve been cooking our food for well over a hundred thousand years. Our digestive systems are primed for that. Cooking not only reduces the risk of foodborne illness, it also enhances many nutrients while disarming anti-nutrients like lectins.
Step 5: Diversify!
It may surprise you to know that restrictive diets that limit foods can make us even more susceptible to inflammation and nutritional deficiencies. In one study, the simple process of rotating primary foods was enough to reduce lectin-related damage in rats.[i]
Make a conscious choice to vary your diet from day to day. Include a broad range of meats, vegetables and fruits. You can also follow a rotation diet, which will be more structured and effective at calming the immune system and allowing the gut to heal.
Foods Allowed on the Lectin Avoidance Diet
Now let’s take a look at the many nutrient-dense foods you CAN enjoy while following a lectin-avoidance diet:
- Grass‐fed and free‐range meats, including beef, pork, rabbit, lamb, sheep and bison
- Pastured poultry, including turkey, chicken, Cornish hen, quail, duck
- Fresh sausages (without nitrites, smoke, or ingredients in the “not‐allowed” list)
- Organ meats (hearts, tongue, liver, kidney, skin, marrow, intestines, gizzard)
- Bone broth, gelatin and collagen
- Wild-caught fish (not farmed or grain fed), including salmon, halibut, mahi, anchovies and sardines
- Roe (fish eggs)
- Oysters, shrimp, clams and mussels
- Protein powders (if tolerated) – opt for bone broth protein, collagen powder and cricket flour
Fats & Oils
- Avocado oil
- Bone marrow
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk
- Duck fat
- Grass-fed butter (not grain fed!)
- Olive oil
- Pork Rinds
- Burdock root
- Honey (preferably local and raw)
- Lotus Root
- Sweet potatoes
- Xantham gum
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Bamboo shoots
- Beet greens
- Bok choy
- Broccoli sprouts
- Brussel sprouts
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Green Beans
- Mustard seed sprouts
- Red clover sprouts
- Romaine lettuce
- Snow peas
- Sugar snap peas
Spices and Herbs
- Bay leaf
- Green onions
- Lemon zest
- Orange zest
- Wasabi (freshly ground, root only)
Condiments & Others
- Apple cider vinegar
- Baking soda
- Coconut aminos
- Sea salt
- Sunflower lecithin
The lectin avoidance diet can work wonders for those with compromised gut health, autoimmune disease and other chronic conditions. When following this diet, it’s important to remember that while some symptoms may subside within a few weeks, it can take several months for the immune system to normalize.
Start slowly, be patient and allow your body to do what it was designed to do… heal itself.
 Cordain L, Toohey L, Smith MJ, Hickey MS. Modulation of immune function by dietary lectins in rheumatoid arthritis. Br J Nutr. 2000;83(3):207-17.
 Gundry, R S, Elevated Adiponectin And Tnf-alpha Levels Are Markers For Gluten And Lectin Sensitivity. Circulation. 2014;129:AP354.
 Lajolo F. and and Genevese M. (2002). Nutritional Significance of Lectins and Enzyme Inhibitors from Legumes, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 50(22):6592-8.
 Pusztai, G G, Bardocz, S, Gelencser, E, Hajos, GY, Novel dietary strategy for overcoming the antinutritional effects of soyabean whey of high agglutinin content. British Journal of Nutrition. Volume 77, Issue 6 June 1997, pp. 933-945.
 Cohen, J. (2014, May 4). The Lectin Avoidance Diet: The Safest Foods for People Sensitive to Everything. Retrieved from https://selfhacked.com/2014/05/04/elimination-diet-safest-foods-people-sensitive-everything/