Lectins are probably one of the most significant sources of food sensitivity (there are more). Therefore, the lectin avoidance diet has many proven benefits.
- Executive Summary of the Lectin Avoidance Diet
- The Lectin Avoidance Cookbook
- What Are Lectins?
- Different Types of Plant Lectins
- Are You Lectin Sensitive? Factors That Predispose You to Lectin Sensitivity
- Harmful Effects of Dietary Lectins
- 1) Lectins Are Resistant to Digestion and Are Absorbed Into the Bloodstream
- 2) Lectins Damage the Gut Lining Causing Leaky Gut
- 3) Lectins Stimulate the Immune System
- 4) Lectins Causes Autoimmunity
- 5) Lectins Affect the Gut Microbiota
- 6) Lectins Causes Abnormal Cell Growth
- 7) Other Links Between Lectins and Health
- Lectin Avoidance Cures Autoimmune Disease
- A Diet To Avoid The Most Harmful Food Compounds
- Food Groups Excluded on the Lectin Avoidance Diet
- Food Groups to Pay Special Attention To
- How to Reduce the Lectin Levels in Food
- Benefits of Dietary Lectins
Executive Summary of the Lectin Avoidance Diet
My lectin avoidance diet has a simple formula: Eat meat and seafood, as much as you want, mainly during the day. Supplement with the Life Extension Mix Powder for basic nutrition.
The lectin avoidance diet excludes grains, beans, nuts, seeds, most potatoes, and all dairy.
Allowed foods include all seafood, meat, chicken/turkey (all fowl), eggs (if not allergic), and most fruits and vegetables.
Romaine lettuce, cruciferous veggies, cucumbers, and celery are the best vegetables to include. Raw honey, citrus fruits, and pineapple are the recommended fructose-containing foods.
Japanese and purple sweet potatoes are the best starch to include in your diet, but they should be pressure-cooked with a pressure cooker. Other sweet potatoes are also allowed as long as they are pressure-cooked. Nightshade vegetables (like tomatoes) and squash could be consumed if pressure-cooked.
If you cheat, all your food should be pressure-cooked.
However, even if you get rid of lectins, you won’t get rid of all the anti-nutrients. For example, tannins are found in many plants and are considered anti-nutritional because they can alter nutrient digestion and absorption (R).
Here I list a bunch of substances from plant-based foods that can cause health issues.
The Lectin Avoidance Cookbook
Due to frequent queries about how to implement this diet, I have released the Lectin Avoidance Cookbook. This cookbook will help you overcome autoimmune issues, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, histamine intolerance, chronic inflammation, or simply make you feel optimal.
In the Lectin Avoidance Cookbook, we have
51 84 recipes and counting. The price is $27.
After you pay for the book, you will be redirected to a link where you can download the book. The redirect takes about 5-10 seconds, so be patient. If you have any issues, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Try the cookbook, and if you don’t start feeling better within 30 days, I will give you 100% of your money back!
What Are Lectins?
Do not confuse lectins with leptin, lactose, or pectin.
Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrates or glycoproteins (proteins that contain carbohydrate chains) (R).
Proteins termed lectins (from the Latin legere, “to select”) have the ability to bind to specific carbohydrate molecules (R).
Lectins allow cells to bind or communicate with each other (R).
They are found in every living organism, including viruses, bacteria, and most foods, to one degree or another, but most of them are harmless (R). Scientists have been studying lectins since 1884.
Some scientists believe that lectins are part of a plants’ protection mechanisms (R). Plants also use lectins to communicate with their environment, for cell organization, and as reserve proteins, among other functions (R).
Different Types of Plant Lectins
In plants, lectins are concentrated in seeds, early stage leaves, and roots. Leaves typically contain less lectins, although this may vary from plant to plant (R). A great example of a leaf is romaine lettuce.
- Legume lectins such as white kidney beans. On average, 15% percent of a bean’s proteins are lectins.
- Cucurbitaceae lectins, found in the sap or juice of cucumber, melon, and squash.
- Prolamins, such as gluten and gliadin, are the alcohol-soluble lectins found in cereal grains.
- Agglutinin or hemagglutinin is so-called as it can cause blood agglutination (clumping of blood cells). Examples include wheat germ and soybean agglutinins (R).
Plant agglutinins have been characterized by testing their ability to clump blood cells of certain blood types (R), which suggest that people with certain blood types may be more susceptible to health problems due to lectins than others.
Some plant lectins, such as castor bean ricin and white kidney bean agglutinins, are very toxic to humans and rats. Ricin can cause blood agglutination and might be used in chemical warfares and genetically engineered herbicides (R).
White kidney bean hemagglutinins can cause acute nausea, followed by vomiting and diarrhea (R).
Other plant lectins are less toxic, but they can cause damage in other ways.
Are You Lectin Sensitive? Factors That Predispose You to Lectin Sensitivity
Table: Genetic SNPs that Contribute to Lectin Sensitivity
|Gene Name (Gene Symbol with SelfDecode Link)||SNPs||Problematic
|Cannabinoid Receptor 1 (CNR1)||rs1049353||T|
|Methyl Tetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR)||rs1801133 and rs1801131||C677T and A1298C|
|Superoxide Dismutase 2 (SOD2)||rs4880||GG|
|Glycine Transporter (SLC6A9)||rs3791124||AG|
|MHC (MHC)||rs2395185 |
To learn your genetic factors, test for your SNPs with 23andme and use SelfDecode to learn about these SNPs.
Read this post to learn more about other markers and symptoms of lectin sensitivity.
Harmful Effects of Dietary Lectins
1) Lectins Are Resistant to Digestion and Are Absorbed Into the Bloodstream
2) Lectins Damage the Gut Lining Causing Leaky Gut
Lectins bind to surface glycoproteins and gut lining cells causing damage to the villi, increasing the uptake of intestinal content by the cells, and shortening the microvilli (R).
Some dietary sources of lectins, such as wheat, can directly break tight junctions in gut cells (R).
They can also interfere with nutrient absorption (R).
3) Lectins Stimulate the Immune System
As lectins cause leaky gut and are readily absorbed into the bloodstream, most people develop antibodies against dietary lectins (R, R2). These antibodies don’t necessarily protect you from harmful lectins. Whether this causes disease depends on the individual susceptibility.
In mice, administration of lectins through the nose or by feeding stimulates an IgG and IgA production comparable to that of the cholera toxin (R).
Lectins can potentiate the immune response to antigens that wouldn’t be inflammatory by themselves. For example, mice fed with wheat germ agglutinin and egg white protein develop much stronger antibody responses to egg white protein than if they are fed egg white protein alone (R, R2). Therefore, consumption of lectin-containing food concomitantly with other products can increase the likelihood of developing sensitivity to other food products.
As lectins can potentiate the immune response to other antigens, it is proposed that lectins might be used along with oral vaccines (R).
Lectins can induce mast cell reactions suggesting that they can aggravate allergies (R) and histamine intolerance.
4) Lectins Causes Autoimmunity
As lectins can act as an immune system and leaky gut trigger, lectins can cause autoimmunity in susceptible people according to Dr. Fasano’s autoimmune triad (a trigger, leaky gut, and genetic susceptibility) (R).
Lectins trigger autoimmunity by binding to glycoproteins and glycolipids (sugar molecules attached to proteins and fat), such as sialic acid, on the surface of the cells. Interestingly, the brain and gut are rich in sialic acid (R).
In humans, sialic acid is present in body fluids (blood, breast milk, gallbladder excretions, synovial fluid, sweat, gastric juices, and urine) and tissues (red and white blood cells, platelets, salivary glands, throat, stomach, cervix, colon, cartilage, etc.). In the blood, it’s found in fibrinogen, haptoglobin, ceruloplasmin, α1 -antitrypsin, complement proteins, and transferrin (R).
Lectins also increase inflammation by stimulating IFN-gamma, IL-1, TNF-alpha, and HLA class II expression in gut cells (R).
5) Lectins Affect the Gut Microbiota
The presence of lectins affects the composition of the gut bacteria and may cause dysbiosis predisposing to autoimmune disease. However, the mechanism by which lectins affect gut bacteria is not fully understood.
Lectins reduce intestinal heat shock protein (iHSPs) levels, an anti-inflammatory protein that is important for the healthy interaction with the gut bacteria. Also, lectins interfere with iHSP functions, thus reducing the gut lining’s sensitivity to oxidation and inflammation (R).
In rats, dietary lectins increase gut levels of E. coli and Lactobacillus lactis, both of which have proteins similar to HLA and are associated with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (R).
Kidney bean lectins can cause E. coli overgrowth in the gut, while snowdrop lectins and mannose-specific lectins can block this effect (R).
6) Lectins Causes Abnormal Cell Growth
They can trigger lymphocyte growth and activation in cell-based studies (R).
7) Other Links Between Lectins and Health
In addition to autoimmunity, there are also other links between lectins and health.
However, most of these studies are cell-based or model organism-based, so additional studies are necessary to confirm these links.
Lectins and Insulin
At low doses, wheat germ agglutinin can mimic the insulin function in fat cells. However, at higher doses, wheat germ agglutinin can cause insulin resistance in a cell-based study (R).
Enlargement of the pancreas due to dietary lectins may reduce insulin levels in rats (R).
Lectins and Obesity
Wheat germ agglutinin and ricin from caster oil can increase fat synthesis in fat cells (in a cell-based study) (R).
Lectins and Brain Functions
In C. elegans (round worms), lectins can be transported from the gut to dopaminergic neurons, and interfere with neuronal and dopamine functions, suggesting that it may contribute to Parkinson’s disease in humans (R).
Lectin Avoidance Cures Autoimmune Disease
A study of 800 autoimmune patients evaluated a diet that avoided grains, sprouted grains, pseudo-grains, beans and legumes, soy, peanuts, cashews, nightshades, melons and squashes, non-Southern European cow milk products (Casein A1), and grain/bean fed animals.
Most of these patients started with an elevated TNF-alpha that reduced to normal after 6 months on this diet.
Dr. Steven Gundry, the author of the study, frowns upon foods that originated from America.
To download a list of allowed and disallowed foods on the lectin avoidance diet, click on the bottom below.
A Diet To Avoid The Most Harmful Food Compounds
I see myself as a canary in a coal mine as I’m sensitive to many foods.
Over time, I’ve built up a list of food products that cause an insignificant level or no inflammation.
At some point, I realized that many of my health problems resulted from lectins.
I understand that not everyone is the same, but I notice that others who are very sensitive to foods can handle these foods as well.
This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to eat anything else for the rest of your life.
This diet is just to inform you about the foods that are relatively safe. Personally, I live off of these foods and try not to stray.
I mention to cut out some products if after a few weeks you still have inflammation. It takes around five days of total abstinence to unmask a food or chemical but at least two weeks to remove the residual traces. It can take longer for autoimmune disease symptoms to normalize.
Lectins are mainly concentrated in the skin and seeds of plants.
19 Major Compounds That Can Cause Inflammation
The name of the diet is somewhat of a misnomer because there are many compounds in food that can cause inflammation. But I believe lectins are the worst culprits. The key here is to eliminate the items that cause you problems. Read this post to see a full list of this 19 compounds.
You should get a good amount of protein in the morning – about 30 grams.
Your diet should consist of 20-30% protein if you are suffering from an autoimmune or chronic inflammatory disease.
- Fish – My top 5 are frozen wild-caught salmon, fresh wild sardines, roe (fish eggs), oysters, and anchovies. Any low-toxicity seafood is ok.
- Meat products
- Beef – Preferably grass-fed.
- Chicken – I eat the whole chicken except for the sharp bone fragments, which I chew to get the marrow out.
- Cricket Flour (AMZN) or cheaper Cricket flour (AMZN) – Is pressure cooked and a good source of low lectin protein.
- Hemp Protein (AMZN) or Hemp Protein (IHERB)
- Pea protein by Source naturals (AMZN) or Pea protein (IHERB)
- Brown Rice Protein Isolate (AMZN) or Brown Rice Protein Isolate (IHERB)
- Beef Protein (AMZN)
- Liver – Beef or chicken (without additives).
- Bone broth – Best to make your own.
- Brewer’s Yeast or Nutritional Yeast (without synthetic folate)
- Cooked tempeh – Some people can’t handle this. This is probably not allowed on Dr. Gundry’s diet.
- Amino acids – Only if you’re extremely sensitive. I don’t include these.
Eggs are fine from a lectin standpoint, but people easily develop egg allergies in stages of chronic gut inflammation.
Fruits aren’t rich in lectins, but they have tannins. I eat fruit occasionally, even though they spike my immune system. My favorites are pineapple and citrus. Dr. Gundry looks at melons unfavorably.
- Starch – I find purple sweet potatoes the least inflammatory whole food starch. Japanese sweet potatoes aren’t too bad either. Any sweet potato is fine as long as they are pressure cooked. I would still pressure cook the purple sweet potatoes.
- Fruits – Blueberries, pineapple, citrus, golden berries, papaya, mulberries, and mango.
- Fiber – Hi-Maize resistant starch – my main source of resistant starch these days. Nice, clean, hypo-inflammatory starch. 25 g/day to start.
- Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum
- UCAN superstar or Waxy Maize – I use Raw Honey and Hi-Maize for all of my carbs.
- Glucose/dextrose – Only recommended in case of extreme sensitivity to lectins or if you can’t handle raw honey for whatever reason. Glucose doesn’t reach the small intestine, so a glucose based diet can starve small intestine bacteria.
Cut omega-6 oils out (except black seed oil).
- Caprylic acid – The best oil. Try to have 3-5 tablespoons daily (1-1.5 with each meal). Reduce dosage if you get gastrointestinal problems and work up. MCT oil is also good.
- Black Cumin Seed Oil – Anti-inflammatory oil with thymoquinone.
- Avocados or guacamole (without additives)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Ghee – In moderation for sauteing, stir-frying, and using for sleep.
- Avocado Oil
To some people seeds cause problems, but they are better than nuts. In the beginning, stick with the above mentioned and eventually try the seeds. I don’t eat seeds since I get some degree of inflammation from them.
This diet includes seeds as they are better than other foods.
- Hemp seeds – This is the only seed that I tolerate.
- Sprouted flax – I get some degree of inflammation from flax.
- Coconut shreds – I get some degree of inflammation from it.
- Romaine lettuce
- Steamed or boiled or stir-fried cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, or brussels sprouts)
- Sprouts – broccoli, alfalfa, etc.
Other non-night shade vegetables are fine.
- Dulse Powder – A must for iodine.
- Nori or other seaweed for iodine.
- Sunflower Lecithin – After meals for PS and PC.
- Sriracha – Be careful because it’s made of chili and therefore part of the nightshade family, but it makes food taste good.
- Italian Seasoning
- Nutritional yeast (no folic acid)
Other spices are ok in general.
Chili, paprika, or cayenne pepper are part of the nightshade family so that some people might have a reaction to them.
Nutrients To Add
For missing nutrients and copper excess as a consequence of a lifetime of plant-based diets, you can use Life Extension Mix Powder.
If you need copper (which will be missing if you don’t eat grains and veggies) and more calcium and potassium (which will be missing if you don’t eat dairy and plant-based foods), you can take the following supplements:
2 capsules 1X a day Multivitamin
3 capsules 2X a day Calcium and magnesium
1g 2X a day Potassium Citrate
Food Groups Excluded on the Lectin Avoidance Diet
- All grains.
- Nightshades including tomato, peppers, potato, and eggplant.
- Gluten from wheat, rye, barley, malt, and maybe oat.
- Legumes – All beans including soy and peanut. Cashews are part of the bean family and are not allowed. The Pythagorean code prohibited the consumption or even touching any bean (R). People with an enzyme deficiency that increases oxidative stress can’t eat certain beans such as broad beans (R).
- Dairy including milk, and milk products as cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, and kefir.
- Yeast (except brewer’s and nutritional).
- Fruits should be avoided during the trial period but can be added back in.
Look for symptoms of intolerance: bowel changes, sleep changes, mood changes, memory impairment or any other significant changes you can relate to the ingestion of the food group. It may take a week or so for the symptoms to appear.
To download a full list of foods to eat or avoid on the lectin avoidance diet, click on the button below.
Food Groups to Pay Special Attention To
Seafood is an important component for lectin sensitive people. Like any food, it may cause health issues to a minority of people. However, the DHA from fish oil is critical in the modulation of the immune system and decreasing lectin sensitivity.
I do well with very mildly cooked wild-caught salmon (less well with fully cooked), fresh very mildly cooked wild sardines (not canned), and fresh oysters. Other kinds of seafood are good as well.
To reduce the risk of parasites, I buy frozen wild salmon. You defrost it in your fridge over 24 hours, and you warm it up or cook it lightly. Industrial freezers should kill all the parasites, and if they don’t, 145 degrees for 5-10 minutes will. I also use a lot of spices. Additionally, the immune system protects against parasites as well, so I’m personally not concerned about them.
I’ve experimented with having up to 18 oz of wild salmon a day, without any problem. I currently take 6 oz a day.
When cooking the salmon, it should be ready soon after the water boils (maybe after 1 minute). You can eat it with leafy greens, raw garlic, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive+caprylic oils, Dulse Powder, Sriracha, and spices.
The point of the diet is to get good quality DHA, iodine, less omega-6, adequate protein quantity, and nutrition.
Raw Honey has some great benefits that starch doesn’t have. It’s the healthiest carb source for lectin-sensitive people.
- Raw honey is a mucilage, which means it coats the stomach.
- Raw honey is a very powerfully anti-microbial, which means it should help SIBO.
- Raw honey has many beneficial prebiotics, such as FOS and GOS.
- Raw honey has low glycemic index.
- Raw honey contains little lectins.
- Raw honey has both immune boosting and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Raw honey combats mold toxins.
Hi-Maize has two different types of starch. Approximately 40% is slowly digestible starch, which is digested within the small intestine and slowly absorbed as glucose. More importantly, it contains approximately 60% resistant starch, which is digested in the large intestine and produces butyrate. Butyrate works magic for the brain. I’ve been using this for a year off and on, but I am a big fan.
Eggs are extremely nutritious and are a superfood. However, in some people, eggs can cause other health issues – not from lectins, but because it has proteins that you can easily become intolerant too if you’ve been on a heavy lectin diet for a while or if you suffer from excessive stress. I developed an allergy to eggs in my early 20’s, but most people are fine with them. If you feel fine, then indulge because eggs are a truly healthy food. If you can include eggs, you can reduce your need for supplements.
How to Reduce the Lectin Levels in Food
- Soaking for 2 hours and cooking destroys bean lectins. In common beans, the lectin content declines from 820 to 3.2 (Hemagglutinating Activity), while in fava beans it declines from 51.3 to 6.4 (R).
- Pressure-cooking destroys lectins in some foods, such as beans, sweet potatoes, and some squashes.
Benefits of Dietary Lectins
While many plant lectins have negative health effects, they also do have health benefits. Read this post to learn more about the health benefits of lectins.
Classification of Plant Lectins
There are 4 different types of plant lectins according to its overall structure and specificity in carbohydrate binding: merolectins, hololectins, chimerolectins, and superlectins (R).
There are 7 botanical families of plant lectins (R):
Examples of animal lectins include snake venom (another agglutinin), lactoferrin receptors, and blood type antigens.
Selectins, a type of lectins, bind to injured sites and mediate immune cells binding (R).
Galectin-3 plays a role in obesity and impairs blood sugar control (R).
Influenza virus infects humans by binding to sialic acid, a type of glycoprotein that is present in many human cells.
Want to get started on the Lectin Avoidance Diet? Get a copy of the cookbook for $27.