Legumes and Lectins
In the Nourish phase of the 131 Method, we discuss eating more plants. Along with that comes questions about beans and nuts. And more specifically, the safety of lectins. Recent crazes suggest lectins cause digestive problems, weight gain and even thyroid issues. So, it’s a fair question: is increasing plants, which exposes more lectins, even safe?
Lectins are found in most foods. Whether or not they’re dangerous depends on who you ask. Lectin proteins bind to carbohydrate molecules (sugars). They play a role in plant, animal and human functioning. Experts claim they’re either the “most nutritious” or “most harmful” foods on the planet. Legumes top the lectin list, so swearing off lectins means no beans, peanuts and more. Additionally, seeded vegetables like tomatoes and peppers rank high too.
Often eaten for protein in vegan diets, nuts have their own set of issues. Legumes and nuts are incomplete protein sources. This means, although they provide decent amounts of amino acids, they don’t provide all 22 on their own. They must be combined with veggies and other sources to become “complete.” Examples include: beans and rice, or nuts and vegan protein powder. A few items, like quinoa, are complete proteins. However, the food combining brings on the lectin safety issues.
We’re going to summarize these plant proteins, provide guidance on how to maximize the benefits, and explain any precautions about consumption.
Legumes include lentils, chickpeas, butter beans, navy beans, peanuts, peas, soybeans/edamame, and other pod-based plants. While beans are a rich source of plant protein and fiber, some people accuse them of containing too many anti-nutrients that inhibit the absorption of the overall nutrition.
The most commonly discussed anti-nutrient is phytic acid (or “phytates”) which is present in nuts, whole grains, and legumes (1-2). Phytic acid impairs our body’s natural ability to utilize minerals, specifically zinc, iron, and calcium (3). The effects of phytic acid are mostly a concern for those without a broad, varied diet. Eating the same types of phytic acid foods every day could cause some intestinal irritation and mineral malabsorption.
Lectins are proteins found in various plants that can bind to cell membranes (4). They exist in many foods we eat: grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, nightshade vegetables, grain-fed poultry, eggs and dairy. These are considered a trigger to inflammation (5-7). Research done in animal models suggest that lectins are resistant to stomach acid and digestive enzymes and may bind to the gut wall. This damages the gut lining and negatively affects the gut microbiome (8).
Lectins are a big part of the concept behind the “Blood Type Diet,” which considers plant lectins and their role on immune responses in humans who eat them. Tolerance varies based on an individual’s blood type. Certain blood types are considered compatible with some food lectins.
It’s no coincidence the top eight allergens also contain some of the highest amounts of lectins: dairy, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish. So, it makes sense that if you experience the following symptoms, you may want to test the safety of lectins for YOU.
Lectins are notoriously difficult to digest. There are also dozens of other reasons for these symptoms. So, assessing yourself is key! It’s what we help you do in the 131 Method. You investigate YOU!
- Gas, bloating and flatulence
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Headaches and fatigue
- Skin issues (rash, hives and psoriasis)
- Swollen and inflamed joints
- Water retention
- Grains – especially whole grains because they are highly concentrated in the outer bran of the grain. White rice, has the lowest-lectin grain because they’re removed during processing.
- Nightshades – a group of plants that include potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and goji berries
- Legumes – like beans, lentils and peas
- Dairy – milk, butter and cheese. These dairy products contain an immunoglobulin that helps neutralize lectins; however, this antibody gets destroyed during pasteurization.
- Nuts and seeds – mainly grain-based seeds such as wheat, spelt, barley oat and rye
Tips to reduce phytic acid and lectin content (9):
- Soak beans in water prior to cooking
- Use pressure cooker for beans
- Opt for white rice over brown rice
- Sprout nuts, seeds, grains, and beans
- Ferment veggies and legumes
- Peel and de-seed fruits and veggies (tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, etc.)
Steps for soaking:
- Cover the nuts or beans with water (preferably filtered, non-chlorinated/tap water) and soak overnight for eight to twelve hours.
- Rinse them once or twice to eliminate the anti-nutrients (phytates) and starches, then store in a glass container in the refrigerator.
- Soaking nuts is a common step for making homemade nut milks. To expedite the process in a pinch, simply boil the nuts for ten minutes.
- Cooking automatically reduces the nutrient content in any food; beans and legumes are no different. High heat or pressure cooking beans further reduces the lectin content.
But before you toss everything from your pantry away, some doctors suggest dozens of lectins are safe, and beneficial, like tomatoes. The lycopene in tomatoes protects cardiovascular and skin health like no other! The trick to safely consuming them is de-seeding.
Eating a varied diet is really the best policy. Soaking helps the digestibility and utilization of the nutrients from beans, nuts, and legumes. Genetics also play a role in the ability to digest and utilize different nutrients. You simply have to test these things. Remember, just because a food is inflammatory for you now, doesn’t mean it will be a problem forever.
It’s time to get back in the kitchen. Experiment, with new foods. Try new veggies. Explore different cooking methods. And learn to love the micronutrients in Nourish!
Be sure to check out the many plant-based 131 Recipes on the blog and in the program!