What is Lectin?

What is Lectin?

Remember a time when no one knew what gluten was?  That era is well behind us now, as the term gluten is now a household word. “Lectin”, not so much.  Not many people that I come into contact with have heard of the word lectin – yet.  That may be changing though.  A quick Google search of the word “lectin” will provide you with no less than 10 million results.  Lectin may be on its way to becoming the ‘new gluten’.


Before I explain what a lectin is, I can assure you that your parents, your grand-parents, your great-grans and even your ancestors have all been trying to avoid it.


You’ve been avoiding lectins too.

  • If you’ve ever soaked and sprouted grains and legumes, you’ve been avoiding lectins.
  • If you’ve avoided unripe fruits or thrown out green potatoes, you’ve been avoiding lectins.
  • If you peel certain fruits and vegetables, you’ve been avoiding lectins.
  • If you pressure cook your pulses, you’ve been avoiding lectins.
  • If you eat fermented foods, you’ve been avoiding lectins.


Did you know that if you eat undercooked kidney beans, the lectin in it is so toxic that it could make you very sick?  At this point, you might be thinking that you’re ‘good to go’, as you’ve unknowingly been avoiding lectins all along.  The truth is however, that lectins are also found in lots of other every day foods like wheat, corn, soy, sugar, dairy and meat.  Some foods that have a higher concentration of lectins are legumes, such as soybeans, peanuts and green beans; pulses, like chickpeas, lentils and dried beans, and grains, such as rice, wheat and quinoa.  Other high lectin content foods are tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squashes and melons.  Animals (think meat and dairy) have lectin too, because they eat a diet that contains lectin.  In fact, lectins are found in virtually all living things and are in about 30% of our food!  They are especially concentrated in the seed, skin or hull of certain plants.


Lectin Defined


Very simply, lectin or lectins are plant proteins.  Their functions ranges from cell adhesion, cell reception and immunity, to the defence mechanism of plants. In other words, they help plants grow and reproduce, but they also help to protect plants from predators like insects and animals.  Plants have a defense mechanism, like being able to poison, paralyze or entrap its predators.  They can make things that eat them quite uncomfortable or even sick.  All of this is done in an effort to protect itself from being eaten.  The problem is that the same features that lectins use to defend plants in nature, may cause problems during human digestion. Lectins resist being broken down in the gut and are stable in acidic environments, features that protect lectin-containing plants in nature.  They survive digestion and as a result bind to cells lining the digestive tract.  As a result of this interaction, a series of harmful local and systemic reactions are triggered, placing this class of molecules as anti-nutritive and/or toxic.  Essentially, lectins damage the cells that line the intestines and prevent certain nutrients from being absorbed (hence the term anti-nutritive).  They can interfere with the absorption of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.  Consumed in excess (the average standard American diet – SAD), it can cause nutrient deficiencies, disrupt digestion and cause severe intestinal damage.


The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reports the following:

“Lectins are defined as proteins that bind to carbohydrates. They resist being broken down in the gut and are stable in acidic environments.  When consumed, lectins can also produce nausea, vomiting, stomach upset, and diarrhea. Milder side effects include bloating and gas.  Lectins can also bind to cells lining the digestive tract. This may disrupt the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, and affect the growth and action of intestinal flora. Because lectin proteins bind to cells for long periods of time, they can potentially cause an autoimmune response and are theorized to play a role in inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.”


We associate food derived from plants as an excellent food source for everyone’s health.  The paradox is that some plants, such as plants that contain lectin, can cause us ill health.  Lectin can wreak havoc in the gut, cause inflammation, weight gain and worse, may lead to serious diseases.  By removing the lectin protein from your diet (even temporarily), you may be able to vastly improve your health by healing your gut, thus creating a healthy (gut) ‘environment’ so that the good bacteria can thrive and take better care of the body.




This mess of ribbons and strings is an image of a lectin compound.


Should You Be Concerned About Lectins?


Though lectins have some positive health effects, if you have digestive problems or suffer from any of the symptoms described below or have a condition, you may want to concern yourself with how lectins may be wreaking havoc in your body.


  • Abdominal pain
  • Aches and pains
  • Acid reflux
  • Allergies or sensitivities
  • Asthma and wheezing
  • Arthritis
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Behavioural problems
  • Bloating
  • Concentration issues
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • IBS
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Skins problems
  • Rhinitis
  • Sinusitis


Since we are not all made the same though, the question always comes back to what are your symptoms and will removing lectin from your diet (or lightening the lectin load) help you?  What’s not working right within your body and is there a noticeable difference once lectin is removed?


Ask yourself:

  • What is my current health state?
  • What ails me?
  • Am I living my best health life?


That is for you to find out.  We can’t always rely on what everyone or anyone else is experiencing or doing. Research has shown that while lectins have the potential to be harmful to humans, this is dependent on the type of lectin (some are harmless, some are fatal), the amount of lectin consumed, how the lectin has been prepared and the individual themselves.


“If a person has enzymes that do not function correctly [for example], consuming excess lectins may lead to nutrient deficiencies and digestive problems.  This is because the body cannot break down lectins.  Instead, they bind to nutrients and the cells lining the gastrointestinal tract.” Medical News Today 


I really like this statement from the article “So What’s Up With Lectins” taken from a Whole Foods Magazine that says:


“Of course epidemiology—which observes large numbers of people over very long periods of time—tells us nothing about what happens to any one given individual who may be super-sensitive to something that has little effect on most other folks.”


Your exact situation is unique to your body.  Once you know what’s not working, you can find ways to heal yourself.  One of those ways may be to avoid lectin. A quick word of caution though is that sometimes you may believe that everything is right within your body, while the enemies within it are hard at work.  You may not feel the harm or illness.  More food for thought is that you may think you’re sensitive to wheat, for example and you may actually be sensitive to lectin.


Speaking to The Times, Dr. Megan Rossi, a research associate at King’s College London and spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, had this to say:


“Despite limited research in human studies, a lower lectin diet may work for some individuals. We used to think a wheat intolerance was linked to gluten sensitivity, but preliminary investigations indicate that for some people the problem might lie with a sensitivity to agglutinin, a lectin found in wheat.”


I can tell you that removing lectin from my diet significantly helped me with virtually all of my Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms, digestive problems and general ill health. Even my eczema and sinus problems went away.  I feel incredible and better than ever! I attribute it to removing lectins from my diet.  I first found out about lectins by reading The Plant Paradox books by Dr. Steven R. Gundry.  He describes lectins as the main danger in the Western diet.


For those of you with an autoimmune disease or with Rheumatoid Arthritis, you may find the article “Do dietary lectins cause disease.  The evidence is suggestive—and raises interesting possibilities for treatment”, by Dr. Freed, of immense importance.  The article makes mention of lectins being of particular interest in the implication of autoimmune diseases and that another suspect lectin disease is rheumatoid arthritis.


Hold the Lectin! 


Now that you have a brief idea of what lectin is, you may wish to consider if they are harmful or helpful for you and your specific symptoms.  Make a list of all of your bothersome symptoms and/or illness and list how it/they affect you.  Consider going lectin-free for a time to compare how you feel before and how you feel after having removed lectin from your diet.


Hold the Lectin will help you to navigate your fabulous lectin-free path to health, thus maximizing your health potential.  Hold the Lectin features delectable and easy to prepare recipes, amazing community & support, resources and all things lectin-free.


Make this your healthiest year yet; Hold the Lectin!

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