Lectine: are they really dangerous?

Lectins are a family of proteins found in almost all foods, especially in legumes and cereals.It is seen that a frequent consumption of large amounts of lectins can damage the digestive tract lining.It is true that lectins are harmful, but this is only part of the story. For example, it is easy to eliminate lectins with the right food preparation methods.

What are lectins and where do they come from?

Lectins are a family of proteins that bind to naturally occurring carbohydrates. All foods, vegetable and animal, contain them.These proteins play different roles in normal physiological functions, including those of our body.For example, they help cells and molecules to attach to each other and have various functions related to immunity.Although all foods contain some lectins, only 30% of the food we eat contains them in significant quantities

The legumes and cereals are the foods that contain more lectins , followed by dairy products, seafood and plant of the family Solanaceae.The function of lectins in plants is unclear, but they may have evolved as a defense mechanism.In fact, most plants “don’t want to be eaten”, so having these harmful molecules can discourage animals from eating them in large quantities.Just like other animals, humans are also vulnerable to lectin toxicity . Concentrated quantities can cause digestive problems and, in the long run, health problems.For example, ricin (a lectin found in the castor oil plant) can also lead to death.

Lectins can be dangerous to humans if consumed in large quantities

Man has no problem digesting most lectins .

In fact, they are very resistant to the body’s digestive enzymes and can easily cross the stomach and go further.The “sticky” quality of the lectins causes them to stick to the intestinal wall.There they compromise the regular maintenance routine of the cells, and this daily wear and tear that takes place in the intestine gets worse and worse.This is the main reason why an excessive intake of lectins can cause digestive strain .The lectins that have been studied in more depth are called phytohemagglutinins , which are found in vegetables, especially in legumes.

Raw legumes such as eye beans are the main sources of lectins .

Eating raw eye beans can lead to lectin poisoning, the main symptoms of which are severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea ( 8 ).In any case there is to consider that we never eat raw legumes. We always cook them before we consume them.

Excessive consumption of lectins can increase the permeability of the intestine and lead to autoimmune diseases

Prolonged exposure to lectins could damage the intestinal wall.Unwanted substances could more easily enter the intestine and could even get to the bloodstream .This condition of increased permeability is often called “leaky gut” in English.When lectins enter the bloodstream they can interact with the glycoproteins that are on the surface of the cells.

Lectins can also interact with antibodies , which are a component of the immune system. This can provoke an immune reaction not only against lectins, but also against the body tissues to which the lectins are linkedThis type of response is known as an autoimmune reaction , where the immune system mistakenly begins to attack the body’s own structures and components.And this is the reason why lectins can increase the risk of autoimmune diseases

Cooking degrades most of the lectins found in food

Proponents of the Paleo Diet claim that lectins are dangerous.Because of lectins (and other anti-nutrients) they say that legumes and cereals should be eliminated from the diet.

Actually lectins can be eliminated by cooking .In fact boiling the legumes in water eliminates almost all the lectin activity.While raw eye beans contain 20,000 to 70,000 hau (self-glutinating units), cooked beans only contain 200-400, a dramatic drop.In one study, soy bean lectins were mostly eliminated by boiling legumes for only 5-10 minutes So there is no point in avoiding legumes completely because of the lectins found in raw legumes . People don’t eat raw legumes.

Lectins can be further reduced by soaking, sprouting and fermentation

Cooking isn’t the only way to degrade lectins in food.Soaking or sprouting seeds and cereals helps to eliminate lectins and other anti-nutrients such as phytic acid.

Fermenting food can also work, providing good bacteria for digesting antinutrientsThis is the reason why whole grains and oil seeds must always be soaked in water and lemon or water and apple cider vinegar to degrade part  of the antinutrients .

Are Lectins Dangerous?

It is true that lectins are toxic in large quantities , but we do not eat them in large quantities.

The lectin-rich foods we consume are legumes and cereals, which are always cooked, one way or another, before they are consumed.This causes only a small amount of lectins to remain, and that these foods are safe for most people.People with autoimmune or digestive problems can respond well to a diet that excludes most lectins, including those from dairy products, eggs and solanaceae vegetables, such as potatoes.

In any case, the amount in food is too low for this to pose a problem for healthy people.

Most of these lectin-containing foods are rich in vitamins , minerals, fiber, antioxidants and all sorts of beneficial compounds.The benefits of these elements outweigh the negative effects of the small traces of lectins.

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