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I get a lot of requests from journalists to help answer questions for articles they are writing about various health topics – here is one recent example that may be helpful for readers of Best Future You…

The main question for this article in Forbes Health was “Are Lectins Bad?” (You can see the expanded questions that she asked below)…

Here is my answer…

Hi Heidi,

This is one of the questions that I get OFTEN – there is a lot of nonsense out there about lectins – mostly spouted by a cardiologist named Steven Gundry who is an experienced heart surgeon but an ignorant nutritionist.

As a licensed nutritionist (LDN with PhD in Nutritional Biochemistry from Rutgers) who studies the microbiome and gut-brain-axis, I can tell you that lectins are NOT unhealthy or “dangerous” – and in fact are extremely healthy and lectin-containing foods should be part of any healthy diet.

Lectins are a type of protein that are found in many plants, particularly in seeds, legumes, grains, and some vegetables. They serve as a natural defense mechanism for plants, helping to protect them from pests, insects, and diseases. 

Lectin-containing foods form the foundation of the diets of the healthiest and most-long-lived populations on the planet (beans, seeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, etc) – including the Mediterranean Diet.  

While lectins have been over-hyped by people selling nonsense supplements to “shield” you from them, lectins are beneficial for gut health because they act as “prebiotics” to support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Lectins also have anti-inflammatory effects and help strengthen the gut barrier (reducing leaky gut and improving gut integrity). 

The ONLY situation where lectins could be considered “unhealthy” is when consumed UNCOOKED – (such as eating unsoaked/uncooked “raw” beans – or large amounts of raw plant peels – which nobody would ever do) – because raw lectins are resistant to digestion and can bind to carbohydrates on the surface of cells in the digestive system (leading to gastrointestinal distress).

It’s important to note that cooking, soaking, fermenting, or sprouting will transform lectins into a form that not only makes them safe to consume, but makes them extremely beneficial for gut health.

To summarize – lectins are “good” for you because…

They are “prebiotics” to support the growth of “good” bacteria in microbiome

They help improve gut barrier function and reduce leaky gut 

They have anti-inflammatory benefits and also help strengthen the immune system

Hope that helps – and happy to answer other questions if you have them?

All best,

Shawn

Query: 

What Are Lectins? Clearly define lectins, what they are and
what they do in the body. 

Are Lectins Bad? Discuss whether lectins are bad and what users
should know about consuming foods that contain lectins
(malnutrition, poisoning, leaky gut, inflammation, autoimmune
reactions?) Why are they called antinutrients (which nutrients
do they impact absorption of)? What side effects do they cause?

Should You Avoid Lectins? If so, who might consider avoiding
them and why? What are the benefits of lectins?

Foods with Lectins to Avoid Describe each food and its lectin
content (use research to support). Should a person avoid this
food altogether, or simply be sure to prepare it in a certain
way? 

Uncooked or undercooked kidney beans Peanuts Cashews Whole
grains (quinoa, wheat and corn) Raw soybeans Eggplant Potatoes
Tomatoes Goji berries Any others?

Lectin Alternatives Offer a list of foods that can be used as
replacements for foods with lectins, with a small explanation
for each food as to what it can be a replacement for and why it
might be a good option to consider. .

About the Author

Exercise physiologist (MS, UMass Amherst) and Nutritional Biochemist (PhD, Rutgers) who studies how lifestyle influences our biochemistry, psychology and behavior - which kind of makes me a "Psycho-Nutritionist"?!?!

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