10 Foods High In Lectins To Avoid On A Lectin-Free Diet

If you have decided to avoid lectins, steer clear of these common foods.

Medically reviewed by Kelly Mulhall, DIP NT, mBANT, mANP, mGNC Kelly Mulhall Kelly MulhallDIP NT, mBANT, mANP, mGNC facebook_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , BEd, MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition Aparna Mallampalli BEd, MSc (Microbiology), Diploma In Nutrition Experience: 5 years
Edited by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Experience: 8 years
Fact-checked by , BTech (Biotechnology), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Sindhu Koganti BTech (Biotechnology), Certified Health & Nutrition Life Coach Experience: 6 years
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People with digestive issues, allergies, and a compromised immune system avoid foods high in lectins. Lectins are proteins and are antinutrients, which interfere with the absorption of nutrients and negatively affect health. They may also aggravate gut-related disorders, autoimmune disorders, and irritable bowel syndrome. Hence, pay attention if you have any medical conditions mentioned above. Continue reading to know more about the adverse effects of lectins and 10 lectin-heavy foods you must avoid if you are on a lectin-free diet.

protip_icon Did You Know?
The term ‘lectin’ was introduced by American immunochemist William C. Boyd and Elizabeth Shapleigh in 1954. It was derived from the Latin word ‘lego’ meaning “chosen”.

What Are Lectins?

Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins found in almost all foods, especially legumes and grains. They are also known as antinutrients as they bind to certain carbohydrates and reduce the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients (1). While some types of lectins are safe, others may pose health risks. This depends on the type of carbohydrates the specific lectin binds to (2).

In the next section, we look at what foods have lectins in high quantities. If you are deficient in certain nutrients, you may want to keep a check on the intake of any of these 10 foods.

10 Foods High In Lectins

1. Cereals And Grains

Cereals are lectin-loaded foods, high in wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), a type of lectin. WGA is also found in rye, barley, and rice. It is linked to certain health risks, including increased intestinal permeabilityi  A condition where the toxins can pass through the gut along with water and nutrients and cause bloating and digestive issues. (2). In contrast, taking WGA-containing foods like whole grains and cereal products is also found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Such foods may also help with long-term weight management (3). Hence, more research is warranted in this regard. However, moderate consumption of lectin-packed foods like cereals and grains is advised if you have nutritional deficiencies. Consult your doctor for more information.

Note: High-processed breads or packaged foods that contain wheat can cause gastrointestinal problems, while whole grains such as brown rice may not.

2. Legumes

Legumes are a staple in many diets. They contain lectins that are glycoproteins (proteins to which sugar chains are linked) (4). Legume lectins have antimicrobial, insecticidal, and antitumor properties (5). However, clinical trials are needed to establish their therapeutic efficacy. Domesticated legumes are a more accessible and abundant source of lectins, unlike the wild variety.

In addition, how lectin-dense foods like legumes are cooked also affects the balance of lectins vs beneficial nutritional qualities.

3. Nuts

All nuts contain lectins, though almonds have the highest concentration. In fact, almonds have a higher lectin content than peanuts (6). Lectin concentration in plant sources significantly decreases with cooking time. Even soaking these lectin-abundant foods like nuts and seeds in water reduces their lectin content significantly (7).

4. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are high in lectins
Image: Shutterstock

Chickpeas are popular for their high protein content, but they also contain lectins in the range of 1160 to 1375 HU/g. Lectins degenerate red blood corpuscles by firmly sticking to them (hemagglutinating activity) (8), (9).

5. Potatoes

Potatoes are rich in starch, but they also contain lectins (solanum tuberosum agglutinin). Besides, white potatoes have a higher concentration of lectins than sweet potatoes (10). Lectin-rich foods may cause digestive issues besides playing a role in inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and type-1 diabetes (11).

6. Wheat

Wheat is high in lectins
Image: Shutterstock

Whole grains, especially wheat, are high in lectins. These lectins bind to glomerular capillary walls (filtration barrier)and tubules of human kidneys and induce IgA mesangial deposits (accumulation of immunoglobulin A protein in the kidney). This may cause or aggravate nephropathy (kidney deterioration) in humans (12). Cooking, soaking, and dry roasting lectin-laden foods like wheat may reduce their lectin content.

7. Beans

Beans are consumed widely for their protein content. However, beans, specifically red kidney beans, contain significant amounts of lectins with both beneficial and harmful properties. Phytohaemagglutinin (PHA), a lectin isolated from the red kidney bean, has antiviral properties (13). However, some lectins are resistant to proteolytic enzymes (that break down protein) and enter the circulatory system, posing health risks.

protip_icon Quick Tip
You can also sprout or ferment beans to help lower their lectin content.

8. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are high in lectins
Image: Shutterstock

Tomatoes are non-starchy and contain lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) (14). Lycopene in tomatoes protects the skin from harmful sun rays (15). However, research suggests that tomatoes also contain lectins. These lectins bound to the intestinal villi (finger-like projections that help with food absorption) and were found to resist digestion. However, no negative effects were observed from these lectins (16). Removing seeds from lectin-infused foods like tomatoes may reduce their lectin content.

9. Bell Peppers

Research suggests that lectins from bell peppers have antifungal activity (17). Almost all nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and bell peppers have lectins. However, these are only known to exhibit harmful effects in sensitive individuals. Many anecdotal studies suggest that eating raw bell peppers may lead to excess lectin ingestion and flatulence.

10. Egg Plant

Egg plants are high in lectins
Image: Shutterstock

Eggplant is also a nightshade vegetable rich in lectins. These lectins firmly stick to red blood cells (erythrocyte hemagglutination)(18). They may show negative effects in sensitive individuals and can sometimes aggravate urticariai  A common skin condition that leads to red, itchy, and raised rashes due to a reaction to food, medicine, or other irritants. . Lectin-carrying foods like nightshade vegetables are a family that irritates certain people who may have IBS, IBD, leaky gut, or sensitivities, whilst others will experience no reaction or sensitivity at all.

Note: Soaking, boiling, or cooking the above-listed foods may lower their lectin content.

Lectins have a reputation for causing several side issues if consumed in high amounts. Let’s discuss this in the following section. Keep reading!

Side Effects Of Lectins

1. May Aggravate Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Lectins may pass the human defense system and travel all through the body, which may aggravate irritable bowel syndrome. At times, these antinutrients may also cause intestinal inflammation (19). However, more quality research is warranted in this regard.

2. May Aggravate Leaky Gut Syndrome

The gut wall develops holes when lectins are consumed in large quantities. This increases intestinal permeability and aggravates leaky gut syndrome (20). The leaky gut syndrome causes bacteria and toxins to pass through the bloodstream and increases the risk of many infections and diseases (21). This may lead to malabsorption and negative digestive symptoms such as bloating or diarrhea.

3. May Increase Severity Of Autoimmune Disease

Lectins may aggravate autoimmune diseases by binding to human tissue and components of the gut microbiomei  Useful microorganisms in the digestive tract that boost digestion, protect from pathogens, and regulate the immune system. . This binding induces the production of anti-lectin antibodies, which increase the severity of autoimmune diseases (22).

4. May Cause Flatulence

Pulses contain many antinutritional components like lectins and saponins. Therefore, their regular intake over extended periods may cause flatulence, especially in pregnant and lactating women (23). However, more research is warranted in this regard.

5. May Cause Clumping Of Red Blood Cells

Lectins get attached to red blood cells easily and cause them to agglutinate (clump or group). However, the extent of agglutination is greatly dependent on that part of the plant lectins are extracted from. Lectins from the seeds of certain plants cause the greatest percentage of erythrocyte (red blood cell) agglutination. It is the lowest in the case of plant bulbs and leaves (24).

Jules, a YouTuber, shares her experience of being on a lectin-free diet and shows what she cooks in a day that helps keep her digestive issues at bay. She records in one of her vlogs: “The way I have been eating now has been making me feel so much better (i).” She continues, “I don’t wake up bloated, I’m really not that bloated during the day, but I might still get a bit bloated and that was my major issue before. I have also noticed a huge increase in energy.”

While some of these adverse effects could be alarming, the good news is that you can minimize lectin content from your foods. Learn more in the next section.

How To Remove Lectins From Your Food?

One effective method to reduce lectin content in foods is thorough cooking. Heat significantly reduces lectin levels and makes foods like beans, legumes, and grains safe for consumption (26). Soaking ingredients before cooking can also help decrease lectin concentration (27). Another technique that can break down the lectins in foods is fermenting (26).

It is important to note that moderation and a balanced diet remain key when considering lectin reduction. You can also talk to a nutritionist who can offer guidance on managing lectin intake.

Infographic: Lectins – Everything You Need To Know About Them

Lectins are ubiquitous antinutrients present across many food groups. While they might not pose a significant problem, people with gastrointestinal conditions should pay close attention to their intake.

From the infographic below, learn why these proteins are problematic, some basic background information, what they might do to your health, and what changes one should follow instead.

everything you need to know about lectins (infographic)

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

Takeaway

Foods high in lectins may aggravate gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome. This antinutrient also hinders the absorption of other beneficial nutrients. Thus, it is important to be wary of the consumption of foods high in lectins, especially if you have nutritional deficiencies. Cereals, legumes, bell peppers, and tomatoes are some of the foods high in lectins. That said, regular food preparation processes like soaking, roasting, and cooking may reduce lectin levels. Also, in moderate amounts, certain lectins may benefit your health due to their natural antimicrobial, antifungal, and antitumor properties. However, people with autoimmune disorders or sensitive guts need to monitor their lectin intake and avoid overindulging in these foods.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is oatmeal high in lectins?

Yes, oatmeal contains lectins when it is raw. However, cooking destroys the lectin content in oatmeal.

Do avocados have lectins?

No, avocados are free from lectin.

Do bananas have lectins?

Yes. Ripe bananas contain lectins. You can reduce the lectin content in other foods like beans, but this is not the same in the case of ripe bananas.

Key Takeaways

  • Lectins, known as antinutrients, are carb-binding proteins found in most foods. Some lectins may pose health risks.
  • Grains, legumes, nuts, chickpeas, potato, wheat, beans, tomato, bell peppers, and eggplant contain lectins.
  • These antinutrients may cause adverse effects like aggravating IBS and worsening autoimmune diseases.
  • Lectins extracted from the seeds of some plants may cause clumping of red blood cells.
foods high in lectins_illustration

Image: Dall·E/StyleCraze Design Team

Check out the video below and learn what to eat when following a lectin-free diet. Discover delicious, healthy options that are free of lectins and easy to prepare!

Personal Experience: Source

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

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  2. Lectin Activity in Commonly Consumed Plant-Based Foods: Calling for Method Harmonization and Risk Assessment
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  5. Plant food anti-nutritional factors and their reduction strategies: an overview
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  6. Legume Lectins: Proteins with Diverse Applications
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  8. Changes in levels of phytic acid
    lectins
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  10. Saponins and lectins of Indian chickpeas (Cicer arietinum) and lentils (Lens culinaris)
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  12. Lectins
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  13. Do dietary lectins cause disease?
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  14. Biological Properties and Characterization of Lectin from Red Kidney Bean (Phaseolus Vulgaris)
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  15. Tomato Consumption and Health: Emerging Benefits
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  16. lotion
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  17. Tomato lectin resists digestion in the mammalian alimentary canal and binds to intestinal villi without deleterious effects
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  18. A lectin with antifungal and mitogenic activities from red cluster pepper (Capsicum frutescens) seeds
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  19. Biochemical Properties of Eggplant Fruit Lectin.
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  22. The Leaky Gut: Mechanisms
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Kelly Mulhall

Kelly MulhallDIP NT, mBANT, mANP, mGNC

Kelly is a science-based nutritional therapist with 5 years of experience. She uses natural methods to balance the body, mind, and soul. She believes in creating realistic and non-restrictive nutrition plans that easily fit in with your lifestyle and work towards your health goals. She is fully qualified to support all health-related concerns but specializes in gut health (IBS, IBD,...read full bio

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