As a responsible and forward-thinking doctor, it is my job to stay abreast of the most effective ways to keep my patients healthy and strong. We know that food is the most powerful “drug” on the planet, possessing the power to cause, prevent, or reverse disease. Nowadays, the most health supporting diet is one that is low in lectins.
What in the world are lectins and why should you care? Lectins are toxic plant compounds that are part of a plant’s built-in defense mechanism against insects. Unfortunately, lectins can also cause trouble in humans. Many lectins are pro-inflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic, and cytotoxic. Some lectins can increase blood viscosity, interfere with gene expression, incite immune hypersensitivity and trigger autoimmune disease, disrupt endocrine function, induce weight gain, promote cancer, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and inflict damage to the gut (intestinal) lining and the kidneys.
Here’s why lectins are one of the most important health issues of our time: Lectins have always been in food. When they stay in the gut and get eliminated with defecation, there’s no problem. That’s what used to happen. Here’s what’s happening nowadays: On a daily basis, we are all being exposed to man-made chemicals that damage our gut lining that is normally impermeable to everything except nutrients.
The chemicals that damage the gut lining allow toxic lectins to gain access to our bloodstream, as well as gut bacteria and their toxic waste products called lipopolysaccharides (LPS). This modern-day medical condition is known as intestinal hyperpermeability. It is also known as leaky gut syndrome. The substances that are breaching our gut lining include:
- Broad-spectrum antibiotics. This includes not only what your doctor prescribes, but also what is found in animal products (meat, dairy, and eggs).
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, Advil, Motrin, and Aleve.
- Stomach acid blockers. Also known as proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs). Examples include Zantac, Prilosec, and Nexium.
- Artificial sweeteners such as sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame.
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These are man-made, estrogen-mimicking chemicals that are prevalent in food and food packaging, water, clothing, and everyday cosmetics and toiletries.
- Genetically-modified foods and exposure to the herbicide Roundup.
While you “may” be able to reduce your exposure to the above toxins, you cannot eliminate them entirely, as they are now present in tap water. They get into your body when your drink water and get absorbed through your skin and lungs when you shower. Thus, the reason to slash your exposure to lectins.
The foods highest in harmful lectins are grains, beans, legumes (including peanuts), and members of the nightshade family, including eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, and goji berries. Avoiding these foods altogether can have a profoundly positive impact on your health and longevity! For more information, read The Plant Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry.
Before we get to the list of foods you SHOULD eat, it is important to know what you should NOT eat. Here is the list of foods with the highest amount of health-damaging lectins (stay away from these foods):
- Barley (including barley grass)
- Corn (including cornstarch, polenta, grits, corn meal, corn syrup, chips, and tortillas)
- Rice* (white, brown, wild)
- Wheat (including bread, flour, pasta, cookies, crackers, bagels, pretzels, pastries, couscous, wheatgrass, etc.)
*Soaking in water with ½ teaspoon baking soda for 24 hours followed by thorough rinsing and pressure cooking can reduce (not eliminate) lectins in these non-gluten grains. To reduce the glycemic load, pressure cook with small amount of vinegar and sesame oil. After cooking, refrigerate overnight, then rewarm before eating.
Beans & Legumes**
- Adzuki beans
- Baked beans
- Black beans
- Black eye peas
- Cannellini beans
- Fava beans
- Garbanzos (including hummus)
- Great Northern beans
- Kidney beans
- Lima beans
- Mung beans
- Navy beans
- Peanuts (including peanut butter)
- Pigeon peas
- Pinto beans
- Red beans
- Soybeans (including tofu, tempeh, edamame, miso, soy sauce, soy protein, soy milk, etc.)
**Soaking in water with ½ teaspoon baking soda for 24 hours followed by thorough rinsing and pressure cooking can reduce (not eliminate) lectins in beans and legumes. To reduce the glycemic load, pressure cook with small amount of vinegar and sesame oil. After cooking, refrigerate overnight, then rewarm before eating.
- Bell peppers***
- Green beans
- Hot peppers***
- Potatoes (including french fries & potato chips)
- Snap peas
- Tomatoes*** (including pasta sauce, salsa, ketchup, tomato paste, etc.)
***Removing the skin and seeds can reduce (not eliminate) lectins in these vegetables.
- All fruit juices
- Goji berries
- Partially hydrogenated
- Artificial sweeteners
- Sugar (sucrose)
Nuts & Seeds
- Chia seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Alcohol (including beer, wine, and hard liquor)
- Milk (cow, goat, soy, almond, coconut, rice)
- Soda (regular & diet)
Now to the foods you SHOULD eat. By selecting from the long list of foods and beverages below, not only will you slash your exposure to toxic lectins, you will enjoy a wider variety of foods and a greater abundance of nutrients, flavors, and textures:
Strive to eat 6-8 servings per day of different vegetables (a serving is ½-1 cup)
- Bok choy
- Broccoli sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
- Cassava root (yuca)
- Cauliflower (including riced cauliflower available from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s)
- Mustard greens
- Red & green leaf lettuce
- Red chicory
- Swiss chard
- Except for avocados, lemons, and limes, limit your intake of fruit
- Bananas (green only)
- Cranberries (unsweetened)
- Mango (green only)
- Papaya (green only)
- Plantains (green only)
- Avocado mayonnaise
- Avocado oil
- Caprylic acid MCT oil (#2 choice)
- Coconut oil (best for cooking)
- Flaxseed oil
- Macadamia oil
- Olive oil
- Perilla seed oil (#1 choice)
- Sesame oil
- Just Like Sugar (#1 choice)
- Monk fruit (#2 choice)
- Yacon syrup
Herbs & Spices
All except for chili pepper flakes
- Black pepper
- Celery seed
- Curry powder
- Star anise
Limit to 1 oz. organic cheese per day or 4 oz. organic unsweetened yogurt per day
Pastured only: Limit to 2 per day
Fish & Seafood
Wild-caught & low-mercury varieties only: Limit to 4 oz. per meal
- Alaska salmon
Grass-fed only: Limit to 4 oz. per meal
- Wild game (bison, elk, venison, etc.)
- Quorn Chicken Tenders (available from Whole Foods)
- Quorn Naked Chicken Cutlets (available from Whole Foods)
- Quorn Meatless Grounds (available from Whole Foods)
- Homemade hemp tofu
Pastured only: Limit to 4 oz. per meal
- Miracle Noodles
- Pasta Slim
- Coconut wraps
- Flax crackers
- Siete tortillas
Nuts & Seeds
Limit to one-half cup per day
- Flax seeds (freshly ground)
- Macadamias (#1 choice)
- Walnuts (#2 choice)
Olives & Capers
All (without added sugar)
90% or greater
- Chocolate bar (1 oz/day)
- Raw cacao powder
- Green banana
- Purified water (6-8 glasses per day)
- Organic decaffeinated coffee (black only)
- Organic green tea
- Organic green rooibos tea
- Organic dandelion leaf & root tea
- Wildcrafted chaga tea
- Eat only foods that are labeled “USDA Organic” or “Non-GMO Project Verified.”
- Eat a vegan (plant-based) or mostly vegan diet. Animal protein should be considered a condiment and not the main course. If you do eat animal protein, limit your intake to 2-3 meals per week.
- Avoid excess protein: Consume 0.31 to 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
- Minimize carbohydrates and maximize healthy fats.
- Eat two meals a day plus a snack in between.
- Confine eating to an 8-hour window period. For example, if you eat breakfast at 8:00 am, have a snack around 12:00 noon and dinner at 4:00 pm. If you delay or skip breakfast, have the first meal of the day at 11:00 am, then a snack around 3:00 pm and dinner at 7:00 pm.
- Avoid eating within 3 hours of bedtime.
- Take a low-dose multivitamin/multimineral (for men: click here; for women: click here), omega-3 supplement, and probiotic. Depending on bloodwork results, you may need to add a separate vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplement.
Published June 18, 2017 by Dr. Daniel Thomas, DO, MS