What’s so bad about grains? Lectins!

Lectins are proteins commonly found on a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, seafood, beans legumes and seeds.  They serve as a protective barrier for the plant they grow on, a deterrent to stop predators eating them.  It’s the Lectins found on grains- especially those grains containing gluten that are doing us real damage.  Causing chronic inflammatory disorders including neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious & autoimmune diseases and what can sometimes seem worst- depending on company and place, wind- Lectins can produce incredible wind within the bowel!
Lectins can dramatically reduce our immunity a number of ways, through disruption of intestinal flora, and also destruction of our natural killer cells.  Natural killer cells are one of the body’s most important defences against viruses and other invaders- it’s these natural killer cells that are destroyed with the consumption of lectin covered grains!  Lectins are tough little creations of mother nature, resistant to cooking and the acidic environment of our digestive system.
Grains are hard to digest for a number of reasons
Let’s leave Lectins for a moment and have a look at a deleterious little protein called Gluten.  Did you know that if you left one of your fingers to soak in the acidic environment of your stomach acid, it would take 30 minutes to be digested down to the bone- yep, right down to the phalange!   Gluten on the other hand, if you left gluten in that very same acid environment, it takes gluten 12 hours to be broken down!    It’s one tough cookie (well it can be, if that is what you are making with your gluten containing flour) Apologies- terrible joke.
Most of the food we eat is moved through the acidic environment of our stomach and onto the small intestine after just two hours.  So what happens to that undigested gluten you ate?   Gut Inflammation, intestinal permeability and leaky gut is what happens!
Back to Lectins.  Lectins have served us well within microbiology and are also used as blood transfusion reagents – ie they have a “cell clumping” ability.  It is this clumping ability that gives Lectins the name of Agglutinins.  It’s the agglutination (clumping) ability of Lectins that can be so dangerous to us humans.  An extreme example of agglutination is Ricin.  Ricin is a type of Lectin found in the pressed seeds of castor oil, Ricin is so toxic, that just a small amount can cause death due to massive clotting of red blood cells!  
As I mentioned, Lectins are resistant to both stomach acid and digestive enzymes, binding to the wall of the gut and damaging the gut lining.  They can cause changes in the function of the gut, which may be related to diseases such as colitis, crohn’s disease, celiac disease, IBS, and as mentioned earlier, the good old fashioned wind!  Yes- the colloquial fart, the not so alluring consequence of a grain filled diet!
After ingestion- its the lack of our ability to digest Lectins that cause the damage to the lining of the gut wall.  Lectins binds to the absorptive microvilli of the small intestine.  Microvilli are the tiny finger like projections that cover our gut and digestive tract.  Microvilli are there to absorb all your digested nutrients from the food you eat- but when you eat Lectins (and gluten) – you don’t digest them properly! It’s this lack of digestion that inflames the lining of your gastro intestinal system, as it literally sits there on your gastro intestinal tract.  It’s this inflammation that allows small holes to be created in your intestinal lining, allowing large protein molecules like Gluten & Lectins to gain access into the blood and lymph system.  Its this process called endocytosis which carries the intact Lectins across the microvilli membranes into your blood stream. The Lectins may then enter the liver, pancreas and total systemic circulation.  They bind to cell membranes in arteries and vessels, organs and glands.  This binding is what can create reactions which lead to auto immune disorders or degenerative diseases.  Examples of auto immune diseases are Addison’s disease, auto immune hepatitis, immunodeficiency, cardiac myopathy, celiac disease, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, lupus, Meniere’s disease, Primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis, psoriasis, Rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis- there are literally hundreds of Auto Immune diseases capable of manifesting within everybody, depending on your own genes.

The direct link to children eating Gluten and developing ADHD and Autism is well documented, as is the link to depression in adults with the consumption of gluten.
There is a very interesting article talking of the popular trend toward the consumption of less processed grain foods, at this link below.  Although less processed – so closer to their whole grain beginnings are more nutritious in many respects, this only results in the consumption of more lectins.   So once again, you think you are doing something good for yourself, when really you can be making it worse.
Stick with me for a minute while i tell how Lectins cause auto immune disease- If you know why things happen, then you are more likely to take the advice and start to ween yourself off gluten, working down to zero content in your diet.
Lectins can be seen as a type of protein that contains a “key” that fits a certain lock within your immune system.  If the lectin has the right key and comes into contact with the right lock, the lock is opened, damaging the cell membrane, and thus damaging the cell.  This is how auto immune diseases are created. 

The lectins can however, can be inactivated by specific carbohydrates known as mono and oligosaccharides, which bind the key and stop if from fitting the lock.  It is best not to rely on these carbohydrates completely, though, as the safest path is to avoid all known toxic lectins.  The best way to avoid auto immune diseases is to follow Gluten free AND grain free diet.
Sexy is wind through your hair- not your derriere!
There is a certain kind of thunder during the winter months that doesn’t quite conjure up romantic feelings of cosy togetherness.  Do you love a vegetable & kidney bean soup? What about an Indian Dahl curry- or perhaps your partial to hummus, who doesn’t love a hummus dip at a party? 

Well without good knowledge of how to de-thunder your beans, grains and legumes, you may start to feel- and hear the effects of lectins well before your guests have left the party!
Tips to de fluffing your beans! (removing gas forming lectins)
The amount of Lectins contained in the food depends on the type of plant, how it was processed, and its species.  The main foods that contain toxic Lectins include:  Grains such as wheat, wheat germ, quinoa, rice, oats, buckwheat, rye, barley, millet, and corn.  You’ll also find lectins in dairy foods and the nightshade family, eg potato, tomato, eggplant, cucumber and capsicum- however it is predominantly the beans (legumes) and grains we are looking at here.   OH! and it is also interesting to note that all these foods have been found to be involved in, or cause food allergies or intolerances. 

It is the oligosaccharides– a type of carbohydrate, that give Lectins their anti social side- wind!  In order for the gastrointestinal tract to fully digest the oligosaccharides within lectins, an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase is needed. The human body does not make or contain this enzyme, so we need to add alpha galactosidase to our foods to help digestion along.


There are various herbs and spices that can prevent the flatulence experienced with eating Lectins.  Turmeric is well documented.  Black pepper & ginger also help.  Asafoetida is an Indian herb- adding a little Asafoetida to your lentils beans or grains when cooking will also prevent flatulence.

One way is to begin by soaking your beans with 1/8 tsp baking soda per cup of beans. This is enough to help breakdown the skin of bean but not destroy the Thiamine- Vitamin B1.  Soak the beans for at least 8 hours- soaking time depends on your bean or legume.  Rinse thoroughly in filtered water after soaking and cook.

Kombu– Kombu is naturally high in alpha-galactosidase.  Just one piece of Kombu is enough to be effective.  Kombu- your secret “gas busting” ingredient!
Soaking times:

  • Smaller dried beans such as Adzuki whole Mung beans need pre-soaking and longer cooking times (1–5 hours)
  • Larger dried beans such as soy chickpea, kidney beans black beans and lima beans need 8-10 hours
  • Chickpeas and soy beans are one of the hardest beans to digest- so 12+ – although soy is best eaten fermented (Tempeh)
  • Lentils do not need pre-soaking but may be pre-soaked (see below) and have a shorter cooking time (15–45 minutes)

What can I do if I’m lectin sensitive or intolerant?
An elimination diet will need to be undertaken to find out if you are lectin sensitive.  This is where you remove all suspect food groups from your diet for seven days.  On the eighth day, slowly begin reintroducing the eliminated foods.   A qualified Nutritionist or Naturopath can guide you fully.