Your mom said it. Your doctor says it. Everyone knows it. EAT YOUR VEGETABLES. It’s great advice. Vegetables contain fiber and nutrients our bodies need. They’re healthy right? Most of the time the answer is a resounding yes. Did you know, though, that sometimes vegetables can harm your health?
As controversial as that sounds, it’s true. Read on to learn about the hidden dangers lurking in our colorful friends.
Imagine a world millions of years ago. Plants were the only inhabitants. They didn’t have predators so they were able to reproduce at will and without interruption. Fast forward a couple million years later and all of a sudden, plants are being invaded by insects, animals, and eventually humans. Over those millions of years, plants suddenly had to develop defense mechanisms to protect against being eaten and dying out completely.
Surprisingly enough, plants are pretty sophisticated. They’ve developed quite a few tricks to dissuade being eaten by predators. Sometimes they camouflage themselves, or develop a thick skin, or produce toxins to make anyone who eats them sick. More often than not, they developed something called lectins.
According to WebMd, a lectin also known as the “antinutrient,” is a type of protein that binds to certain carbohydrates. Almost all organisms on the planet contain lectins. Some lectins are safe, but some can pose health risks depending on how they’re consumed and what binds to them. Digestive enzymes in our gut don’t break them down but learning to avoid them or cook them properly can diminish the danger they can pose to individuals.
How does that happen? It’s a plant after all. Plants shouldn’t be dangerous to humans since we’re so far above them on the food chain, right? Maybe, maybe not. Our digestive system is a pretty intricate operation. The walls of the intestine are only about one cell thick – not very strong for keeping bad things in the digestive tract where they belong. It needs to be this thin to allow vitamins and minerals and all the good things from our food to pass through to our bloodstream so they can go do the job of nourishing the body.
According to some doctors, when you eat a plant that contains a high amount of lectins, one of the negative results is that this sticky, large protein travels through your digestive system looking for some sugar molecules to travel with. Once they find what they’re looking for, it’s game on and the lectins ride with the sugar molecules through the intestinal walls, leaving gaping holes behind. These holes then allow other things to seep through, such as toxins and bacteria, creating a condition you may have heard of – Leaky Gut and creating an inflammatory response in the body.
Even more concerning is the link some scientists are finding between excessive lectin intake and the brain. According to an article printed in Science Daily , the increased use of toxic herbicides combined with increased lectin intake caused symptoms of Parkinson’s such as tremors and slowed body movement once the toxins traveled from the gut to the brain. According to the researchers: “This study gives solid evidence that lectins, while in the presence of certain toxins, may be one potential culprit for the cause of Parkinsonism.”
Lectins are also being linked to a more common problem we all experience from time to time – brain fog. As stated above, lectins can be a cause of leaky gut syndrome. With more understanding regarding the connection between gut health and brain health, doctors and researchers are examining how leaky gut affects the brain and can be a cause of neurodegenerative disease such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, mood disorders and mental health issues.
As little as 50 years ago we did not see the rise of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that we’re seeing in record numbers now. If plants have always contained these lectins, how are they suddenly causing a problem? The answer is simple – our lifestyles have created the perfect storm. Changes in how and what we eat over the last several decades have caused us to fall prey to the very plants that are touted as being good for us.
While some proclaim that you need to go on a crazy diet and eliminate lectins in their entirety, moderation is really all you need. The good news is, you’ll know by a physical reaction in your body if you’re sensitive to lectins (read inflammation, pain in your joints, fatigue, etc) and you can take easy and effective measures to reduce the amounts you are consuming. You can change a few key eating habits and possibly change your life for the better.
It’s impossible to eliminate all lectins from your diet. Even if you were to stop eating vegetables – which is a horrible idea for many reasons – you’d still get lectins from the animal products you consume as we talked about above. And some lectins are actually good for you. Learning to prepare certain high lectin foods properly and reducing the intake of others can greatly help if you’re experiencing symptoms of autoimmune disease or inflammation.
The answer is a resounding yes! Below is a list of low-lectin foods that can be consumed safely, taste great, and are great for you!
Want to give lectin-free eating a shot? Try out this recipe from Dr. Steven Gundry’s website. Dr. Gundry is a cardiothoracic surgeon and expert in lectin-free living.
Carrot Cake Breakfast Muffins
1 ¼ c almond flour
2 T coconut flour
½ t baking soda
1/8 t salt
1 ½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ginger ground
¼ t nutmeg
1/3 c oil such as avocado or MCT
2/3 c unsweetened coconut milk
1/3 c sweetener such as monk fruit
2 t vanilla
2 large grated carrots
¼ c chopped walnuts or pecans
Heat oven to 350 and line a muffin tin.
Combine almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, salt and spices
In a different bowl combine the sweetener and wet ingredients
Whisk together the wet and dry ingredients
Fold in the nuts
Divide the batter into the muffin tin
Bake 12 to 17 minutes.
While we all have to make the choices for our health that work for us, it is a fact that lectins are a serious problem for some people, and choosing to eliminate them from the diet can help with the symptoms of inflammation, autoimmune disease, and chronic pain. Incorporating a mindfulness practice can also help manage symptoms of chronic pain and inflammation. Mindfulness and stress reduction work hand in hand with reducing inflammation in the body. Studies have linked high levels of stress to autoimmune condition flare-ups so keeping stress in check and adopting healthy lifestyle choices are key to eliminating pain and inflammation. Check out our Stress Free Me sessions, our Weight Wellness sessions, or Optimal Health sessions for some great audios such as Detoxifying the Body, Food Chemistry, Sugar Awareness, Reactive Foods and Weight Loss, and more.
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