DEAR MAYO CLINIC: A friend of mine continues to speak highly of the health benefits of a diet where people eliminate lectins. She says it has helped her lose weight and reduce her arthritis pain. What are lectins, and can a lectin-free diet cure autoimmune diseases and prevent other health problems?
ANSWER: Lectins are natural proteins found in all foods, but they are more concentrated in certain plants. Lectins fulfill a protective function for plants during their growth. They have no nutritional value when consumed in food.
Foods that contain high amounts of lectins include legumes, such as beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts, as well as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, some fruits, wheat, and other grains. .
Although your diet can influence how you feel, especially if you have a chronic illness, it’s important to be aware of how elimination diets can negatively affect the body. This is especially important if you are already on a restrictive diet.
Cereals and legumes are a wealth of nutrients. They are rich in B vitamins, iron and fiber. These nutrients can be difficult to obtain if you are, for example, gluten-free.
Despite many claims, there is no scientific evidence to show that eliminating dietary lectins will cure any medical disorders or conditions, including autoimmune diseases. Your friend may attribute her weight loss success and improved health to her diet, but I wonder if she also eliminated other things that might have contributed to it, such as limiting sugar, processed foods, and eating. excess salt.
Some research seems to indicate that consuming large amounts of raw lectins may have a negative effect on health. But the amount you would need to consume daily to reach this level is much higher than what a typical diet would include. And other studies have shown that lectins break down when processed or cooked, so the risk of adverse health effects from lectin-rich foods that are not raw is not of concern.
Additionally, most foods containing lectins are recommended as part of a healthy, balanced diet. A large body of scientific evidence clearly supports the benefits of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
The health benefits you get from including these foods in your diet outweigh the perceived benefits of avoiding foods containing lectins. With that in mind, a diet that avoids lectins is not one that most dietitians would typically recommend.
If you have a medical condition triggering symptoms that seem to be related to the foods you eat, talk to your primary care provider about seeing a dietitian. Likewise, if you are simply following a diet that includes a variety of foods and are experiencing symptoms that make you feel unwell, it can often be difficult to pinpoint the specific source of the problem on your own. It may be a food allergy or food intolerance, or it may not be related to your diet at all.
Thus, it is important to speak to your healthcare professional to investigate and triage the cause of your symptoms. Some medical centers have dietitians who specialize in gastrointestinal issues, and these professionals can help with these cases. Take the time to talk to a healthcare professional who can review your diet and offer suggestions for changing it to help ease your symptoms.
A dietician may recommend, for example, a short-term elimination diet, excluding certain categories of foods that tend to cause allergic reactions most often. Once these foods have been removed from a diet, they can be carefully reintroduced to identify possible causes of diet-related symptoms. Based on this or other assessments, a dietitian can make recommendations tailored to the situation.
Rather than using a generalized approach and trying to apply it to everyone – such as avoiding all foods containing lectins – a diet that is structured and supervised by a dietitian and based on scientific evidence can be personalized to suit adapt to a person’s sensitivities. This type of systematic approach usually yields better long-term results than simply avoiding a certain type of food or food ingredient and hoping to feel better. — Katherine Zeratsky, RDN, Endocrinology/Nutrition, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota
©2022 Mayo Clinic News Network. Visit newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.