Lectins are a group of compounds found in vegetable foods to protect the plant against potential threat. The work of some researchers indicates that lectins could contribute to gastrointestinal problems, food intolerances and inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, according to Carolyn Pierini, a nutritional consultant and clinical laboratory scientist specializing in medical microbiology. Although more studies are needed to elucidate the effects of lectins in human health, you can easily avoid most lectins by eliminating grains, beans and members of the nightshade family.
Avoid Grains, Beans and Nightshades
Foods with the highest lectin content include grains, beans and nightshades. To reduce your lectin intake, avoid all types of grains, especially wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye and rice, according to a paper published in 1999 in "World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics," which include breads, crackers, buns, pizza dough, breakfast cereals, tortillas, muffins, cakes and cookies. Avoid the beans found in hummus, soups and bean salad as well as peanuts, peanut butter and soy-based foods. Limit nightshades, vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers and goji berries.
Your low-lectin diet should be based on low-lectin foods. All vegetables and fruits contain some lectins, but most vegetables contain low levels compared to some nightshades, vegetables and fruits. For example, you can eat onions, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, leafy greens, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, carrot and asparagus as well as berries, citrus fruits, pineapple, cherries and apples. You can also eat animal protein, from fish, seafood, eggs, meat and poultry, as well as fats from olive oil, avocado, butter, cream and lard, which all have low levels of lectins.
Cooking, Soaking and Sprouting
The processing of high-lectin foods, such as cooking, soaking and sprouting, could help reduce their lectin content. You can use these techniques to make grains and legumes more acceptable for a low-lectin diet. However, these extra steps require a lot of time and are difficult to do at home for most people.
A low-lectin breakfast can be a Swiss chard omelet served with fresh fruits or scrambled eggs cooked with spinach, onions and mushrooms served with bacon or sausages. For lunch and dinner, have a chicken and avocado salad with an olive oil-based vinaigrette or a serving of fish or meet with bok choy, asparagus or broccoli topped with a dollop of butter. Snack on slices of smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs or fresh fruits. Consult a registered dietitian to ensure that your low-lectin diet allows you to get all the nutrients you need.