Lectins, Prebiotics, and Gut Health
Patients consistently ask me what the ideal diet is. They present with various digestive problems and want relief. They've tried gluten- and dairy-free, they've tried vegetarian and vegan. The symptoms vary and initially these diets reveal a benefit that slowly turns to regression or limited benefit.
The hope is to strengthen their digestive process to ensure that their healthy dietary choices are maximized. Pre & probiotic, digestive enzymes, etc. - these are some of the tools that I provide my patients. But what happens when these interventions do not yield satisfactory results?
A recent book by world-renowned cardiologist Dr. Steven R. Gundry - The Plant Paradox - has shed some light on what we might be doing wrong. Frustrated with the dependency on pharmaceuticals for his cardiovascular and diabetic patients, Dr. Gundry began to study the effects that foods have on our health. His studies identified the presence of Lectins in most of the foods we consume. Lectins are protein-based compounds that serve many purposes. It's commonly believed that serve as a protective element against being consumed by animals before the foodstuff has matured or ripened. Lectin levels vary from food to food but are most commonly found in grains, most vegetables, legumes, dairy, nuts and seeds. Dr. Gundry found that diets high in foods with high lectin counts correlated with higher incidence of inflammatory disease.
As opposed to ruling out all these foods which would result in a very limited and most likely unhealthy restricted / near-lectin-free diet, Dr. Gundry has made some general rules to follow. When it comes to beans and legumes - cook them well, the more they are cooked, the lower the lectin levels. For grains, interestingly white flour has lower lectin levels than whole grains and thus is his preference. Squash and nightshades are okay as long as they are peeled and adequately deseeded. The peel and seeds carry the bulk of the lectins. As well for fruit, in season fruit will have lower lectin levels than out of season so choose wisely.
Dr. Gundry made it clear that both corn and milk products offer more harm than good. No degree of cooking or processing can help here. Contrarily, leafy greens, ripe avocado, cruciferous vegetables, cooked tubers and olive oil are super foods rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals and help reduce inflammatory states.
This relatively new and interesting take on the impact of proteins in our of foods like Lectins helps add to the body of knowledge about gut and immune health. The goal is not to avoid all 'bad' foods. They are not bad at all but rather we may need to further understand the ideal way to prepare certain foods, to understand the benefits of cooking foods appropriately, eating in-season where possible and hopefully gain a more clear understanding of how our foods affect our health. Dr. Gundry did make it clear that prebiotics were essential in feeding the natural biome of our intestines. Without adequate fuel, dysbiosis and inflammatory states take over.
My next step is to investigate more with my patients the impact of a lower-lectin diet on their chronic inflammatory conditions.
Dr. Jason Granzotto, BSc (Hons), ND, graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2007. He has a keen interest in digestive health issues and in educating the public. He practices at The Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Vaughan, helping patients from across the Greater Toronto Area.