by Kylie McCarthy, Nutritionist

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. Lectins cause chronic inflammatory disorders including neurodegenerative disease, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious and 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 in a number of ways; through disruption of intestinal flora and 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 by touching on a nasty 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! Surprised?  Well, what about this – If you left gluten in that very same acid environment, it takes gluten 12 hours to be broken down!

Most 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 – they have a “cell clumping” ability. It is this clumping ability that gives Lectins the name of Agglutinins.  It is 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, coeliac disease, irritable bowel syndrome and, as mentioned earlier, good old fashioned wind!  Yes – the colloquial fart, the not so alluring consequence of a grain filled diet!

After ingestion it’s 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.  This inflammation allows small holes to be created in your intestinal lining, allowing large protein molecules like Gluten and Lectins to gain access into the blood and lymph systems.  It’s 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, coeliac 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 every  body, 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.

Here is a very interesting article talking of the popular trend toward the consumption of less processed grain foods. 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 we give you here at the Cabot Clinic – which is more often than not GET OFF THE GRAINS!

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 and kidney bean soup? What about an Indian Dahl curry or perhaps you’re 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 and 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.  Call 02 46 55 88 55 and ask to speak to one of our qualified staff.

Products that will assist your recovery


L- Glutamine is natural amino acid that is vital for healthy intestinal function.  Glutamine is helpful for inflammation of the intestinal tract- eg, gastritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, peptic ulceration, leaky gut and food sensitivities.   It actually heals the inflammation and soothes the injured tissue, enabling it to go about its main function of absorbing nutrients and delivering energy to your cells!   If you are suffering the effects of leaky gut 1 teaspoon of glutamine on an empty stomach daily, along with dietary corrections supervised by your Naturopath or Nutritionist will prevent further damage of your intestinal lining.

Liver Tonic

Use a high quality liver tonic which combines clinically proven dose of St. Mary’s thistle, turmeric, selenium, B vitamins, taurine and anti-oxidants for the liver.

Turmeric has antioxidant activity, promotes flow of bile and provides relief from dyspepsia and flatulence.

St Marys thistle promotes optimal detoxification and excretion of toxic substances. Toxins are everywher e- an example of these toxins are Lectins, pharmaceutical drugs, herbicides, coffee, alcohol, pesticides, food chemicals and preservatives!  And that is off the top of my head – only naming a few of the harmful toxins we come into contact with every day!

Selenium has anti-inflammatory effects and helps to promote glutathionine production.

Taurine aids gall bladder dysfunction and is required for the manufacture of bile, which aids healthy digestion. Taurine balances the solubility of cholesterol in bile – breaks down fats and cholesterol more efficiently, which then aids in the excretion of cholesterol via the bowels.

Taurine is also an anti oxidant involved in the detoxification of chemicals.

Digestive Enzymes

Improves digestion of fats, carbohydrate, proteins.  Digestive Enzymes reduces symptoms of poor digestive function such as bloating, excessive flatulence or burping, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, heartburn, malabsorption, acid reflux and food intolerance.

Our bodies natural digestive enzymes reduce from 30 years of age onwards, which means that it is inevitable that we will not digest as well as we use to and furthermore, not absorb the nutrients from foods we eat as we are not digesting (all of that on top of your Gluten intolerance that is inflaming mucous membrane of your stomach and gastro intestinal tract- even FURTHER reducing your ability to absorb nutrients!   A lot of people need to take digestive enzymes permanently.

A good natural digestive enzyme is apple cider vinegar – add it to salads everyday! My grandparents used to drink 3 tablespoons in water every morning. I am addicted to the quarter of a cup of apple cider vinegar I pour on my salad every working day!


Kylie McCarthy -Nutritionist
For appointments with Kylie please phone 02 4655 4666 or email