Lectins: Toxic Proteins or Revolutionary?

Lectins: Toxic Proteins or Revolutionary Research?

Although lectins are proteins, they are not as good for us as one would think. They are beneficial in plants as they keep insects (kind of like a defense mechanism) away and contain nitrogen which is essential for plant growth. In the human body, however, lectins can be toxic!

Which Foods Contain Lectins?

These are the foods with the most lectins, in descending order:

  • legumes (peanuts, cashews, beans, soybeans, peas, chickpeas, lentils) with uncooked red kidney beans the worst. Butters (peanut butter, hummus) from these legumes also contain lectins.
  • wheat, corn, rice, oats, and quinoa
  • nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers)
  • dairy products containing casein A1 (most North American cows)
  • corn, soybean, and sunflower oils
  • squash family (zucchini, melons, cucumbers)
  • soy products (milk, beans, sprouts, tofu, oils)
  • many fruits, including bananas. See the list below for lectin-free fruit

Why Lectins can be Harmful

The reason lectins cause us so much grief is because they are incredibly sticky and therefore cannot be digested properly. Instead, they adhere to the cells in our guts so that vitamins and minerals do not get absorbed. They also stick to insulin receptors, blocking the hormone called Leptin, so your brain never recognizes when you are full. I’m sure you can guess where this is going. Yes, lectins increase your appetite. Amongst other things.

Increased appetite means weight gain is at the top of the long list of bad things lectins cause. The rest of the list includes achy joints, indigestion, digestive damage, fatigue, brain fog, constipation, mood swings, immune system suppression, depression, and overall poor health.

Everyone has heard of gluten and how millions are avoiding it whether they need to or not. Gluten is a lectin, but there are many other lectins that cause just as much grief (or more) for people with food sensitivities. In fact, if you have been diagnosed with Celiac disease, you should avoid all lectins.

People like myself that suffer from a wheat (but not gluten) allergy realize that it is a protein in wheat that triggers my reactions. I was never told however that it was a lectin or that I might be lectin intolerant. This probably explains why those without Celiac disease or a gluten allergy (like myself) who have eliminated wheat from their diets feel so much better.

Wheat germ lectin has been shown in research to impact the immune system by increasing inflammation within our bodies. Not just in our stomach or intestines, but all over our bodies. Have you heard of “leaky gut syndrome?” This happens because lectins punch holes in our intestines (hence the leaky gut) letting toxins and bacteria out of your gut to invade and cause inflammatory responses in many other organs.

This resulting long-term inflammation has been linked to many serious medical conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, uterine fibroids, breast and ovarian cysts, autoimmune diseases, and small airway obstruction (asthma) in the lungs. I was experiencing most of these health issues when I was first diagnosed with my wheat allergy. It took me persistence and quite a long time to figure this out.

The Good News About Lectins

Now for the good news! Lectins are not always bad. Recent research reveals that lectins have been shown to be beneficial in some revolutionary uses. I say revolutionary because the use of natural plant extracts instead of harmful and expensive chemical medication is just that. This is quite exciting, except perhaps for the mega-rich and powerful drug companies. Oops, sorry, I am digressing. Here are some of the revolutionary uses I spoke of:

  • Small amounts of lectins may help the good bacteria that live in the human digestive system.
  • Research suggests that lectins may be useful for helping to identify and diagnose cancer. Lectins are also being studied for their potential to slow down the rate that cancer cells multiply.
  • Researchers are even looking at lectins as potential treatments for illnesses caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

Lectin-Free Foods

What foods are left to eat that are lectin-free you ask? If you don’t have any of the above health issues to try to clear up, don’t worry about them, lectins obviously don’t affect you. If you do feel the pain (literally), eat the lectin-rich foods (above) but ensure they are well-cooked and in moderation, and eat more of these lectin-free foods:

  • mushrooms, onions, garlic, celery, and carrots
  • broccoli, cauliflower, and asparagus
  • leafy greens (spinach, kale, etc)
  • sweet potatoes (cooked)
  • cherries, apples, blueberries, strawberries, oranges, and lemons
  • pasture-raised (grass-fed) meat and chicken
  • sheep, goat, and coconut milk as well as South European (A2) cow’s milk
  • blanched (no skin) almonds, almond butter
  • olives and olive oil

To Consume or not to Consume Lectins

So, do you continue to consume foods containing lectins or eliminate them from your diet? Well, that depends on how badly they affect you. In my case I avoid wheat. Keeping a journal of foods (lectins) you eat and how they affect you can help decide which ones to eliminate from your diet.

The answer for those of you without an obvious reaction is to simply reduce the lectins you eat. It is not necessary to completely eliminate them, and there are ways to reduce the number of lectins you are putting into your body. Sprouting, fermenting, removing the seeds, or cooking the culprits well will severely diminish the lectins’ potency. Get your pressure cooker out and dust it off!

Intuitive Eating

The moral of this story is to listen to your body. That simple practice is called intuitive eating. If you suffer from many or any of the health issues listed above, maybe you are lectin intolerant! I wish I had this information ten years ago when I was going through my personal battle to figure out what was wrong with me. My doctor wanted to put me on antidepressants, but I refused, believing it was more complicated than that. I’m sure glad I did. I feel better now pushing 60 than I did throughout most of my 40’s and early 50’s!

photo credit


Dementia: Can You Prevent it?

dementia

As I get older, every time I forget something I wonder if dementia is imminent. Forgetfulness is common as we age, but just how forgetful is normal, and what level is more worrisome? We all joke about having “senior moments” but when do the jokes become reality?

What is Dementia

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes dementia as the following:

Dementia is not a specific disease but is rather a general term for the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions that interferes with doing everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia. Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a part of normal aging

CDC

Excess Protein in the Brain

Research is showing that excess protein causes a toxic, plaque-like buildup in the brain that kills off brain cells. Known medically as proteinopathies, the group of diseases that exhibit this protein accumulation includes the several forms of dementia.

Normal Aging

CDC assures that these age-related changes in our memory are perfectly normal:

  • Occasionally misplacing items
  • Struggling to find a word but remembering it later
  • Forgetting the name of an acquaintance
  • Forgetting the most recent events

This list also includes going upstairs for something, then forgetting why you went upstairs. Phew, I bet that’s a pretty common occurrence for many of us within my generation.

Worrisome Symptoms

As well as problems with memory, dementia symptoms include issues with communication, attention, problem-solving or judgment, and behavior or personality changes.

For example, if you get lost in a familiar neighbourhood, forget the name of a close friend or family member, find yourself unable to complete familiar tasks, organize or plan, notice decreased coordination, or start using inappropriate/wrong words in a conversation, you should seek medical help.

Warding off Dementia

Any activity that exercises your brain helps to keep dementia at bay. Referred to as cognitive engagement, this includes reading, puzzles, word games (like Wordle), and more.

Physical exercise also helps as it forces more oxygen into your brain. Low or inadequate levels of oxygen, medically called hypoxia, is defined by the National Library of Medicine (NLH) as:

Hypoxia, a condition where oxygen supply to tissue is inadequate, induces free radical generation leading to oxidative protein modifications and tissue damage [2427]. Oxygen supply also acts as a modulator of aging processes [28]. The cerebrovascular disorders and hypoxia-ischemia injuries in the brain are projected as a primary cause of protein pathologies that leads to cognitive impairment and dementia [2930]. In short, hypoxia-ischemia injury in the brain persuades DPMs that can lead to aging, age-associated diseases, and neurodegeneration.

NIH

Social interaction has also been shown to reduce the risk of dementia and slow down its progression if it does happen. Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure helps lower the risk of dementia as does avoiding/quitting smoking. Avoiding or reducing saturated fats, salt, and sugar is key to a healthy diet, which in turn helps maintain that healthy weight.

Do your part to reduce your risk!

photo credit: pexels-photo-8172897

Best Smoothie Ingredients

Best Smoothie Ingredients

Customize your smoothies to suit your needs and your dietary restrictions.  Pick and choose the smoothie ingredients you like to eat or drink.  This will make your custom smoothies easier to swallow, literally.  These ingredients may vary with age too.  For example, seniors may add ingredients that combat arthritis, but the younger generation might not yet care about arthritis. I recently started adding frozen beets to my smoothies as I read they are good for my circulation.

Vitamins & Minerals in Smoothie Ingredients

Everyone needs vitamins and minerals, regardless of your age. Do your research to see which ingredients contain the vitamins you are deficient in. For example, if you need vitamin B12, use milk or yogurt as your base.

Add Creaminess

Bananas add creaminess and sweetness as well as vitamins B6 and B12, potassium and magnesium. If you are on a calorie restriction however, bananas are not usually recommended as they have a high glycemic index.

Avocados add creaminess too with the added benefit of good (omega 3) fats, fiber, and many vitamins including folate and vitamin K.

Berries are Terrific as Smoothie Ingredients

Berries are antioxidants and add fiber to your smoothies. Most are also high in vitamin C. Raspberries are very seedy though, so can make your smoothie not so smooth. Blueberries and/or strawberries are terrific. Buy them frozen to keep them easily accessible and their nutrients fresh.

Dark Leafy Greens

If you don’t eat enough dark leafy greens, throw some in your smoothie. They are loaded with vitamins such as A, C and K as well as folate, iron, magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Most are also antioxidants too. Don’t use too many at once though, or your smoothie will get too sludgy. Been there, done that!

Add a Boost of Protein to Smoothie Ingredients

Protein is always a nice addition to provide even more nutrition to your smoothies. I use hemp hearts and collagen in mine. As well as a good source of protein, collagen is purportedly good for my arthritic joints as well as my aging skin. Protein powder works too and helps keep your smoothies smooth.

Green Tea

Add a few cups of green tea to your smoothie to boost your antioxidant level and reduce cholesterol, body fat, tooth decay, bad breath, and blood pressure. Green tea also gives you a caffeine boost.

If green tea is not your thing, add milk or almond milk for the liquid necessary to blend all the chunkier ingredients.

Spice it Up

Spices such as turmeric, curry powder, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin etc. add flavor and many health benefits. Most are antioxidants, and help to combat inflammation and even cancer.

Conclusion

Tweak your own ingredient list so your smoothie is both tasty and healthy. That way you will continue to concoct and drink them. They make a great start to your morning or a hydrating and healthy boost any other time of day.

I don’t like to start a day in my gardens without one.

Wheat-Free Products

There are many alternatives to wheat on the market these days, many are available in your grocery store.  Listed below are a few that I have tried:

Arrowroot is the starch of a root from tropical plants.  It is easily digestible, and flavorless (unlike cornstarch).  It can be used as a thickening agent in soups, gravies, cookies etc.  Simply mix it with cold water before adding it to hot liquids to prevent clumping.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is a grain-like (but NOT a grain) crop mostly grown for its edible seeds.  The plant is related to beets and spinach, although the greens are not widely available.  The seeds are easily digestible, and are high in protein, fiber, magnesium, amino acids, calcium, phosphorus and iron.  They should be cooked and used like rice.

Buckwheat is a grain-like (but NOT a grain) plant grown for its seeds, related to rhubarb and sorrel.  It is gluten-free, although it can be a potent allergen by itself.  Buckwheat is high in protein, amino acids, iron, zinc, selenium and antioxidants.  It has been known to reduce cholesterol levels, body fat and cholesterol gallstones.  It has also been shown to strengthen capillary walls in chronic venous insufficiency and is currently being studied for use in treating type II diabetes.  Noodles make of buckwheat are known as soba in Japan, pizzoccheri in Italy,and guksu in Korea.   Buckwheat flour or farina is used in breakfast foods like porridge, as well as a thickener in soups, gravies, dressings, breads, and pasta.  Buckwheat is also used in the making of honey and a gluten-free beer.

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