Anyone with autoimmune or gut issues have probably ran across discussion of Nightshades and lectins and have been advised to stir clear! Why and what are they?
All foods that are considered Nightshades contain Lectins, but not all foods that contain Lectins are nightshades.
Lectins are proteins within foods that are carbohydrate binding and that stick to the cell membrane in the Gastrointestinal tract. Lectins are not digestible by the body which for the raw plant that it's found in is great and protective, but for a compromised human system can wreak havoc. Plants, vegetables, seeds use lectins to stop bugs, microorganisms, pests and other threats from eating them and it's also thought that its used to secure the seed as it makes its way through the animal's system to be disposed for germination upon elimination.
In a healthy system the lectins within foods cause little to no harm as it passes through the system. The GI walls and lining are able to be repaired quickly, the lectins are contained to the GI and not allowed in the bloodstream and the protein is eliminated just like any other anti-nutrient found in foods. It is when Lectins are introduced into a compromised system either by "leaky gut" or Disorders that compromise the Immune system such as AIDS, Lyme disease, or any type of bacterial overgrowth all of which are usually paired with "leaky gut", that it can cause negative side effects. In these scenarios, Lectin is able to pass into the bloodstream. When a foreign particle is found within the bloodstream it triggers an immune response to isolate it and rid it from the body. Over time, as the lectin protein continually appears in the bloodstream, the body creates antibodies to the protein.
When the immune system in the body is triggered it puts the body in a stressed state. It is trying to protect the body from damage that can be done from the foreign particle, pathogen etc., in this case lectin acting as a poison. Side effects from the body being in a constant state of stress, the symptoms of the immune system triggered constantly over a food are many including: achy joints, brain fog, fatigue, and diarrhea to name a few. This vicious cycle does not allow the body to heal and those with a compromised immune system have an even harder time right from the beginning keeping the GI repaired to act as a line of defense for the rest of the body. Over time symptoms worsen along with the "leaky gut" that allows more foreign particles into the bloodstream contributing to the list of autoimmune disorders apparent today.
By no means am I saying autoimmune disorders are caused by lectins, there are many triggers that can cause a consistent immune response and program the body to attack itself. It is to be pointed out that our western diet is very high in lectin-based foods and research has shown an increase to lectin sensitivity increase over the years. All poison or medicine is in the dosing.... This means a small amount to a healthy individual will have no effect where a small amount to a compromised system can have a noticeable negative effect. A large amount over a period of time to a healthy system can have a negative effect where a small amount can harness the positive effects of lectins in the body. Lectins are thought to play a role in immune function, cell death, cell growth, and body fat regulation.
Not all foods are created equally when we speak of lectins. Some foods contain higher amounts and should be avoided overall while others have minuscule amounts and are more easily tolerable. There are ways of processing the foods to decrease the number of lectins but by no means does it eliminate them entirely. Lectin varies inside of each listed food and can also vary from harvest to harvest. Here is a list of ways to decrease the number of lectins within different foods.
Sprouting can be done for seeds, beans and grains! That the lectin is normally found in a seed shell the sprouting process metabolizes the lectin, so the longer the sprouting process the less the lectin. In some cases, like with alfalfa sprouts, sprouting increases the lectin count.
This is the oldest way of decreasing the number of lectins within beans and seeds. The longer the soak the less the lectin. Make sure to rinse and change water frequently.
Cooking is known for its denaturing effects. Cook enough to denature the anti-nutrients but not enough to destroy the nutritional content and enzymes of the food.
Within the fermentation process the living organisms within the fermented foods assists with the digestion and breakdown of the lectin content.
Though these methods are great and i recommend to involve them into daily life for majority of people, anyone doing an elimination diet, AIP diet, Gut repair program, etc. should steer clear of all lectin and nightshade foods until diet or program is completed and the reintroduction period has begun.