Lectins: Are These Food-Based Proteins Friend or Foe?

John Watson; Reviewed by Anya Romanowski, MS, RD


August 17, 2018

In This Article

Getting Free of Fads

Going lectin-free appears poised for the life cycle of most dietary fads, with a surge in interest followed by an inevitable fall from grace, when it is supplanted by the next new thing. However, early reactions to lectin-free diets from dietitians and other experts have been fairly adamant that it is a baseless intervention,[1,10,11,12] which may go some way toward sapping the enthusiasm.

What does enjoy a robust foundation of scientific evidence is the value of consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains, and other beneficial foods. Taking these off our plate in pursuit of a diet that many consider a fad would likely lead to an actual health crisis.

And in an interesting twist, the very same properties that are causing lectins to be removed from diets are also making them the source of intense clinical interest. To researchers in the emerging field of lectinology, a strongly binding protein with toxic qualities that can resist digestion, survive gut passage, and remain active within the body does not sound like a cause of fear, but instead something to harness. They are investigating possible uses for a therapeutic lectin compound for treating cancer, HIV, rheumatic heart disease, diabetes, ocular diseases, and more.[9,13,14]

Although these efforts are still in the early stage, if they prove even moderately successful, the day may come when lectins are seen not as detriments to our health, but something that enabled us to fight back against some of the greatest threats to it.

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