Should You Try The Lectin-Free Diet?

Should You Try The Lectin-Free Diet?

Every year sees the birth of a new ‘fad’ diet. Atkins, Paleo and 5:2 have all come and gone, and in their place is ‘lectin -free’ – with celebrity fans proclaiming its benefits and the official book, The Plant Paradox, currently sitting at the number one bestseller spot on Amazon in the diet and weight-loss category. But how much do we really know about this diet, and could it potentially do more harm than good? SL found out more…

What is the lectin-free diet?

The lectin-free diet, as you may have guessed, cuts out those foods that are particularly high in lectins. Lectins are a group of plant proteins, found in grains; legumes; fruit; nuts and beans; nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines; and dairy products. Instead, you stock up on low-lectin foods such as leafy greens, cauliflower, asparagus, seeds and fish. 

There are many different types of lectins – they’re found in most foods – and a few are toxic, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. Lectins bind to carbohydrate molecules, such as sugars, and if there’s a higher number of lectins than carbs in the body, leftover lectins can attach to the body’s cell membranes and alter their functions.

Raw foods often have a high concentration of lectins – according to the FDA, kidney beans are particularly high in the protein, and so eating four raw kidney beans can cause vomiting and sickness. But cooking items such as beans, legumes and grains significantly reduces the concentration of lectins, making them much safer to eat.

What’s good about it?

You may have heard of the lectin-free diet already – it came to prominence recently after Kelly Clarkson revealed it was the cause of her 37lb weight loss. In an interview with NBC’s Today show, the singer claimed she had been following the diet primarily to help with a thyroid problem. “I literally read this book, and I did it for this autoimmune disease that I had, and I had a thyroid issue," Clarkson said. "I'm not on medicine anymore because of this book." And, as a happy coincidence, she’d also lost a significant amount of weight.

The book Clarkson’s referring to is The Plant Paradox by Dr Steven Gundry. In the book, Gundry says lectins are the root cause of most modern illnesses. According to Gundry, when lectins alter the function of certain cells it can cause anything from obesity to autoimmune disorders and allergies. “Kelly Clarkson is a great example,” Gundry told Live Science. “All she did was to remove these foods from her diet and her thyroid problem went away.”

Gundry claims he lost 70lbs on the diet, too. “The amazing thing is,” he said, “When people change nothing except removing major lectins, they start losing weight and they still are eating lots of calories, but not storing it as fat anymore. ”He also says that a 2006 study indicates a lectin-free diet can help those with cardiovascular issues and problems with their metabolism, reducing blood pressure and high sugar levels, as well as getting rid of the excess body fat around the waist.

Most doctors don’t agree with Gundry’s guidelines, branding the diet ‘controversial.

What’s wrong with it?

The problem is, most doctors don’t agree with Gundry’s guidelines, branding the diet ‘controversial’. Dr Robert Eckel, Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado told Live Science: “This is against every dietary recommendation represented by the American Cancer Society, American Heart Disease Association, American Diabetes Association and so on.”

Ariana Cucuzza, a dietician and nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, concurred, saying that any research into the effectiveness of a lectin-free diet cannot necessarily be relied upon yet. "It's kind of controversial,” she said. “There are some studies on lectins since the 1970s, but they are very inconsistent, and a lot of them are in very isolated environments like in test tubes or animals. So, translating [the results of those studies] to humans can be very confusing, and people don't really know how it affects us."

Both experts concluded that the diet wasn’t necessarily “definitely wrong”, but noted that, at this point, there isn’t “adequate research to make any conclusions”.

So, should you try the diet?

As pointed out by the pros, without proper research into the diet, it’s probably best to steer clear of this one for the time being. Furthermore, Cucuzza said the weight loss that Clarkson experiences is likely a result of cutting out carb-heavy, processed foods rather than because of her diet being lectin-free.

"Lectins can come later as part of the process of elimination, but I don't think it's an appropriate first step for most people," Cucuzza explained. "Unless nothing else has worked for you, I don't think it should be something you consider, especially not without consulting with a dietitian.”

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