Welcome to our series entitled “Why Whole Grains Might Not Be As Healthy For You As You Think”. If you are just joining us, check out our introductory post Why Whole Grains May Not Be As Healthy For You As You Think, then also Part 2: It’s As Simple As Sugar, Part 3: Understanding the Glycemic Load, and Part 4: The Antinutrients in Whole Grains
As we learned in the last blog post of this grain series, an antinutrient is simply a compound that interferes with the absorption of nutrients. Phytic acid, we learned, is the storage form of phosphorus found in plant-based foods and cannot be digested by humans. As a result, we learned that phytic acid binds to the precious minerals we digest and robs our bodies of those nutrients. In turn, this leads to a host of symptoms like skin problems, muscle cramps, menstrual issues, osteoporosis, etc. In addition, phytic acid inhibits enzymes that we need to digest our food including pepsin which is needed to break down proteins in the stomach, amylase needed to break down starches into sugars, and trypsin needed for protein digestion in the small intestine.
WHAT ARE LECTINS?
In addition to phytic acid, there is another antinutrient wreaking havoc to our digestive system called lectins. Lectins are a type of protein found in both plants and animals (and humans), to varying degrees. Consumption is inevitable! However, lectins are much more concentrated in grains and legumes and soy. In plants, lectins are found in the seed as a protective agent – to the seed! The way they protect the seed is by causing intestinal distress to the “predator” who eats that seed, in hopes of deterring that “predator” (things that eat them) from coming back for more. Basically, it’s a survival mechanism.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN PROBLEMS THAT LECTINS CAUSE?
Lectins are very sticky and thus they bind easily to the lining of your intestines, particularly to the Villi, of the small intestine. This results in intestinal damage including reduced absorption of nutrients to your cells, impaired cellular repair, and altered gut flora (good and bad bacteria), which can allow bacterial infections and pathogens like Candida to take over. Next, food sensitivities begin. Ultimately, this continued assault on your intestines can lead to Leaky Gut Syndrome. Leaky Gut is basically a hole in your intestinal lining caused by lectins and other antinutrients. Once you have this breach, lectins and other larger particles (like undigested food and toxins) leak into your blood stream where they are free to move about the body and bind to any tissue they come across (pancreas, kidney, thyroid, etc.). The body sees this as an invasion and launches an attack! This is the beginning of an autoimmune nightmare. Lectins are associated with autoimmune conditions such as IBS, crohns, colitis, thyroiditis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and arthritis.
HOW TO REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE
While eliminating lectins is not possible, reducing the consumption can be achieved by, once again, avoiding grains and legumes and soy as much as possible, since these are the highest offenders. Cooking, sprouting, and soaking are all other methods that can reduce some of the lectins in the food, depending on the food type, but you would have to be quite adept and knowing which foods, and how to soak and sprout correctly. Probably more work than what most people today are willing to take on!
COMING NEXT, GLUTEN!
Our final entry in the grain series will focus on the antinutrient Gluten, a word many of us know but may not fully understand.
Read the rest of this series:
Why “Whole” Grains May Not Be As Healthy For You As You Think: Series Introduction
Part 2: It’s As Simple As Sugar
Part 3: Understanding the Glycemic Load
Part 4: The Antinutrients in Whole Grains