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Many people come into Healthyway looking for alternatives to eating wheat. So many in fact that it seems to be a dietary epidemic. Everywhere you go, people are cutting wheat out of their diets. Whether it’s a true allergy or sensitivity, the wheat we eat today is not something that our bodies handle very well.  We did not evolve eating this type of food and our poor human digestive tract struggles to make sense of what to do with it.

Not to be left out, I too am trying to cut wheat and all empty carbs out of my diet. Going to Vancouver recently it was glaringly obvious to me that it’s almost impossible to find a no carb lunch while walking around Granville Island! With much searching I found a gourmet French food stand that was selling tasty cooked sausages with caramelized onions on the side. However, I think that I distressed him greatly when I didn’t want a mini baguette to wrap it in.

Whether you call it low carb, paleolithic, caveman, stone age or hunter gatherer diet …. it refers to the diet that humans ate before we began to cultivate agriculture and grow food for ourselves. It consists of wild game and fish, wild plants, a few mushrooms, some nuts and roots. Whatever foods were available to us to hunt and gather for ourselves.

One of the theories behind this kind of diet is that it is the ‘lectins’ in foods that are harmful to us. Lectins are sugar binding proteins or proteins that attach themselves to carbohydrates. The problem is that they also bind with the cells that line the intestinal wall causing damage to our digestive tracts. Less susceptible individuals won’t notice a thing and continue to enjoy pizza and pasta their whole lives. The more sensitive among us will develop most commonly, but not limited to, intestinal inflammation, allergies and auto-immune conditions.

When the intestinal wall is inflamed, it becomes damaged, producing more mucous and then the absorption of nutrients is greatly reduced. The balance of gut flora is also significantly affected and yeast infections, candida and the likelihood of parasites and amoebas being present is increased. If the cells are damaged to such an extent that they stop producing protective mucous altogether, then holes actually develop (leaky gut) and lectins, undigested food particles and toxins can pass through into the circulatory system and travel around the entire body attaching themselves to organs (such as thyroid, pancreas, kidneys and others) and inflicting damage. Lectins found in lentils, green peas, corn, potatoes and most strongly wheat, bind to insulin receptors on fat cells sending the same instructions as insulin – which is to make fat. Lectins have also been shown to inhibit digestive hormones (such as leptin) that are involved in appetite control which leads to an increase in appetite and obesity (caused by leptin resistance).  The body may also respond to lectins by attacking them and the tissues to which they are attached – thereby initiating an auto immune condition.

Foods that contain high amounts of lectins are all grains, beans (especially soy) and to a lesser extent, seeds and nuts (and their oils). Nightshade vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and goji berries) that have a tendency to be bothersome to sensitive individuals by causing inflammation in joints, have high levels of lectins. In fact the most highly allergenic foods contain the highest amounts of lectins. Genetically modified foods such as potatoes, corn and soy have also been observed to damage the intestines of rats fed these foods (perhaps at a faster rate than the non GMO versions).

Digestive enzymes and stomach acid have little effect on lectins. If they are uncooked they are far more harmful but if you soak, cook or ferment these foods it will reduce (but not eliminate) the harmful effects. Fermenting is a fantastic way to increase nutrient value, ease digestion, alkalize your body and a really cheap way to get your probiotics! (More on fermenting next month).

Lectins are in all foods so there’s no way to avoid them. I’d suggest eliminating or cutting down on the foods that have the highest amounts and when you do eat them make sure you soak, sprout or ferment. Some supplements can also protect you from these damaging lectins. Certain seaweeds that contain fucose (such as bladderwrack) and mucilaginous vegetables and herbs (okra, slippery elm) will bind with lectins making them harmless and unavailable to gut cells. N-acetylglucosamine and D-mannose are both targets for lectins, so supplementing will supply a dietary decoy when you eat these foods!

Foods that have low amounts of lectins are plentiful ~onions, mushrooms, broccoli, bok choy, cauliflower, leafy greens, squash, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots and asparagus, berries, citrus fruits, pineapple, cherries, apples, fish, seafood, eggs, meat and poultry, as well as fats from olive oil, avocado, butter and cream. Sound good? I thought so!

By: Kira Neumann, RHN

September 14, 2012