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Should People With Thyroid and Autoimmune Thyroid Conditions Avoid Foods With Lectins?

I frequently receive emails from people asking what foods they should eat, and which foods they should avoid.  Although I give some specific information regarding what people with thyroid and autoimmune thyroid conditions should and shouldn’t eat on my website, when I respond to someone via email I usually tell them to eat mostly whole foods while minimizing their consumption of refined foods and sugars.  This of course is a general answer, and the truth is that there are some health risks associated with certain whole foods in the forms of lectins.

Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins which are found in many different foods.  They are found in all types of grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and some other foods as well.  Lectins can cause all sorts of problems, as they can cause damage to the intestinal lining, thus affecting the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and potentially resulting in a condition such as leaky gut.  As I’ve discussed in previous posts and articles, this condition in turn can trigger an autoimmune response, or exacerbate one’s existing autoimmune condition, such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  Plus, if someone has a condition such as leaky gut, then the lectins can go into the bloodstream and bind to different tissues, including the thyroid gland, as well as other organs of the body.

Avoiding All Foods Which Contain Lectins Is No Easy Task

It’s bad enough that you might have been told to avoid gluten-based foods and dairy, and perhaps even some other foods, and now here is yet another group of “healthy” foods you’re being told to avoid.  The truth is that it is very difficult to eliminate all of the lectins from one’s diet.  This will be especially challenging for vegetarians and vegans, but it won’t be an easy process even for those who aren’t vegetarians.  In my opinion you definitely should minimize your consumption of grains and unfermented soy.  This isn’t just due to the lectin content, but many people are allergic to these foods.  With regards to grains, while it’s a good idea to minimize your consumption of all grains due to the effects they have on the blood sugar levels, I frequently talk about how most people should specifically go on a gluten-free trial.  And I’ve also written posts in the past on the risks of unfermented soy.

As for other sources of lectins, such as beans , nuts, and seeds, these are healthy foods, but you want to try not eating too many of these foods.  And keep in mind that not all nuts and seeds have an equal amount of lectins.  Peanuts are one of the worse culprits, although other healthier nuts such as raw almonds will also have lectins.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that having a handful of raw almonds or other nuts and seeds will cause leaky gut or trigger an autoimmune response, as to be honest this is unlikely to happen when consuming small amounts of these foods.

However, rather than eating everything raw, you might want to consider cooking some of these foods.  Fermenting and soaking beans, nuts, and seeds can help greatly to reduce the amount of lectins, although this won’t eliminate them completely.  But once again, while you need to be cautious about the foods you eat and try to reduce your exposure to gluten, casein, lectins, etc., you can find something negative with just about every type of food out there.  So while perfection isn’t necessary with regards to one’s diet, one obviously wants to try doing everything they can to have an optimally functioning digestive system.  And minimizing your consumption of grains, along with raw beans, nuts, and seeds, can help to reduce your exposure to lectins.

What About Phytic Acid?

Phytic acid is also found in beans, nuts, and seeds, and can interfere with the absorption of certain minerals (i.e. calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, chromium, etc.).  Once again, fermenting and soaking these foods will help to decrease the amount of phytic acid.  However, this doesn’t mean I recommend never to eat nuts and seeds raw.  While it’s probably best to cook any beans you eat, in my opinion eating a small amount of raw nuts and seeds each day is usually fine.

Plus, if you’re eating nuts in between meals as a snack, then you won’t have to worry as much about them affecting the absorption of the minerals.  For example, if you have lunch, and then a couple of hours later you eat some raw nuts or seeds, then the phytic acid shouldn’t interfere with the absorption of the minerals from the food you had for lunch.  On the other hand, if you eat raw nuts and seeds along with your major meals, or too soon after them, then this is when the absorption of minerals might be affected.

In summary, lectins and phytic acid can both have a negative effect on your health.  As a result, you want to minimize your consumption of grains, and also be careful about eating raw beans, nuts and seeds.  To reduce the amount of lectins and phytic acid, fermenting and soaking these foods will help, although eating a small amount of these foods raw (especially nuts and seeds in between meals) usually won’t cause major problems for most people.