Lectins, FODMAPs and IBS

Have you heard of lectins before? What about FODMAPs?

I know these sound like made up words but I’ll explain what each is and why you might care.


Are a plant protein that is sticky and forms part of the plants defence system, as plants can’t really defend themselves they use certain chemicals and in this case a protein in order to do that. Lectin is plant protein commonly found in nightshades, seeds, nuts- such as cashews and almonds, fruits- especially the ones with more skin such as apples and berries, legumes and many grains.

They can cause symptoms essentially like “food poisoning” in animals that are to eat them. This then poses the question: are we meant to eat these foods that contain high amounts of lectins? - leading to more inflammation in the body, especially for people that deal with chronic inflammation already. At this stage we need to look at how much truth there is to this, who can eat it, who needs to avoid it etc. If you were to go on a low lectin diet you are going to take out a whole range of good foods and plant based compounds such as fibre and micronutrients, so we don’t really want to be avoiding these foods, as a general rule.

What about phytic acid?

Phytic acid is found in a lot of plant based foods and is an anti-nutrient as they can bind to certain minerals such as calcium, iron and zinc. They also make it really hard when digesting these foods to assimilate, absorb and utilise those minerals found in that foods. There are ways around that but using certain preparation techniques. For example soaking your grains/seed/legumes or sprouting which is more popular with your grain and seeds. You can also cook them or ferment them, which is going to help break down those physic acid compounds but also reduce the amount of lectins.

Who might lectins not be good for?

As said earlier generally people with a very inflamed state such as those with leaky gut - which is increased intestinal barrier permeability, that allows these undigested food particles to bypass the gut and react with our underlying immune system. We have what are called peyers patches underneath our small intestine and these can cause inflammation systemically- leading to more of this chronic inflammation. A lot of focus in on removing these foods to help heal the gut and reduce inflammation.

So people that might need these foods removed for a while (not long term or forever) is people with autoimmune conditions, people with chronic inflammation and gut issues. People with autoimmune conditions tend to have a leaky gut and be in a chronically inflamed state. They also might need to consider how they are preparing these foods and work with a qualified practitioner to do an elimination diet. An elimination diet helps to remove the offending agent for the short term to then allow gut healing work to be undertaken before re-trialling eating those foods. But simply preparing them properly may be sufficient for you and then you don’t have to remove these foods at all (even temporarily).

The ultimate approach is to try and gain tolerance to a diversity of foods and not limit our palate in what we can eat. And enjoy this variety :)

There is a lot that can be done to strengthen the gut and look at what can be the things that are disrupting normal gut function in the first place.

I have IBS/IBD don’t i need to be on a FODMAP and avoid some of these foods anyway?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable, Oligo, Di, Mono and Polyols, and is a diet low in these foods. It is normally used by practitioners for IBD ( Crohns,Ulcerative colitis) and IBS. It can greatly improve symptoms and distress in the gut. So a lot of the time by reducing FODMAPS you are removing fermentable foods, fermentable foods with fibre from the gut and a lot of sugar alcohols. So it can be a great short term strategy to get relief, but the next question to ask yourself is why are you getting this distress from these foods? What is going on here? Looking for the root cause and addressing it should be done next.

The first step is to try an elimination diet, to remove food in a systematic approach. Starting with the more common problematic inflammatory and allergenic foods such as: corn, soy, peanuts, dairy, eggs, shellfish, alcohol, sugar, gluten etc. Then there is a systematic reintroduction after 3 weeks. As well as gut healing.

Is Stevia a sugar alcohol?

Yes, but its not like other sugar alcohols. Stevia comes from stevia glycosides, usually it’s an extract with ethanol that is added to beverages or to sweeten something you are cooking. There are mixed reviews on stevia but there appears to be more positive than negative ones about it. The source is important such as is it organic? And if you are taking powered stevia they often put in maltosedextran and have other additives- so stick to 100% stevia extract if you are going to use it. If you feel it is causing you gut issues then it might be something that you should consider removing and trial this to see what effect it has. But it is one of the better sweetness that is out there.

I have IBS/IBD can i have fibre?

First of all we need to manage the reason why you are struggling with fibre, the root causes of this and not just manage the symptoms. We currently have an environment where we are managing symptoms and using treatments that work on symptoms and not addressing the reason for it occurring.

People with histamine intolerance or salicilyate intolerance have been using the FODMAPS diet for years to relieve symptoms and manage these conditions. But that essentially is all it is doing managing symptoms.

What is my treatment plan in moving forward if FODMAPs diets are short term?

Eating a FODMAP diet long term completely annihilates the gut, there are few foods on a FODMAP diet that supports the microbiome, supports the gut healing and allows new beautiful bacteria to grow. Lots of the foods denied on a FODMAP diet are vital for liver function etc as well.

Just to be clear, these diets are good for a season not as a lifestyle.

You may need to be on it short term because the symptoms experienced in IBS/IBD are horrible . So I completely understand you wan the symptoms gone now, and using a FODMAPS diet can help do that, but you can’t say on it long term.

To help build your tolerance and build up the fibre in your diet start with adding in some nut milk to your diet in a small slow way. This is nice and nourishing and allows you to get the nutrients in you require.  You can then work up to making a nut butter and eating that- because nut butter is so ground down it is almost like it’s already been digested -making it easy for you to handle. But make sure you start with small amounts, don’t go and have spoonfuls of it to begin with. After you have build your tolerance up to nut butter then expand yourself to nut flours and get used to them. Once you have taken that leap then move on to eating maybe one nut and giving body a chance to digest it completely. You need to do this process slow and steady in small bits to allow you body to digest it and get used to the foods.

You want to be working towards an end goal of overall wellness. When we have a black and white management plan (you can only eat this and you must never eat that) then you end up with people unwell for years and years and this pressure can cause people to end up with anxiety and being very fearful about adding foods back into their diet. By avoiding FODMAPS for good you are blocking off beautiful herbs and food that nourish you (FODMAPS can also be found in herbs used in herbal formulas). We need to look at these diets as a way of managing symptoms for short term -like 2 weeks and then look at supporting our gut and helping our microbiome to grow back.

Should I do testing to see what the lay of the land is in my gut?

Testing your mrcobiota can be very beneficial. I had a client who had been vegetarian for a long time when she tried to eat meat, she felt bloated and gross; it was fermenting and felt heavy in her gut. This happened everytime she tried to eat meat and therefore she thought meat just doesn't agree with her and that she is going to have to stay vegetarian the rest of her life. When she had her microbiota tested she was found to have a very low ability to digest protein. Which explains why she was feeling the way she did when she ate some protein. The bacteria that assists in protein metabolism was so low due to her not eating protein for years that she couldn’t break it down properly. But just like you wouldn't go out and do an iron man tomorrow if you hadn't even been going for a walk around the block. You need to build up tolerance slowly. Not eat a whole heap in one go when you haven’t had any of a particular food group for a long time.

You can’t just ride off these beautiful foods for the rest of your life, you need to work over time with a practitioner to help heal your gut so you can enjoy a wide variety. You wont get anywhere with an all or nothing approach. There isn't a quick fix with this. 

But I’m scared to eat these foods and come off a FODMAP diet…

I know if you have crohns of ulcerative colitis there can be fear associated with adding foods back in, you are in such an inflamed state that the idea of eating a fibre rich meal is almost horrifying. You’re worried you will blow up like a balloon, then fall asleep on the coach, break out in a rash,  get cranky and start yelling at your loved ones, feeling out of control of your body. When that’s how eating those foods makes you feel, it is hard to picture you wil be better and could be better. You start to believe it’s other people that can digest their food, feel better and heal their guts, you just get to be the unlucky one that suffers. We need to reshape your whole mindset around this, get the right testing done, so we know what we are working with, know what the process is and what we are doing and not put blanket labels on yourself that you are” this” or “that” i.e. “oh i can’t eat onion ever again in my life”. 

Should I eat fermented foods then?

Fermented foods are beautiful for your gut. Start with kefir and fermented yogurt in low amounts are they are powerful. Do a little bit at a time, low and slow.

If you get a reaction is it that you are allergic or is that what it needs to do?

Sometimes people say “I tried fermented foods and I’m allergic”, then when asked what makes you think you are allergic? The response is often, “ I was bloated, I felt nauseated, I had diarrhoea and was really fatigued I had to go lie down on the couch”. 

 If you are taking kefir or fermented foods and you have imbalance in the gut, it is creating a different environment, changing the pH and allowing new microbes to grow - this is sometimes called a hexer reaction- the pathogenic bacteria are starting to change and are letting off endotoxins causing reactions in your body as they are dying off. 

If candida is dying it releases acetamide (which is an alcohol), your body then has to deal with this and puts strain on you liver (burden depending on how many you had that are now dying off). Think of it like when you have a hang over, what happens when your liver is under burden dealing with the alcohol? You feel sick. Dealing with these endotoxins it is going through a similar detoxifying/dealing with chemicals process.

Often those symptoms described as “I’m allergic” are a healing reaction, rather than it being about you can’t have this or move forward with this.

That is why it is so important to have the right community around you and practitioners to support you moving forward. It can be hard and scary to move forward and you might even say daunting, especially if you are trying to do it alone. Whereas when you have a community who have gone through this before or a practitioner to guide you through the healing journey you have someone to discuss your concerns with- i.e. someone who can give you reassurance and say “this happened to me and it took 3 days to get better “etc. Also a practiser that knows if things are taking a turn for the worse and how to manage that.

There is a way through the dark and out the other side, it will just take some time, patience and perseverance. xo