How does a plant defend itself?
You might wonder what a plant even has to defend itself against, but the answer is the same for any living being – especially those on the food chain. The question is even more important for those at the bottom of the food chain – like plants.
It doesn’t seem like the plant has that good a chance of surviving at all, really. Usually, it’s stuck in the ground, unable to run for its life. And it’s not like a plant can kick or jab.
So, the only thing a plant can really rely on is chemistry. Yeah, chemistry.
Plants create natural chemicals and proteins in order to defend themselves against the animals – and humans – that intend to make a meal out of them.
And the thing is – plants are really good chemists. That’s because they’ve been on the planet for much longer than humans and animals. So, they’ve had a lot of time to evolve their defenses.
The biggest defense mechanism plants have perfected – toxic proteins called lectins.
In case you’ve not heard of them before, lectin is a protein designed to protect a plant from anyone or anything who wants to eat it.
And you might be surprised to learn that these tiny weapons – found in beans, for instance – are really the cause for a lot of the illnesses and strains your body may experience like stomach sickness, vomit, and diarrhea.1
So, how do lectins endanger your body?
Basically, lectins seek out certain sugar molecules in your gut, your nerves, and even your blood. When they grab hold of the molecules they’re looking for, they hold onto those cells for dear life and interrupt their ability to send messages to your immune system.
Then, they literally tear open little holes between the cells that line your intestines which can cause things like Leaky Gut Syndrome and even make you feel like you have food poisoning.2
The toxicity of lectins can make you feel sick when you experience things like –
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Weight gain
And plants know when those kinds of things happen to you, you’ll walk away. Because why would any person or animal want to get sick again? Nature has it figured out – Peppers make you sick? Don’t eat peppers. You see?
Of course, some plants DO want to help people and animals.
There’s another chemical component to plants called polyphenols – and polyphenols are actually really good for you. So, it stands to reason that there are certain plant foods to steer clear of, and certain plant foods to eat liberally.
But, how do you know what plant foods are good for you and what plant foods are bad for you?
Well, it’s easy, really. Just ditch lectin-rich foods. Here’s how –
Nix grains – Humans weren’t really made to eat grains, believe it or not. When people hunted and gathered for food, they weren’t looking for grains because up until very recently there was no way to process them. And most grains are massive lectin bombs – that includes gluten-free grains. So, limit your grains. And if you just can’t let them go, opt for white flour over wheat flour.
Cut out beans & legumes – Turns out, beans have more lectins than any other kind of plant food. You’d be better off limiting things like lentils, peas, beans, and other legumes. But if you’re going to eat them anyway, make sure you prep them in a pressure cooker. Also, peanuts and cashews are legumes. They only pretend to be nuts. So, kick them to the curb.
Eliminate nightshades – Potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes are all nightshades. The peels and seeds are full of damaging lectins. So, if you must eat these bad guys, peel and deseed them. You can also toss them in the pressure cooker or ferment them. These methods are just a few ways to help you reduce lectins.
Squash – Plant foods like squash, pumpkins, and zucchini are actually fruits. The seeds and peels are full of lectins. Therefore, ditch the seeds and peels, otherwise stay away.
Stay away from corn and corn-fed ‘free-range’ meats – Farmers use corn just to fatten up their herd or flock! So why wouldn’t corn have the same effect on you? Free-range meats are not your friend. ‘Free-range’ means the cattle and chicken are feasting on corn which means when you feast on them, so are you.
Instead, look only for pasture-raised meats. In these scenarios, the cattle and poultry eat the food from the land – what they’ve been eating since long before humans knew how to raise them.
Say no to regular milk – Thousands of years ago cows in Northern Europe suffered a genetic mutation. When this occurred, a lectin-like protein formed in their milk. That nasty protein is called casein A1 and it can cause serious damage to your immune system – specifically on your pancreas.3 So don’t drink the milk or eat the cheese from these mutant cows.
Instead, look for casein A2 milk – it’s what lactose intolerant patients drink or eat. This is the milk of Southern European cows. You can also consume goat milk and buffalo milk.
Finally, remember P.P.D.W.
Pressure cook your foods – If you’re cooking beans, tomatoes, potatoes, and quinoa, the pressure cooker is your best bet for cutting down a large portion of the plant lectins in those foods. It won’t clear the dish of all its lectins – but it’ll help.
Peel and Deseed fruits and veggies – Always peel and deseed your fruits and veggies. The hull, peel, or rind is always the most harmful part of any fruit or vegetable – those spots are usually where lectins hide. So, eliminate those spots and you eliminate a large chunk of your problem.
White grains, not brown – Always go for white rice over brown, white bread over brown. You get the picture. Cultures that have always eaten rice strip the hull off brown rice to get rid of the dangerous lectins.
In the end…
There are lots of ways to enjoy the meals you’ve always loved, but still eliminate or at least reduce the high lectin content of your favorite foods. Choose wisely when you’re at the grocery store and remember as you walk down the aisles… PPDW – Pressure cook, Peel, Deseed, and White.
For more info about lectins and how they can harm your health, take a look at The Plant Paradox, a book by Dr. Steven Gundry. It’s a great way to learn the Dos and Don’ts of healthy eating. Or simply head over to this page about reducing the lectin protein in your diet.
- Pal et al. 2015. Milk intolerance, beta-casein and lactose. Nutrients 7(9): 7285–7297.