Ask EN

November 2017 Issue

Lectin Risks; MCT Oil Hype

Q: Are foods rich in lectins dangerous to eat?

A: Many fad diets today recommend avoiding lectin-containing foods, such as legumes and whole grains. Lectins, a group of proteins sometimes referred to as anti-nutrients, are found in many healthful foods, but most abundantly in raw legumes, such as beans, lentils and peas, and uncooked grains, such as wheat and barley. Lectins can be toxic and inflammatory if consumed raw in large quantities. Raw lectins can cause flatulence, diarrhea, and vomiting, and they have been linked to an increased risk of certain diseases. Many lectin-rich foods are generally eaten cooked, which significantly reduces their negative effects. About one-third of the foods commonly eaten in the U. S. contain high levels of lectins, but fully cooking lectin-containing foods renders them safe to eat. It is imperative that foods high in lectins, such as beans and grains, be fully cooked. Beans should be rinsed and soaked, and the soaking liquid discarded before they are cooked. Fermentation and sprouting also decreases lectin content. Studies consistently show that whole grains and legumes are healthful, so there’s no need to avoid them. Just remember to eat a variety of foods to avoid getting high levels from any one particular food.

—Sharon Salomon, MS, RD


Beans are high in lectins, but soaking and cooking renders them harmless.

Q: Should I be taking MCT oil dietary supplements?

A: Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) are fats naturally found in coconut or palm oil, human breast milk, and full-fat cow and goat milk. Pure MCT oil, however, is not found naturally; it is synthetically hydrolyzed from coconut or palm oil and chemically altered to create a colorless, flavorless, odorless oil. Many people are consuming MCT oil for its supposed health benefits, such as enhanced athletic performance, detoxification, weight loss, improved blood lipid and glucose levels, brain protection, and digestive health. People are adding this expensive oil to smoothies, salads, and even coffee, as suggested by popular fad diets. However, the science doesn’t support all of the purported benefits for MCT oil, such as weight loss and disease protection. Research does suggest it may offer possible therapeutic benefits for children suffering from certain types of seizures and critically ill patients suffering from muscle wasting. MCT oil is considered safe for most people, however it can cause gastrointestinal upset for some.

—Kaley Todd, MS, RDN