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Fructose and lectins: Health disruptors or not?

Your food choices today will matter tomorrow.

.The American Heart Association established recommendations in 2009 for Americans to limit daily intake of added sugar to 26 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Are fructose and lectins disrupters of our health or not?

Food studies are expensive, and study design variations can make comparisons of data impossible. It is no surprise that there are conflicting data from which to draw conclusions.

Here are my bottom-line conclusions from years of researching how foods with fructose and lectins impact the body:

Table sugar (sucrose) is half fructose and half glucose. Our bodies need glucose, but there is no biological need for fructose. It is pro-inflammatory by raising triglycerides and blood pressure, increasing liver fat, and increasing the risk for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity—just to name a few health implications evidenced in thousands of studies.

Overindulgence of sugary foods can be addicting. Fructose also interferes with the natural production of the hormone leptin, which helps regulate the feeling of fullness, hence making overindulgence easy. I inform my patients to avoid fructose for these reasons.

Most foods that have lectins—such as lentils, citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, and tomatoes—are actually good for us because of their antioxidant, vitamin, fiber, and mineral value, with exceptions for certain populations.

Patients with celiac disease should not eat gluten, a lectin found in wheat, rye, and barley, since gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine that can lead to serious complications. Some individuals have gluten sensitivities, which can contribute to bloating, discomfort, joint pain, and fatigue. Patients with autoimmune diseases, such as irritable bowel diseases and arthritis, may find that avoiding lectin-rich foods improves their symptoms. For the majority of people, however, I believe there is compelling evidence that whole-food, plant-dominant diets (even those with lectins) are anti-inflammatory and beneficial.

Our food and beverage choices fall into two categories: disease-promoting and disease-preventing. Foods really aren’t neutral. Certain foods function as antioxidants, providing nutrients and promoting cellular repair, while other foods are pro-inflammatory, increasing oxidative stress, which promotes cellular damage. If we could see the cellular damage of pro-inflammatory foods before our eyes, likely no one would choose to eat them, regardless of how they taste.

If you are reading this and thinking, “What about the evidence?” you might want to consider three books and one evidence-based website that have been helpful resources for me.

The first is a book written by Robert H. Lustig, MD.2 Dr. Lustig is a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California and one of the world’s top researchers. The book is titled, Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease.

A second resource is a book written by Michael Greger, MD, FACLM, titled, How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.

A third resource related to lectins is the book by Steven R. Gundry, MD, titled, The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods that Cause Disease and Weight Gain.

I believe that while a diet avoiding lectins may help or even be necessary for a small part of the population, most individuals benefit greatly from plant-based foods, irrespective of lectins. Should you wish to explore limited, but emerging evidence surrounding lectins and autoimmune diseases, a valuable resource is an article titled, “Lectins, Agglutinins, and Their Roles in Autoimmune Reactivities,”6available online at Google Scholar.

Is fructose a health disruptor? My personal conclusion is that mounds of evidence support that it is. Avoid fructose to live a longer and healthier life. What about lectins? Are they health disruptors? I am unconvinced that they are for the general population. Many of these plant-based lectins are anti-inflammatory, which helps repair cellular damage. Remember, foods and beverages are not neutral. Your choices today will matter tomorrow.  

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