Updated 24th April 2024

All you need to know about lectins

Share this article

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Print this page
  • Email this page

Lectins, also known as hemagglutinins, are proteins in all plants. Legumes, like beans and lentils, have especially high amounts.

Some sources claim that lectins are bad for you. But the truth is that any danger is unlikely and easy to avoid.

In this article, we’ll describe what exactly lectins are, take a closer look at the claims, and explain how to avoid any risk.

At ZOE, we know that every body is unique. With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn about your unique responses to different foods, as well as which “good” and “bad” bugs live in your gut. We'll then provide you with personalized nutrition advice.

Take our free quiz to get started.

What are lectins?

Lectins are a type of antinutrient. These compounds can make it hard for your body to use other nutrients properly. But they’re not all bad: Some antinutrients can have beneficial effects, too.

Lectins are proteins in all plants, and they’re particularly abundant in legumes, like beans and chickpeas.

Scientists believe that lectins contribute to many functions inside plants, such as cell-to-cell communication.

Lectins also help protect plants from invading pathogens, like some fungi, by binding to certain nutrients or compounds. This is what makes lectins an antinutrient.

What are the risks of eating lectins?

There’s limited evidence that eating lectins can pose risks. And this data comes from lab and animal studies — not research in humans.

But because lectins are resistant to acidic environments, like your stomach, they’re hard for your gut to break down. In some circumstances, eating lectin-containing foods might lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating.

How to stay safe

The symptoms above might seem worrying. But they typically only strike when people consume lectins in their “active state” — meaning that the plants are raw or undercooked.

Lectins are at their highest concentrations when foods are raw. Cooking deactivates lectins, minimizing their potential negative effects.

And of course, people rarely eat beans or other lectin-rich foods raw.

So, if you cook your sources of lectins — which you’re probably doing anyway — this lowers your chances of any ill effects.

Also, lectins are water soluble, so most reside on the surface of plants. Rinsing foods or removing their outer layers is an effective way to get rid of lectins.

Join our mailing list

Sign up for fresh insights into our scientific discoveries and the latest nutrition updates. No spam, just science.

Which foods have lectins?

As we’ve noted above, if you’re concerned about lectins, remember that they’re easy to remove with cooking or rinsing. People already tend to cook the foods that contain the most lectins.

Some foods with high amounts of lectins are:

●  lentils

●  soy, including edamame

●  peas

●  beans, including pinto, fava, and kidney beans

●  whole grains, including wheat

●  chickpeas

The upside of lectins

Some lectins have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are molecules that help protect your cells.  

Lectins also bind to carbohydrates, and there’s some evidence that they slow digestion, leading to more moderate blood sugar responses. 

Foods high in lectins may also help protect against cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

This isn’t a direct effect of lectins, though — it’s because these foods are typically rich in beneficial nutrients, like fiber, healthy fats, and B vitamins.

Meanwhile, scientists are investigating the use of lectins in developing treatments for cancer. 


Lectins are proteins and antinutrients in plant foods. Antinutrients are compounds that can interfere with your body’s ability to digest and absorb other nutrients.

Legumes, like beans and lentils, have especially high amounts of lectins.

Eating raw foods that contain lots of lectins can cause digestive problems. But this is easy to avoid — rinsing and cooking deactivates lectins. 

Lectin-rich foods may bring health benefits, too. For example, they may help improve blood sugar control and gut health.

At ZOE, we believe that nutrition is one of the best tools for improving your overall health — and having a healthy, varied diet rich in plant foods is key.

With the ZOE at-home test, you can learn how your body responds to different foods, as well as which “good” and “bad” bugs are living in your gut. From this, we’ll deliver nutrition advice tailored to your body.

Take our free quiz to get started.


35 years in plant lectin research: A journey from basic science to applications in agriculture and medicine. Glycoconjugate Journal. (2022). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34427812/

Antinutritional properties of plant lectins. Toxicon. (2004). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15302522/

Could plant lectins become promising anti-tumor drugs for causing autophagic cell death? Cell Proliferation. (2013). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cpr.12054

Dietary lectin exclusion: The next big food trend? World Journal of Gastroenterology. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6603809/

Lectin activity in commonly consumed plant-based foods: Calling for method harmonization and risk assessment. Foods. (2021). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8618113/

Lectins. (n.d.). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/anti-nutrients/lectins/

Lectins: Past, present and future. Biochemical Society Transactions. (2018). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19021575/

Phaseolus vulgaris lectins: A systematic review of characteristics and health implications. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. (2018). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26479307/

Plant as a plenteous reserve of lectin. Plant Signaling & Behavior. (2013). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4091380/

Structure-function and application of plant lectins in disease biology and immunity. Food and Chemical Toxicology. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7115788/

Share this article

  • Share on Facebook
  • Share on Twitter
  • Print this page
  • Email this page