Anti-Nutrition Versus Nutrition: Lectins and Polyphenols ~

Mother Nature in all of her wisdom has created some pretty fantastic foods for all of her creatures! Much of the reliable nutritional info available not only applies to us but also to the pets we have come to love and adore! Knowing which foods to feed to our pets in a captive environment is paramount to our feathered friends’ optimum health!

Machelle Pacion
Avian Nutrition Specialist

When discussing our companion birds’ health, I also like to address our own health. If we are only concerned about our birds’ health; birds who typically outlive us, and we don’t concern ourselves with our health, who will be around to care for our birds if we die early due to lack of caring for our own selves? “Place the oxygen mask on yourself first so that you can care for others around you.”

While reading through this blog please, please, please apply the information to your own health!

It’s absolutely impossible to remove all “anti-nutrients” from the food we eat and feed to our pets. The idea really should be to increase the true, beneficial nutrients while reducing and/or canceling out the anti-nutrients as much as possible.

“Anti-nutrients” are many, but in this article, I wish to briefly address “lectins” and how they rob any living creature of absorbing healthy nutrients and actually cause ill-health.

Lectins
Definition of “lectin” – any of a group of proteins especially of plants that are not antibodies and do not originate in an immune system but bind specifically to carbohydrate-containing receptors on cell surfaces (as of red blood cells). (1)  Yes, lectins are actually proteins, performing mostly negative actions within the body. Lectins are placed in foods to ward off any predator that might desire to eat any given food; predators that are specific to that food.

Why is lectin “binding to carbohydrate-containing cell receptors” considered a negative event within the body? When lectins bind to carbohydrate cells the nutrition contained within the individual foods where the lectins reside cannot be broken down and absorbed properly for complete nutrition. In fact, this prevents proper good nutrient absorption while compromising good health.

Lectins can be inactivated,  and in some cases completely destroyed by soaking, sprouting and/or cooking. Those of you who follow my blog on a regular basis already know that I am against cooking foods for exotic birds (cooking destroys many helpful nutrients while also inactivating useless anti-nutrients). (The exception; there always is one…is when a living creature is extremely ill full, whole raw nutrition may need to be reduced by cooking food. The digestive tract may not be healthy enough to properly process whole, raw foods.) Overall, there is little net gain when cooking foods for birds. In my opinion, when we wish to inactivate or destroy lectins the best methods are soaking and sprouting grains, legumes and seeds.

As it stands grains and legumes contain a much higher count of lectins than does seed, tender greens, and fruit. This should automatically tell us that left to their original, indigenous regions, exotic birds probably would not consume many grains and legumes in the wild, except in times of lack of foods they would normally consume. Foods designed for exotic birds living in the wild would be available only in their raw, natural form containing lectins, but would also contain high levels of antioxidants that neutralize those lectins. Consuming foods high in lectins may greatly impair a bird’s system when it comes to breaking down and absorbing the helpful nutrients from those foods. Therefore it is absolutely essential that birds also consume high amounts of foods low in lectins and high in polyphenols.

 

Lectins can also add to or cause “avian leaky gut” syndrome and decrease and/or destroy healthy gut flora. Ah, ha! Is it any wonder, so many of our birds, as well as ourselves,  are experiencing unhealthy and improperly balanced gut flora requiring the need for us to add probiotics to our diets? Many of us are very familiar with leaky gut in our own species and how this syndrome absolutely wreaks havoc in our own digestive tracts. Leaky gut can lead to irritable bowel syndrome, auto-immune disorders including, but not limited to food sensitivities and food allergies. Leaky gut can also contribute to skin disorders, yeast infections, as well as sinus problems and improper production of the brain’s neurotransmitters. Improper neurotransmitter production leads to negative behaviors including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit disorder (ADD)/attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and more. Left undetected and untreated, diets left unmodified to reduce lectins in the digestive tract we may find ourselves and our pets experiencing long-term mal-nourishment and/or malnutrition. Even if we or our pets are the proper weight or overweight, we all may be experiencing malnutrition; we may have adipose tissue weight (fat weight) rather than healthy muscle weight.

It is imperative that we know which foods contain the highest amount of lectins and which foods can override lectins in the foods we eat and feed to our pets. Here is a list of foods containing the highest levels of lectins: List of Lectins in Foods. “Agglutination” means that food contains (+) a high amount of lectins. “No agglutination” are those foods which contain a low level (-) of lectins and pose no real threat to malnutrition. “Lysis” is the word used to describe the disintegration or rupture of a cell.

*Note: Where humans are concerned if a certain blood mutation is present certain lectins may be more harmful than others in a person with a specific blood mutation.(2)

Please read my in depth article about lectins at Lectins: What You Wish You Knew Years Ago.

Polyphenols
Definition of polyphenol: a polyhydroxy phenol; especially:  an antioxidant phytochemical.(3)   In other words, polyphenols are naturally occurring chemicals found in abundance in certain foods that assist in detoxing any toxins within the digestive tract or overall bodily systems. Polyphenols are beneficial nutrients. When we feed an abundance of foods containing polyphenols they can decrease, override and lessen the harm of lectins we and our pets consume.

Foods containing the highest amounts of polyphenols are black elderberries, black chokeberries, and many spices such as clove, peppermint, anise, sage rosemary and more. (If you have a feather-destroying bird a word of caution is in order: “Foods high in salicylates may trigger feather destruction.” Many beneficial foods are high in salicylates. Normally these salicylates pose no nutritional harm or threat to living creatures unless they are “salicylate-sensitive” usually due to unbalanced gut flora.)  Here is a List of High-Salicylate Foods.) In other words, even if a specific food contains high levels of lectins if it also contains an even higher level of polyphenols those chemical antioxidants can reduce and/or cancel the harmful lectins in that food and other foods eaten at the same time. Here is a List of Foods Containing High Levels of Polyphenols. (There is more than one table, so be sure to scroll to the bottom and click on “next table.”)

Knowing and understanding this information, it is no wonder that Mother Nature provided an abundance of fruits, greens, nuts, seeds, and spices that contain high levels of antioxidants! Grains and legumes, while providing a cheap source of plant proteins and digestible starch are not the main, staple foods Nature intended for any living creature, except maybe rodents. Grains and legumes are a cheap, unsatisfactory and potentially harmful source of “nutrition.” History, along with scientific studies proves that bovine, canine, feline, homo sapiens and many other mammals require their staple diets to include an abundance of fruits, botanically classified vegetables, grasses, greens and tender greens, herbs and spices, but only a small amount of grains and legumes. (Some species, especially Aves, such as parrots should not consume botanical vegetables as they lack the organ known as the cecum, plus they do not naturally produce cellulAse to digest cellulose in veggies) (“Botanical” is the scientific classification, whereas “culinary” are those fruits considered to be vegetables due to their lack of sweetness. Botanical veggies contain cellulose tightly woven within the “meat” of the vegetable. Culinary veggies (actually fruit) have seeds on the inside and do not have to “flower” to produce seed. Culinary veggies contain cellulose as skin, on the outside of the fruit and parrots peel the skin off, discarding it, totally avoiding the cellulose.) (Parrots, though warm-blooded, are not mammals, they are “Aves.”) Finally, grains and legumes have been purposely advertised as “healthy nutrition” mainly due to economic reasons; they are cheap to buy.

For decades and decades “experts in parrot nutrition” have strongly advocated for a high grain and legume diet. Why not? Grains and legumes are cheap. Field research has been skewed by researchers who have been paid by the commercial bird food industry to guide, while misleading bird lovers to buy highly processed kibble with their first ingredients (highest in content) being high-heat-cooked grains and often also high-heat-cooked legumes. Processing foods using high heat might destroy the lectins (and phytic acid, another anti-nutrient), but this processing method also degrades, destroys and annihilates the good nutrients. Digestive enzymes are totally destroyed (absolutely necessary for the proper breakdown and absorption of all nutrients), and alters protein and carbohydrate molecules while also destroying many vitamins and corrupting several trace minerals.

Don’t allow faulty research advocating heat-processed foods convince you that the “bad, anti-nutrients” such as lectins (and phytic acid) have been destroyed leaving healthy nutrition behind. – Heat, cooking of any kind destroys and/or degrades all nutrients, even healthy nutrients leaving empty calories behind to be absorbed as food void of necessary nutrition. Overall, cooking does not discriminate when it comes to destroying naturally occurring food chemicals known as nutrients and anti-nutrients; cooking attempts to destroy ALL nutrients whether they be good or bad. You can greatly reduce lectins and phytic acid by soaking, sprouting and gentle dehydration (under 105 to 115 degrees F), also known as “desiccation” preserving foods for a long shelf life of up to one year. Overcooking foods (temperatures above 115 degrees F) so the shelf life can be increased beyond one year, in fact for many years may save you money in the short run, but that processing method leaves behind an empty source of “food” that is devoid of healthy nutrition. In the long run, you will be spending money at a vet’s office trying to learn why your bird is ill – due to an improper diet – and how to heal your bird leaving your bank account drained!

In fact, Nature desires and has provided berries, fruit, tender greens, living nuts, living seed along with insects, grubs/larvae as the species specific foods for us (maybe exclusive of insects, although many countries find these to be delicacies) and our pets to consume for optimum health and vitality! These foods may be more expensive in the short run, but they help prevent illness, disease, and disorders. We and our pets may avoid costly trips to our doctors and veterinarians simply by eating the correct foods produced in a healthy manner that retains all nutrients. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. — Hippocrates, father of medicine, 431 B.C.” Allowing the foods we eat, in a balanced manner to increase certain nutrients while decreasing other harmful anti-nutrients, may just be the best avenue!

Happy, healthy foraging!

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Ref: (1) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lectin; (2) https://selfhacked.com/blog/elimination-diet-safest-foods-people-sensitive-everything/#Different_Types_of_Plant_Lectins; (3) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/polyphenol.