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First they came for the fat, and I did not speak out—
Because I did not eat bacon.

Then they came for the sugar, and I did not speak out—
Because I only rarely ate ice cream.

Then they came for the gluten, and I did not speak out—
Because I preferred corn tortillas anyways.

Then they came for lectin—and I was like, ‘oh shit, there’s nothing left to eat.’


Fat. Sugar. Salt. Gluten. Animal proteins. Cooked food. This is the list of foods for which some doctor, organization or run-of-the-mill food guru has issued a dietary fatwa in the last decade or two. According to at least someone, fat causes heart disease, sugar causes diabetes, salt gives you hypertension, gluten destroys your gut, animal proteins cause cancer. Even cooked foods do something bad to us, apparently.

Here’s another one to add to the list. Lectin, which Wikipedia defines as: carbohydrate-binding proteins, macromolecules that are highly specific for sugar moieties. I don’t know what that means, but I do know that lectins are found in legumes, or lentils and beans, for us plain-speaking folk.

So, if you are a vegan who constantly looks down on everyone else for their unhealthy food choices, go ahead and put down that alfalfa sprout and tofu wrap with the pea and hummus dipping sauce, because according to the latest research, you are one carob and tamarind smoothie away from obliterating your small intestine.

How can I be so sure lectin is a problem? Because a cardiac surgeon in America wrote a book about it [1], and if I know anything about science it’s that when one scientist in a particular specialty develops strongly held views in a completely different specialty, that is when the real science happens [2]. Especially when the different specialty is an absurdly complicated field rife with controversial belief after controversial belief. And, especially especially, when said scientist offers to sell you dietary supplements to make up for the lack of nutrients you will be missing by adopting his lectin-free diet.

Did I mention quinoa isn’t allowed in a lectin free diet? Yeah, according to said cardiac surgeon—Dr. Steven Gundry – if you are sprinkling quinoa over those arugula and tomato salads you might as well be shooting up heroin for desert [3].

By this point, dear reader, your “skeptical sense” should be tingling a bit. If there’s one thing that everyone in the nutrition community agrees on, it’s that quinoa is the Bishop Desmond Tutu of foods: It doesn’t get anymore wholesome or replenishing for your soul. If some so-called “expert” told you that Tutu (quinoa) was rotting the minds (guts) of citizens across the globe, you would be absolutely within your rights to punch that person in the face, antifa style. In fact, that’s just what this piece at New Scientist does. The piece is authored by a fellow named Anthony Warner, who is putting out anti-pseudoscience vibes that I am absolutely picking up.

The problem with the latest diet fads, even those supposedly backed up by “science,” is that they lead people to believe that the human body is just running along doing its thing and waiting for people to feed it the perfect list of ingredients so that it can perform at its absolute optimum.

But what if there is no single “optimum”? What if there are many different optima, scattered over the dietary landscape almost like, I dunno, different cultures are spread across the globe. What if it was possible for some people in one part of the world to eat, say, rice and fish and be pretty healthy, and for some other folks in another part of the world to eat cheese and bread and be pretty healthy too?

Look, we are all looking for that secret recipe that will bring us eternal health. But while we may not understand the details, we know the gist: exercise a bit more, sleep more, and eat fewer Doritos before bed. I speak from personal experience that this seemingly simple task list is hard enough. If we then add to this list reading and evaluating every book by every cardiac surgeon selling us on the latest dietary fad (along with supplements at the low cost of $99 per bottle), I’m pretty sure we have no chance of lowering the obesity rates in this nation anytime soon.

Now if you are thinking—why should you take my word for this over those of an actual doctor who happens to be a heart surgeon? Fair question. In response I offer you another famous surgeon: Dr. Ben Carson.

You do what you want. Me, I am going to keep on eating that lectin until the surgeon general releases a statement on its ill effects—or at least until Dr. Oz does an episode about it.


[1] I refuse to link to said book, for fear some of my readers will end up buying it before (or in spite of) reading the warnings that follow.
[2] In case you are being dense right now: This is sarcasm. This is absolutely not when the real science happens.
[3] Who am I kidding, if we believe the statistics on opioid use in the U.S., there’s a good number of my readers who absolutely are shooting up heroin after dinner. If this is you, adding a little quinoa to your salad is probably not going to tilt the scales one way or another.  

Jesse Stone

Jesse B. Stone loves science and writing. Apologies if you were looking for the "Jesse Stone" played by Tom Selleck in the CBS movies.

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