Lectins aren’t something we here our avian community talk about much, if at all, but it’s time we begin exposing the truth so that we begin feeding our birds the right foods in the right amounts.
Lectins are placed in foods by Nature as “anti-nutrients” to protect foods from predators. Yep, all foods view us and our pets as predators! No matter what kind of food it is the name of the game is “survival of the fittest!” Lectins hide, unsuspectingly in foods that would otherwise seem very healthy for our birds, but when we finally begin to look deeper into each food and the constituents, those foods contain often isolated ingredients in certain foods can wreak absolute havoc on our birds systems. Lectins are one of those naturally occurring constituents. Now maybe if we only fed one or two foods on an occasional basis containing lectins it wouldn’t be so bad. But when we feed 4,5 or 6 foods containing lectins on a regular and daily basis these “toxins” build up in our birds’ systems to the point of almost no return to a healthy homeostasis!
Let’s look at the definition of “lectins” to understand what they are and what they can do to the digestive tract.
Lectin: Lectins are glycoproteins of 60,000-100,000 MW (molecular weights) that are known for their ability to agglutinate (clump) erythrocytes [ĕ-rith´ro-sīt] (red blood cell) in vitro. There are over 400,000 estimated binding sites for kidney bean agglutinin on the surface of each erythrocyte. Lectins are found in most types of beans, including soybeans. Reduced growth, diarrhea, and interference with nutrient absorption are caused by this class of toxicants. (1) ID: lectin PART OF SPEECH: n SYNONYM: Plant Hemagglutinin TERM ELEMENT: Hemagglutinin DEFINITION Protein or glycoprotein substances, usually of plant origin, of non-immunoglobulin nature, capable of specific recognition of and reversible binding to, carbohydrate moieties of complex glycol-conjugates without altering the covalent structure of any of the recognized glycosyl ligands. This group includes monovalent lectins (i.e. bacterial and plant toxins). These lectins bind to sugar moieties in cell walls or membranes and thereby change the physiology of the membrane to cause agglutination, mitosis, or other biochemical changes in the cell. (agglutination- clumping; mitosis-multiplication or division of a cell forming two daughter cells) (2)
Most legumes, if not all contain lectins, but legumes (beans, peas, lentils, including peanuts) seem to be most abundant in lectins. However, many vegetables, greens, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains, even meat and dairy contain lectins as well, but at a lower level and sometimes a different class of lectins. Yep, lectins are hiding in all foods, but we can learn what foods contain the highest amount of lectins, how to reduce those lectins and which foods to completely avoid feeding to our birds. Remember what I said about Nature placing lectins in ALL foods? Here we have it, folks, lectins as well as many other kinds of anti-nutrients such as phytates, oxalates and saponins are placed in all foods to deter predators from attacking, destroying and devouring them!
The most common and harmful lectins are found in:
• Nightshades including tomato, potato, and eggplant.
• Glutens found in wheat, rye, barley, malt, and oats.
• Legumes, all beans including soy and peanut.
• Dairy including all milk products, milk, cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, kefir.
Lectins can be reduced, but not completely eliminated in seeds, nuts, and legumes by soaking and sprouting. (This also reduces the phytic \ˌfīt-ik-\ acid that binds certain minerals like calcium and other dietary minerals.) Lectins can also be reduced by cooking, but unfortunately cooking destroys the digestive enzymes, the fatty acids (Omegas) and most the vitamins as well. If we really want to reduce the lectins in our birds’ diets, we will completely eliminate or drastically reduce the foods highest in lectins. This is one reason why I dramatically restrict all grains and legumes in my birds’ diets.
Just what do lectins do to the digestive tract?
Lectins bind with the carbohydrates from the foods they are in, as well as other foods passing through the digestive tract disallowing proper and total digestion. This interrupts the digestive process harming the delicate mucosal lining of the digestive tract. “Avian leaky gut” begins to set in. After years and years of lectins passing through the digestive tract and degradation of the mucosal lining taking place, minuscule food particles and bacteria entering the blood system auto-immune disorders begin to set in. Once our birds begin to experience illness and disease, we never stop to think the illnesses may have started in the digestive tract, but most likely they did by the slow tearing away of the mucosal lining where bacteria began entering the blood stream. All of this may have been caused by overfeeding foods such as legumes, grains, wheat, barley, oats, cheeses and other starches all very high in lectins.
What do we do now?
We immediately begin to reduce the amount of foods highest in lectins. We learn how to reduce the lectins in the foods we feed that do contains lectins. We learn how to begin helping our birds’ digestive tracts heal from the damage suffered from feeding foods high in lectins.
One of the best foods we can feed that is almost lectin-free is organic mango. The only part of the mango where lectins have been isolated is in the rind. So peel your bird’s mango and feed the meat of the fruit!(4) Make your bird’s diet high in mango! Feeding this food is not only indigenous to your bird’s natural habitat where it’s ancestors originated from, but it’s also just a good all-around tropical staple food high in Omega 3s, beta-carotene and the amino acid “lysine” exotic birds require to thrive. If you’re still bent on feeding a legume, Mung beans contain fewer lectins than most other legumes, even though they still contain phytic acid, but both can be greatly reduced by soaking and sprouting. (5) (See my article about “Soaking, Germinating, Sprouting and Microgreens”)
When it comes to healing our birds’ digestive tract, we want to feed foods containing glycine and proline which help to restore the mucosal lining. Again, I have to turn to mango which is high in both of these nutrients. However, we also need to feed foods high in butyric acid. While all of us were doing nothing more than trying to get quality plant protein into our birds, along with minerals and other nutrients, we have been feeding loads and loads of legumes containing high amounts of lectins! And yes, even though these legumes contain short-chain fatty acids that supposedly ferment in the proventriculus (first stomach) which are supposed to provide healthy nutrition, most of that nutrition is blocked by the lectins binding those carbohydrates! No wonder so many of our birds seem to be holding a good weight almost to obesity yet are “malnourished” showing signs of illness, disease and engage in feather destruction. The type of nutrition we have been feeding is not the “right kind” of nutrition for exotic birds!
What is the right kind of nutrition for exotic birds?
Using field research conducted by those scientists who actually go into the rain and arid forests and study the eating habits of exotic birds, combined along with good common sense we are finally beginning to understand that “you are what you eat.” Literally.
Exotic birds are no different and cannot be “taken out of the forest” expected to consume a “domestic” diet like humans eat.
Instead we, as caregivers need to go back “into the forest” for the good health of our birds; they thrive best on what Nature intended for them, tropical foods. It is our duty and obligation to these majestic creatures to find foods as they would consume in their indigenous habitats, or foods very similar to those foods. Most of us have access to mango, papaya, bananas, even some amount of passion fruit, dragon fruit, noni, inca berries and more. We can supplement the tender greens they may find with other tender greens we can grow as microgreens; greens such as cilantro, arugula, and dandelion greens. We need to educate ourselves as well as our fellow bird-lovers regarding those lectin-containing foods that are able to be soaked and sprouted to reduce the anti-nutrients such as lectins and phytates. Foods such as seeds, legumes, nuts and grains are able to be prepped in this way to help ensure the best of nutrition for our birds.
When we understand what foods to avoid, and what foods to feed and how to prepare and combine those foods for maximum nutrition, our birds are sure to thrive instead of barely survive. Learning how to feed our birds properly is the best preventative medicine for our birds ensuring a long and healthy life so our birds can enjoy their lives while we enjoy their companionship!
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