Key Takeaways

  1. The Plant Paradox is a book written by Dr. Steven R. Gundry that claims lectins are the cause of almost all human disease and dysfunction.
  2. Lectins are a class of protein molecules that bind to particular carbohydrates, including things like glucose (blood sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and cellulose (fiber).
  3. An abundance of scientific research shows most lectins aren’t harmful to most people, and cooking foods eliminates most of the lectins they contain anyway.

Every year, a couple health and wellness books go great guns, saturating the airwaves and selling millions of copies.

You know, books like How Not to Die, Grain Brain, and Why We Get Fat.

The talk of the town is currently Dr. Steven Gundry’s The Plant Paradox, which claims the conventional advice of eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is flawed and in many cases even harmful.

In other words, according to Dr. Gundry, many of the foods you’ve been told were good for you contain substances that spark “chemical warfare” in your body and insidiously undermine your health over time.

Gluten, dairy, and sugar—the usual suspects—are fingered, but so is another component of many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains that many people haven’t heard of: lectins.

These little “splinters of protein,” as Dr. Gundry calls them, purportedly wreak havoc in the body, causing weight gain, “leaky gut,” cancer, and heart, brain, and autoimmune disease, as well as a slew of nuisances like acne, gas, morning stiffness, joint pain, migraines, and chronic pain and fatigue.

In fact, lectins are so destructive that Dr. Gundry denounces them as the common cause for most health problems, full stop. Thus, he says, it’s time to slaughter the sacred nutrition cow of generally eating more plant food, because it’s making people sick, fat, and ultimately dead.

To support his claims, Dr. Gundry stands on the shoulders of his 40-year career as an accomplished surgeon and medical expert, which includes:

  • Performing over 10,000 heart surgeries
  • Patenting multiple medical devices widely used in heart surgeries
  • Pioneering new research on heart transplants for infants
  • Serving as volunteer president of the American Heart Association
  • Founding a “waitlist-only” clinic for disseminating his wisdom to a lucky few

He’s also scored major social proof for his teachings, including appearing on just about every major mainstream media platform and receiving celebrity endorsements.

It’s hard to argue with bona fides like those. Or is it?

While Dr.Gundry presents himself as a charismatic caregiver who only wants what’s best for his patients and the world, many of his peers aren’t buying it.

They point to gaping holes in his interpretation of the research, which they say clearly rejects his lectin hypothesis and maintains the nutritional value of getting the majority of your calories from plant foods.

Who’s right?

Well, the short story is this:

The Plant Paradox is rife with inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and outright misinformation, and the diet espoused in it is unnecessarily restrictive and blatantly designed to sell people overpriced and ineffective supplements.

And in this article, you’re going to find out why.

What Is the Plant Paradox Diet?

plant paradox

“Suppose that in the next few pages I told you that everything you thought you knew about your diet, your health, and your weight is wrong?”

That line is pulled from the first few pages of The Plant Paradox, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

Its central premise is that while plants do have health benefits, they also come with serious risks. Hence the “paradox.”

Specifically, many plants contain proteins called lectins, which, according to Dr. Gundry, are extremely harmful to our bodies. In fact, he frequently refers to them in the book as “killer lectins” and claims they’re the root cause of most of the diseases prevalent in the modern world.

Dr. Gundry says that lectins . . .

  • Damage the lining of the intestine, resulting in “leaky gut”
  • Disrupt your body’s ability to control blood sugar levels
  • Kill healthy gut bacteria and help bad bacteria thrive
  • Cause kidney inflammation
  • Cause and exacerbate autoimmune disease
  • And more

Lectins are hard to avoid, too, because they’re in many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, as well as some meats, eggs, and dairy.

Thus, Dr. Gundry advises you to eat very carefully, sticking mostly to a short list of plants that you carefully prepare and cook to remove lectins as well as moderate amounts of fish, grass-fed meat, and oil. And if you really must eat forbidden plants, you must pressure cook them first to neutralize the offending molecules (boiling won’t get the job done, he says).

Gluten is also prohibited, of course, as it’s a lectin, but you can’t simply replace your favorite foods with gluten-free alternatives, says Dr. Gundry. In many cases, gluten-free foods use flours made from plants like almonds, beans, quinoa, and buckwheat, which are all high in lectins. Thus, it’s possible to go from bad to worse when going gluten free.

In this way, The Plant Paradox uses a clever marketing scheme that exploits the general awareness and popularity of gluten-free dieting. Basically, what Dr. Gundry is saying is that yes, you must go gluten free, but you must do it this way or you’re endangering your health.

In other words, The Plant Paradox bills itself as the next evolution of gluten-free dieting.

For extra marketing firepower, it incorporates elements of the paleo diet as well. For example, Dr. Gundry insists that meat must be grass-fed, wild caught, and free of hormones or antibiotics of any kind.

Finally, the diet begins with a three-day lectin-free cleanse, where you cut out all . . .

  • Dairy
  • Grains or pseudo-grains
  • Fruit
  • Sugar
  • Seeds
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Nightshade plants
  • Roots
  • Tubers
  • Corn
  • Soy
  • Canola
  • Inflammatory oils
  • Farm animal proteins

And during this period, Dr. Gundry urges you to eat liberally from the following menu:

  • Cruciferous vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Bok choy
  • Napa cabbage
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Swiss chard
  • Arugula
  • Watercress
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Radicchio
  • Raw sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Nopales cactus
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Chives
  • Scallions
  • Chicory
  • Carrots
  • Carrot greens
  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Daikon radishes
  • Artichokes
  • Hearts of palm
  • Cilantro
  • Okra
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic
  • Leafy greens
  • Romaine
  • Kohlrabi
  • Mesclun
  • Spinach
  • Endive
  • Dandelion greens
  • Butter lettuce
  • Fennel
  • Escarole
  • Mustard greens
  • Mizuna
  • Parsley
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Purslane
  • Perilla
  • Algae
  • Seaweed
  • Sea vegetables
  • Mushrooms
  • Small portions of pasture-raised poultry and wild-caught seafood
  • Avocado oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Sesame seed oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Flaxseed oil

Basically, you should stick to low-calorie vegetables, lean meats, and oil, much like the Mediterranean diet and other similar methods of “clean eating.”

What Are Lectins?

plant paradox lectins

The “unique selling proposition” of The Plant Paradox revolves around lectins, so let’s take a closer look at what they are and why they’re the target of Dr. Gundry’s ire.

Lectins, also known as phytohemagglutinins, are a class of protein molecules that bind to particular carbohydrates, including glucose (blood sugar), sucrose (table sugar), and cellulose (fiber).

Lectins are present in almost all forms of life, from plants to animals to microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Different lectins bind to different carbs and go by different names, but some of the most common ones in our diets include gluten, wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), peanut agglutinin, and soy, kidney, and black bean lectins.

Lectins serve many vital functions in living organisms.

For instance, in animals, they help cells latch onto one another so they can carry out various functions that require physical contact. The lectins on the surface of one cell are attracted to the carbohydrates on the surface of another cell, drawing them together. Our immune system uses mannan-binding lectin to help identify germs that should be destroyed by white blood cells. Scientists are even researching the use of lectins as cancer-fighting compounds.

In plants, most researchers believe lectins are a defense mechanism against bugs.

Plants can’t flee predators, so they’ve developed special ways to protect themselves from being eaten, including tough bark (oak), thorns (raspberry bushes), irritants (poison ivy), and toxins (pokeweed).

Lectins are one of these countermeasures. They deter would-be eaters by disrupting digestion, causing illness, and in some cases, causing intestinal damage or death. For example, some genetically modified crops are designed to have an increased lectin content, killing many types of predatory insects.

The most dangerous example of a plant lectin is ricin, a highly toxic chemical obtained from the castor bean plant. The most notable case of ricin poisoning was the assassination of Georgi Markov, a dissident Bulgarian writer who was killed by a KGB agent who injected him with a pellet of ricin using a syringe hidden in an umbrella.

All that doesn’t mean that all, or even most, lectins are harmful to humans, however. In fact, most are benign and some are even beneficial.

Let’s find out why.

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Are Lectins Bad for You?

According to Dr. Gundry, the primary reason lectins are harmful to humans is they attack the digestive system, and the lining of the small intestine in particular, causing inflammation that leads to all manner of ailments.

Over time, as you eat more and more meals full of lectins, your small intestine becomes compromised and loses its ability to keep bacteria, food particles, and toxins out of your blood. And then the real problems begin.

If you’ve read anything about gluten, celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, you’re probably familiar with this idea, but here’s the gist in case you’re not familiar with it:

The lining of the small intestine serves as a barrier that keeps “bad” things in, like large particles of food and pathogens, and only lets “good” things through and into the blood, like nutrients.

This lining is only one cell thick, and it’s made up of millions of hairlike “fingers” known as microvilli. These structures help your body further break down food and then absorb the nutrients it provides.

Here’s what microvilli look like:

microvilli

You can think of these little guys as an important line of defense between what you eat and what makes it inside your body. When microvilli become damaged, small gaps open up between them, allowing unwanted molecules to pass through and into the bloodstream.

Some of these molecules can be pretty nasty, too. For example, lipopolysaccharides are toxins produced by bacteria in the gut that normally remain safely trapped in the intestine. If they leak through, however, they can cause inflammation throughout the body.

This phenomenon is often called “leaky gut,” and its star is rapidly rising. (More on this in a minute.)

While many health gurus blame gluten the most for cases of leaky gut, Dr. Gundry ups the ante by claiming that not just gluten but all lectins damage microvilli and thus contribute to leaky gut. Moreover, once they’ve broken through your intestine’s defenses, he says, lectins enter the bloodstream and continue their rampage, damaging other organs like the kidneys, heart, and brain.

“Everyone who has a disease has a leaky gut,” says Dr. Gundry.  “. . . all disease begins in the gut.”

To make matters worse, lectins can also purportedly behave like hormones in the body and disturb the normal functioning of cells. For example, Dr. Gundry says certain lectins mimic the effects of insulin in the body, causing fat storage and weight gain.

Such hysterics have convinced millions of people that lectins are the work of the devil, but how true is all of this?

What does the scientific literature really say?

Well, there’s still a lot we don’t know about lectins and so it would be dishonest to fully exonerate them as harmless to all people and under all circumstances.

That said, there’s enough high-quality research to say we know enough lectins to blow all of Dr. Gundry’s principal hypotheses out of the airlock and thereby dismantle and disarm The Plant Paradox.

And that sounds like fun, so let’s get started, shall we?

The healthiest people in the world eat a lot of lectins.

The first and most obvious counterargument to Dr. Gundry’s lectin-phobia is the people in the world who tend to live the longest, enjoy the best health, and experience the least disease all eat a lot of lectins.

For example, the populations in Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Japan, Sardinia, Italy, and Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica are known for their robust health and impressively long lifespans. They also get most of their calories from lectin-ridden fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as moderate amounts of lectin-containing fish, grain-fed meat, and oil.

In other words, they eat along the lines of the Mediterranean diet, which consists of a lot of lectin-containing foods.

For example, many of their calories come from lectin-rich plants like potatoes, cereal grains, pasta, and whole-grain bread, and fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and cherries, as well as nuts and seeds, which are all on Dr. Gundry’s banned list.

In fact, there are at least 54 fruits, vegetables, spices, and other commonly eaten plants that contain large amounts of lectins, including grapes, melons, zucchini, carrots, garlic, mushrooms, quinoa, oats, bulgur, tomatoes, and barley.

And yes, most of these are also verboten according to Herr Gundry.

All of the peoples just mentioned also eat large amounts of legumes, including beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas, and others. Ironically, beans contain more lectins than almost any other food. And no, none of these cultures use fancy cooking methods to remove or nullify the lectins from their food, either.

So, riddle me this, Dr. Gundry: if lectins are powerful poisons, how can people who eat extremely lectin-rich diets be the healthiest folks in the world?

Dr. Joel Kahn asked Dr. Gundry about this in a live debate, and his response was laughable. “It’s not about how long you live,” Dr. Gundry said, “it’s about how well you live,” implying that although the “Blue Zone” denizens, as they’re called, may live long lives, they don’t live vibrant, enjoyable ones.

This is demonstrably false.

Research shows most are physically and mentally active, present, and healthy and happy by all relevant standards well into their 80s and 90s. In other words, these guys and gals are enjoying a quality of life as good as any of us can hope for in old age.

There’s no real scientific debate about the nutritional value of fruits and vegetables.

At this point, the weight of the evidence is so uneven that it’s more or less an established fact that eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will make you healthier, happier, and longer-lived than eating less.

This line of research stretches back decades, going all the way back to the Seven Countries Study published in 1963, which found that people in certain areas of the world who ate more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also tended to live the longest.

Since then, a wealth of clinical trials, research reviews, and meta-analyses have been conducted on the matter, and the consensus is overwhelmingly clear: plant foods are great for our bodies. Full stop.

Dr. Gundry acknowledges this but believes the health benefits associated with eating more fruits and vegetables and less red meat, saturated fat, and sugar are simply masking the harmful effects of eating lectin-rich plants.

In other words, by eating plenty of plant foods and few animal or processed foods, people are doing their body enough “good” to compensate for the “bad” caused by the lectins, but they’d be even better off by cutting out the “bad” altogether.

This is pure sophistry.

Instead of directly demonstrating negative effects caused by lectins, Dr. Gundry begs the question and offers an ad hoc hypothesis of why his first unproven hypothesis might be true.

Besides, even if lectins were as harmful as Dr. Gundry claims, it seems unlikely that the relatively minor health benefits of following a heavy plant-based diet like the Mediterranean diet would counteract their negative effects.

Here’s another way to think about it: if lectins were actually the nutritional equivalent of ISIS, as Dr. Gundry claims, does it really make sense that they can be defused by simply eating more fruits and vegetables and a bit less animal products? Are fruits and vegetables really that powerful?

Research suggests that’s very unlikely. Plant foods are nutritious and health-giving but not magic bullets.

That’s why the most logical conclusion here is . . . WAIT FOR IT . . . that eating lots of plants is good for you and lectins probably aren’t an issue, which is why the longest-lived people on earth eat lots of plants and lectins.

The bottom line is the healthiest people on earth generally get most of their calories from foods that are high in lectins like legumes, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, which aren’t specially prepared according to Dr. Gundry’s recommendations for fully eliminating lectins.

Lectins don’t make you fat, overeating does.

lectins make you fat

“I read this book… it worked,” says Kelly Clarkson about The Plant Paradox. “My autoimmune disease is gone and I’m 37 pounds lighter in my pleather.”

According to Dr. Gundry, thousands of other people have followed his dietary advice to lose large amounts of weight. Neato.

Is that because eating nothing but “healthy” foods tends to reduce calorie intake, making it easier to create an energy deficit large enough to result in significant weight loss?

No, silly, it’s thanks to Dr. Gundry’s breakthrough discovery in the field of metabolic voodoo!

You see, Dr. Gundry claims lectins mimic insulin in the body, which in turn promotes fat storage and causes weight gain. Not only that, lectins can also apparently impair glucose uptake in muscle, brain, and nerve cells and thereby blunt repair and growth. Yikes!

As evidence of this, Dr. Gundry references a study conducted by scientists at Johns Hopkins University.

In this experiment, researchers soaked fat cells extracted from rats in various concentrations of wheat lectins. Then, they exposed the fat cells to insulin and glucose and measured how well the lectins adhered to them and how this impacted their sensitivity to insulin and ability to absorb glucose.

The scientists found that small concentrations of lectins readily attached to fat cells and actually improved insulin sensitivity, whereas large concentrations of lectins decreased insulin sensitivity.

As a general rule, you want your fat cells to be sensitive to insulin as this allows them to more effectively pull excess glucose out of the blood and store it away, where it can’t harm the body.

In this way, it may sound like improving insulin sensitivity in your fat cells is “bad” because it “causes weight gain,” and thus eating small amounts of lectins would be “bad” for your waistline (but eating larger amounts would be “good,” due to a reduction in insulin sensitivity), but it’s not that simple.

First, insulin sensitivity isn’t some inconvenient mechanism that “makes you fat”—it’s a vital component of our health. If it becomes too impaired in your body, you develop type II diabetes, which can kill if you left untreated.

Second, no amount of insulin or insulin sensitivity or insensitivity can by itself “make you fatter”—only overeating can. In other words, your body weight is dictated by your energy balance, not the foods you eat or physiological effects they do or don’t have in your body.

So, with that in mind, the study we just reviewed could be considered evidence that lectins may be beneficial in small amounts and harmful in larger doses.

Dr. Gundry ignored the positive findings of the research, however, and instead only focused on the fact that large amounts of lectins decreased insulin sensitivity.

It’s also worth mentioning the study didn’t measure the insulin sensitivity of muscle, brain, or nerve tissue, as Dr. Gundry said they did, so we actually have no idea what effects lectins may or may not have.

Another major problem with how Dr. Gundry represented this study is its results can’t be extrapolated to living people.

It was conducted on isolated rat fat cells in a petri dish, not in living people, which are two very different experiments that can produce wildly different results. Just because cells behave one way in a lab doesn’t mean they behave the same way in a body.

By definition, these “mechanistic” studies are designed to produce exaggerated, unrealistic results that give scientists a clue as to what might be going on at a cellular level inside the body. These findings can then point the way for further in-depth research to explore the questions and possibilities raised, but can’t also provide definitive answers.

For example, it’s not even clear that plant lectins would be able to reach fat cells without first being broken down or altered by the digestive system. Or that they’d be able to reach fat cells in large enough amounts to have any significant effect. Or that the body doesn’t have other mechanisms of ensuring compounds like lectins don’t interfere with one of its most critical hormones (insulin).

More research would be required—and with living, breathing people, not standalone cells from another species—to determine any of these things.

As if all that weren’t enough, this is one of the only studies to ever look at how lectins might affect insulin sensitivity or fat cell metabolism, and no scientist has pretended it’s anything other than a curious snapshot of the behavior of in vitro fat cells . . . except Dr. Gundry, of course.

So, as far as I can tell, Dr. Gundry’s just following the same playbook as the rest of the shysters selling fad diets that rob people of their time, money, and often health:

  1. Tell people the reason they’re overweight isn’t their fault and has nothing to do with how much they eat, only what they eat.
  2. Proclaim he’s discovered the real primary cause of unwanted weight gain: eating a particular food or food group.
  3. Promise that if people follow his [insert food/food group here]-free diet plan to the letter, starting with a “cleanse,” “fast,” or “detox,” effortless weight loss can be achieved.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find in The Plant Paradox, “cleanse” and all. Eat the right foods, avoid the wrong ones, he coos, and your body will take care of the rest, regardless of how much you eat.

This is music to many people’s ears who want to believe they can get lean and fit without ever having to restrict or even pay attention to calories, “macros,” or anything other than what they put into their mouths.

This is malarkey. In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s a blatant lie because, as far as your body weight is concerned, how much you eat is far more important than what you eat.

Don’t believe me?

Just ask Kansas State University Professor Mark Haub, who lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks eating Hostess cupcakes, Doritos, Oreos, and whey protein shakes. Or a science teacher, John Cisna, who lost 56 pounds in six months eating nothing but McDonald’s. Or Kai Sedgwick, a fitness enthusiast who got into the best shape of his life following a rigorous workout routine and eating McDonald’s every day for a month.

I don’t recommend you follow in their footsteps (the nutritional value of your diet does matter), but they prove an indisputable point: you can lose fat and gain muscle while eating copious amounts of junk food, lectins, sugar, preservatives, and all.

The key to understanding how this works—and to understanding what really drives weight loss and gain—is energy balance, which is the relationship between energy intake (calories eaten) and output (calories burned).

Various foods contain varying numbers of calories. For example, nuts are very energy dense, containing about 6.5 calories per gram, on average. Celery, on the other hand, contains very little stored energy, with just 0.15 calories per gram.

If you add up the calories of all the food you eat in a day and then compare that number to how many calories you burn in the same period, you’d notice one of three things:

  1. You ate more calories than you burned. (Do this often enough and you’ll gain weight.)
  2. You ate fewer calories than you burned. (Do this often enough and you’ll lose weight.)
  3. You ate more or less the same number of calories as you burned. (Do this often enough and you’ll maintain your weight.)

It’s that simple.

Dr. Gundry, wants to avoid any such discussion, however, because it’s unsexy to the average person wanting to drop pounds. “Eat less than I want to? Hard pass.” Instead, he wants to pander to them by blaming lectins for their excess weight and offering a more palatable (and profitable) solution.

That said, there are people who’ve lost quite a bit of weight on The Plant Paradox diet. You possibly could, too. But not because of lectins. The real reason Dr. Gundry’s diet “works” for some people is the primary source of excess calories in the American diet comes from processed, refined grains.

In other words, what do you think happens to people’s average calorie intake when they completely eliminate donuts, cakes, pies, breakfast cereals, cookies, PopTarts, pasta, bread, and all of their other flour-filled goodies?

That’s right—it plummets, often beneath their total daily energy expenditure, and especially if they’re also exercising regularly. Hence the weight loss often experienced by people who start following any type of “clean eating” regimen.

The bottom line is there’s no good evidence that lectin-rich foods contribute to body fatness or weight gain. On the contrary, eating foods high in lectins such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is generally associated with lower body weights and weight loss.

Lectins don’t give you heart disease.

lectins heart disease

In The Plant Paradox, interviews, and articles, Dr. Gundry repeatedly claims lectins contribute to or even cause heart disease.

As usual, he says nothing of the large body of evidence showing people who eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains have a lower risk of heart disease—regardless of the lectin content of their diets.

Instead, to validate his allegation, Dr. Gundry cites a “study” he conducted with another researcher that, uh, isn’t a study but an abstract of a poster presentation for the medical community—one that hasn’t been peer-reviewed, published in a journal or even shared as a complete research paper.

It’s literally a paragraph about a study the two researchers say they did, somewhere, at some point.

According to the presentation, Dr. Gundry and his buddy took 200 patients with heart disease and put them on a diet that involved:

  • Large amounts of green leafy vegetables
  • Olive oil
  • Near elimination of grains, legumes, nightshades, and fruits
  • Large amounts of grass-fed animal products
  • Large amounts of shellfish
  • Little or no commercial poultry
  • A supplement regimen including fish oil, grape seed extract, and pycnogenol

We’re told that six months later, most of the patient’s blood vessels became more pliable, a sign of improved cardiovascular health. Conspicuously missing was any mention of more advanced, accurate testing methods, like looking at plaque buildup in their arteries.

Assuming Dr. Gundry is telling the truth, there are still several major problems with this research:

  1. It’s not a real study as of yet, just a collection of observations.
  2. There’s no mention of a control group, blinding, randomization, statistical analysis, or any other steps normally taken to ensure the results are valid.
  3. Dr. Gundry had the patients make many different dietary changes at once, so it’s impossible to say that reducing lectins was the reason their health improved as opposed to something else, like eating more fish or olive oil or leafy greens.
  4. There’s no mention of how well the patients followed the diet or how the researchers tracked their adherence. For all we know, the patients simply ate whatever they wanted and got better for some other reason.

Dr. Gundry has also made no mention of getting the research peer-reviewed and published, which is what you usually do with legitimate research, or doing a follow-up study to further explore the matter and build a convincing line of evidence.

Strange, considering this is supposedly the single best way to prevent and cure all disease. Why wouldn’t he want to share this breakthrough revelation with other medical practitioners the scientific community at large?

Instead, it’s just something he can trot out again and again to “sciencewash” his book and browbeat his naysayers.

The bottom line is that there’s no evidence lectins contribute to heart disease and a large amount of evidence eating lectin-containing foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease.

Lectins don’t cause “leaky gut” unless you have celiac disease.

“Leaky gut” is a term that’s used to describe a condition where the lining of the intestine has become compromised, allowing harmful substances to enter the bloodstream.

As you learned earlier, Dr. Gundry claims lectins cause this and thus can lead to all manner of physical and mental maladies.

Lo and behold, the scientific evidence doesn’t agree with him. At all.

First of all, “leaky gut” isn’t a recognized medical diagnosis by any credible health agency. Instead, it’s a buzzword health and diet gurus use to describe excessive intestinal permeability.

In case you’re not familiar with it, intestinal permeability is a functional feature of the intestine that regulates the amount of nutrients, bacteria, and other substances that can pass through the intestinal barrier and into the bloodstream. This function can vary greatly based on your activity levels, health status, and genetics.

For example, high intensity exercise can increase gut permeability during and after a workout.

It’s not exactly clear why, but it’s likely due to the body attempting to absorb more nutrients from the food in your digestive system to fuel your muscles.

Research also shows this exercise-induced increase in intestinal permeability is temporary and usually doesn’t cause any negative symptoms or effects on the body.

Self-styled health experts and fake Internet doctors conveniently ignore such information, however, and instead point to studies showing a) people with autoimmune diseases often have abnormally high levels of intestinal permeability and b) eating certain foods, such as gluten and kidney bean lectin, can increase intestinal permeability.

Therefore wherefore heretofore ergo vis-a-vis abracadabra, eating foods containing lectins causes leaky gut and autoimmune disease!

Or not.

The only high-quality evidence that particular foods can cause excessive intestinal permeability is in people with celiac disease. When they eat the lectin gluten, yes, bad things happen in their intestines.

The reason for this is celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disease in which eating gluten triggers the immune system to attack intestinal cells. If this happens often enough, it destroys the microvilli of the small intestine, increases intestinal permeability, and eventually causes death if untreated.

There’s also evidence that people with irritable bowel syndrome may experience an increase in symptoms from eating certain plant foods, but it’s not clear this is due to lectins or another component in the foods called FODMAPs.

As for the rest of us who don’t have either of those relatively rare conditions, there’s no reason to believe eating lectins will cause us any gut issues.

There are a few studies bandied about by lectin-haters to substantiate their theories, but they’re all animal studies, and some aren’t even conducted on live animals but isolated cells in petri dishes.

For example, one study conducted by scientists at Lund University found that force-feeding baby rats large amounts of red kidney bean lectin caused damage to the microvilli. Bad news if you’re a wee rat who likes chili, but totally irrelevant if you’re a human.

Although we share 98% of our genes with them, big rodents we aren’t, so many findings from rodent research don’t necessarily apply to us.

The bottom line is that unless you have celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome, eating lectins doesn’t give you a “leaky gut” or negatively impact your gut health.

Humans have been eating lectins a very, very long time.

plant paradox criticism

If you want to convince someone of something, if you can appeal to science or history, you’re going to have a much easier time of it.

Unsurprisingly, then, Dr. Gundry claims that his lectin-free diet is in line with “ancestral living” evolution. Early humans subsisted on relatively low-lectin meat, fruits, and vegetables, he says, mostly because their foods contained much fewer lectins then than now.

Why?

Well, don’t look into it but apparently it’s because in-season fruits and vegetables are naturally lower in lectins than those harvested out of season or artificially ripened (not options for our forebears).

There’s no evidence for any of that, of course, but Dr. Gundry isn’t one to let that get in the way of a good sales pitch.

To the contrary, anthropological studies show humans have been eating lectin-containing foods for at least 10,000 years and quite possibly millions of years.

A good example of this comes from a study conducted by scientists at the University of Chicago.

In an in-depth review of 178 studies on our early ancestors, researchers found strong evidence that humans have been eating hard, fibrous plants chock full of lectins for at least four million years.  

They also determined australopithecines, an early human ancestor that lived one to four million years ago, likely had larger molars with a stronger enamel than us modern humans, suggesting they had evolved to chew open tough nuts and seeds.

Other scientists think australopithecines may have gotten a significant portion of their calories from lectin-rich tuberous plants, which are similar to modern potatoes. Another group of researchers estimated that pre-agricultural humans, who lived more than 12,000 years ago, got around 65% of their total calories from plant foods that likely contained considerable amounts of lectins, as is normal with most plants.

Finally, several studies show that existing primitive cultures like the Aborigines in Australia and the !Kung in Africa get a significant portion of their calories from beans, nuts, seeds, peas, and other high-lectin plants, and that this has likely been the case for a very long time.

Dr. Gundry also says eating more and more lectins over the last 10 millennia or so has made us smaller and weaker, as indicated by the reduction of the height of the average human from about 6 feet tall than to just 5’6 today.

According to most anthropological evidence, however, men were about 5’6 10,000 years ago, so once again, we can only wonder what the hell Dr. Gundry’s talking about.

The bottom line is that humans have been not just surviving, but thriving for thousands and possibly millions of years eating a diet high in plant lectins.

Cooking lectins nullifies any potential negative side effects.

Dr. Gundry is right about one thing: some plant lectins can make people sick when eaten raw.

One of the best examples of this comes from a case study in which a British hospital served its employees a dish that contained uncooked red kidney beans for lunch. Several hours later, the staff were uncontrollably puking and pooping for the rest of the day.

All had recovered by the next day, and at first everyone thought it might have been food poisoning, but bacteria tests of the food came back negative.

Instead, they concluded that the illness was caused by eating the uncooked kidney beans, and for good reason.

Raw kidney beans contain some of the highest concentrations of lectins of any food, and it has been general knowledge for some time now that they along with certain other raw beans can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach aches.

This is why almost everyone eats beans that have been soaked, cooked, or canned, which greatly reduces their lectin content.

Dr. Gundry acknowledges this, but says it’s not enough. To truly make beans and other high-lectin plant foods safe to eat, you must pressure cook them to eliminate most of the lectins.

And he’s wrong again, of course.

According to a study conducted by scientists at the University of Sao Paulo, boiling beans and other lectin-containing foods for 15 minutes is enough to eliminate almost all of the lectin content. If you use a pressure cooker you can achieve the same effect in just 7.5 minutes, but the end result is the same.

As the scientists put it,  “In relation to lectins, there seems to be no residual activity left in properly processed legumes.”

Soaking is another effective method for nullifying lectins. In a study conducted by scientists at Michigan State University, soaking red kidney beans for 12 hours reduced the lectin content by 50%.

Similarly, although Dr. Gundry tells people to avoid farm-raised meat, eggs, and dairy due to their lectin content, most people consume these foods cooked or pasteurized, which eliminates most of the lectins.

And in any case, most of the residual lectins in properly prepared food that do make it into your body bind to carbohydrate molecules, rendering them inert.

The bottom line is cooking, soaking, and canning lectin-containing foods greatly reduces the lectin content, making them safe to eat even in large amounts.

Dr. Gundry’s Products Are Bullshit

plant paradox supplements

Dr. Gundry doesn’t just have dubious diet advice for you.

He also has an extensive line of suspicious supplements to sell you that are “essential” for protecting your body against the negative effects of lectins.

As he writes in The Plant Paradox, “Getting all of the nutrients you need simply cannot be done without supplements.”

One of his flagship products is “Lectin Shield,” which is supposed to “bind to and block the plant-proteins, acting together to give your body full anti-lectin support making it easier for you every time you eat lectin foods.”

That’s right, chump friend, if you don’t want to follow Dr. Gundry’s highly impractical and restrictive dietary advice, you can just take his supplement instead and eat whatever you want! Forever and ever!

And how does this wonderpill accomplish this? With the following . . .

  • 300 mg of N-Acetyl D-Glucosamine
  • 200 mg of Bladderwrack
  • 100 mg of D-Mannose
  • 100 mg of Okra Fruit
  • 100 mg of Sialic Acid (Mucin)
  • 50 mg of Vegetable Peptase
  • 50 mg of Methylsulfonylmethane
  • 50 mg of Larch Arabinogalactan

I’ll admit that I didn’t even know what some of these compounds were at first (because they’re almost never included in supplements), so I asked Kurtis Frank, the Director of Research and Development for Legion Athletics and the co-founder of Examine.com, the premier source of science-based information on supplementation, to review the formulation.

The first thing he noticed is most of the ingredients are some of the cheapest stuff you can possibly buy—the kind of things usually included because they cost nothing and look nice on the label.

The second problem Kurtis noticed is although Dr. Gundry’s claim that some of the ingredients bind to and neutralize lectins isn’t incorrect, what he fails to mention is almost anything that contains carbohydrates does the same, including the carbs we eat. In other words, you don’t need to swallow expensive pills to achieve this effect—a mouthful or two of rice will work just as well.

The third point Kurtis brought up is almost none of the studies cited on the Lectin Shield sales page have anything to do with the claims they’re connected with.

For example, Dr. Gundry (‘s crappy copywriter) claims that “N Acetyl D-Glucosamine binds to harmful lectins from wheat. Since wheat lectins have been associated with joint problems, this wheat lectin blocker is also a popular ingredient in joint health supplements.”

There is a single study showing that N Acetyl D-Glucosamine binds to gliadin, one of the proteins that make up gluten. This might benefit someone with celiac disease, but there’s not enough evidence to say for sure.

A few paragraphs later, Dr. Gundry cites another study in support of using N Acetyl D-Glucosamine, but it was on regular glucosamine instead. N Acetyl D-Glucosamine is a different molecule with different effects in the body, but lol whatever, will that be cash or credit?

Moving on, the study cited to support the theory that lectins cause joint damage doesn’t even include the word “joint.” In fact, it’s the same case study of the hospital workers who ate raw kidney beans and got sick.

Even goofier is the bit about okra’s ability to help negate lectins. The study referenced to support this benefit found okra binds to lectins found in mistletoe, Abrus precatorius, and a few other plants that nobody eats.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Nearly every single study cited to convince you to pay $80 per bottle has little or nothing to do with the copy and claims.

And since we’re talking numbers, a back of the envelope estimate of Dr. Gundry’s cost for Lectin Shield is about $5 to $7 per bottle. That’s a profit margin of over 1,000%, which is far more exciting than the product itself.

Dr. Gundry’s line of fake catcrap claptrap supplements has some striking examples of underdosing as well.

For example, his “Total Restore” supplement, which promises to “help your body fight leaky gut,” contains 3 milligrams of berberine.

Berberine is an effective supplement for improving glucose absorption into the muscles and reducing inflammation in the gut, but the clinically effective dosage is 1,500 milligrams per day. Three milligrams, 1,500 milligrams, whatever man, science is fake anyway, like math and triangles.

Dr. Gundry’s many other products purportedly provide special nutrients you can’t get anywhere else and include various Goop-esque gimcracks like probiotic skin creams, “polyphenol pearls,” and resveratrol-rich chocolate.

In other words, he’s a shameless shill who foists low-quality junk on people who don’t know any better using slimy sales tactics perfected by other pill and powder pushers. Despite his impressive bona fides, he’s not much better than a white coat-wearing alkaline water salesman.

The bottom line is Dr. Gundry’s products are a sham, what with the fake science, unproven ingredients, and miniscule dosages.

The Plant Paradox Diet Is Ridiculous. Full Stop.

the plant paradox debunked

Of all the fad diets you can choose from these days, Dr. Gundry’s is singularly bad.

Unlike most others exploiting the “clean eating” trend, the diet espoused in The Plant Paradox shuns most fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, which we recall are the foundation of healthy eating.

While it’s helpful to eat a high-protein diet if you want to improve your body composition, nothing improves health, vitality, and longevity like getting the majority of your calories from relatively unprocessed plant foods.

Dr. Gundry upends this well-established fact, however, and says that only some fruits and vegetables should be eaten because the rest dump lectins into your body that wage biochemical warfare against your organs.

Thus, if you truly want to maximize your health and wellbeing, you must . . .

  1. Only eat lectin-free fruits, vegetables, and legumes
  2. Carefully cook all lectin-containing foods in a pressure cooker
  3. Take his supplements to avoid the devastating effects of lectins on your body

In other words, you must eat like an orthorexic and give Dr. Gundry a bunch of money every month.

Dr. Gundry isn’t a doctrinaire, however, and understands that many people won’t be able to do the first and second steps consistently. That’s why he says you can also just skip them altogether and take his supplements! Don’t you just love miracle pills?

One must also wonder why Dr. Gundry somehow failed to include a single word about lectins in his first bestselling diet book, Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution, published in 2008.

When asked about this in an interview with The Atlantic, Dr. Gundry blamed his publisher. He really wanted to talk about lectins, but his big bad editor wouldn’t allow it because he was afraid it would depress book sales.

“I don’t care if you can prove it,” the editor supposedly told Dr. Gundry. “I need to sell books. And you’re gonna help me.”

What an asshole!

Paint me skeptical. Although possible, including information about lectins wouldn’t have changed the dietary advice all that much and quite frankly would’ve improved the book’s marketability, as having a single bogeyman to attack makes for a simpler, stronger hook. Hence the runaway success of The Plant Paradox.

The reality is The Plant Paradox is a pseudoscientific reject and Dr. Gundry is a hypocrite and liar.

At bottom, he has capitalized on the groundswell of fear and misinformation surrounding gluten (a lectin) by claiming all lectins are harmful and has been laughing all the way to the bank ever since.

The bottom line is Dr. Gundry is a quack whose speciality is enriching himself through tricking unwitting people into buying and believing his deceptive diet book and taking his chintzy supplements.

Here’s a Better Way to Eat

By now, you’ve probably decided that The Plant Paradox diet isn’t for you, or at least in the form that Dr. Gundry recommends (supplements and all).

What should you do instead, though? How can you use food to optimize your body composition, physical and psychological health and wellbeing, and longevity?

It’s easier than you might think.

1. Eat mostly whole, minimally processed, nutritious foods.

This includes all kinds of fruits and vegetables regardless of whether or not they’re organic, seasonal, or non-GMO.

Check out this article to learn more:

How to Eat Healthy and Actually Enjoy It (Really!)

2. Eat the right number of calories every day.

If you want to lose weight, eat fewer calories than you burn.

If you want to gain weight, eat more calories than you burn.

And if you want to maintain your weight, eat more or less the same number of calories that you burn.

Once you know how to do these things, you’ll have unlocked a major “secret” to building the body of your dreams.

Check out this article to learn more:

A Simple and Accurate Macronutrient Calculator (and How to Use It)

3. Eat enough protein.

A high-protein diet benefits your body in many ways:

  • It increases satiety (fullness)
  • It helps control blood sugar levels
  • It helps reduce muscle loss and increase muscle gain
  • It helps increase fat loss
  • And more

In short, for most people under most circumstance—and especially physically active people—a high-protein diet is superior to a low-protein one in just about every way.

How much protein should you be eating, then? Check out this article to learn the answer:

How Much Protein You Should Eat to Build Muscle

4. Do a lot of heavy, compound weightlifting.

There are many ways to train your muscles, but if you want to gain size and strength as quickly as possible, nothing is more effective than heavy compound weightlifting.

It’s better than workout machines, “pump” classes, bodyweight exercises, Yoga, Pilates, and band training (which is what Brady recommends in the almost-as-bad training section of his book).

What do I mean by “heavy compound” lifting, though?

By “compound,” I mean focusing on compound exercises, which are those that target multiple large muscle groups, such as the squat, bench press, military press, and deadlift.

And by “heavy,” I mean lifting weights that are at or above 75% of your one-rep max (weights that you can do 12 reps or less with before failing) and coming close to technical failure in most of your sets.

If you want to learn more about why this kind of training is so effective and how to do it properly, check out this article:

The Definitive (and Practical) Guide to Muscle Hypertrophy

5. Take the right supplements.

plant paradox reviews

I saved this for last because it’s the least important.

Unfortunately, no amount of pills or powders are going to give you the body you want.

In fact, most supplements are completely worthless, and that goes for fat burners, muscle builders, health and wellness boosters, cognitive enhancers, and all the rest.

That said, if you’re eating and training properly, the right supplements can help you get results faster.

If you want to learn more about fat loss supplements, check out these articles:

The Insider’s Guide to Fat Burning Pills: An Evidence-Based Review

The Definitive Guide to Synephrine Supplementation

Why Caffeine Stops Working (and What to Do About It)

And if you want to learn more about muscle building supplements, check out these articles:

The 3 Best (and Worst) Muscle Building Supplements

This Is the Definitive Guide to Creatine Monohydrate Supplementation

The 3 Best (and Worst) Protein Powders for Muscle Growth

And if you want to learn more about health and wellness supplements, check out these articles:

The 3 Best and Worst Greens Supplements

The 3 Best (and Worst) Immune Booster Supplements

The 3 Best (and Worst) Supplements for Gut Health

The Bottom Line on The Plant Paradox

The Plant Paradox is a book written by Dr. Steven R. Gundry, a once-prestigious heart surgeon turned diet quack.

The central premise of the book is small proteins called lectins, which are found in many fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and most farm-raised meat, eggs, and dairy, are bad for you. Very bad for you.

According to Dr. Gundry, lectins attack your digestive system, causing widespread inflammation that can lead to all manner of illnesses and ailments.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about lectins, but here’s what we do know, based on the best available scientific evidence:

  • The healthiest people in the world—those that live the longest, enjoy the most robust health, and generally have the highest quality of life—eat a lot of lectins.
  • There’s no good evidence that lectin-rich foods contribute to weight gain. On the contrary, eating foods high in lectins such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is generally associated with more weight loss and lower body weights.
  • There’s no evidence lectins contribute to heart disease, and a large body of evidence that shows eating lectin-containing foods like many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Unless you have celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome, eating lectins doesn’t give you a “leaky gut,” or cause any other negative effects in your gut.
  • Humans have been not just surviving, but thriving for thousands and possibly millions of years eating a diet high in plant lectins. Dr. Gundry’s theory that a higher intake of lectins is responsible for the decline in health of modern humans is pure conjecture.
  • Cooking, soaking, and canning lectin-containing foods more or less eliminates the lectin content, making them entirely safe to eat even in large amounts.

Dr. Gundry also sells a large number pseudoscientific and underdosed supplements designed to protect your body against lectins. One in particular, Lectin Shield, is supposedly so effective that if you take it every day, you don’t even have to follow a lectin-free diet!

Ironically, not only is the diet recommended in The Plant Paradox absurd and overly restrictive, it can even cause long-term harm by promoting the elimination of many nutritious fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Although Dr. Gundry doesn’t recommend cutting out all fruits and vegetables, if you follow his recommendations to the letter, you’ll almost certainly eat less by default.

At bottom, The Plant Paradox is a cleverly crafted fad diet designed to exploit Dr. Gundry’s authority as a once-respected doctor as well as the widespread concern about hidden toxins and poisons lurking in our foods.

Luckily, you don’t need to force yourself into Dr. Gundry’s dietary straightjacket and hand over your credit card to improve your body composition, health, and longevity.

Instead, check out these articles to learn the real fundamentals of healthy dieting:

How to Make the “If It Fits Your Macros” Diet Work For You

A Simple and Accurate Macronutrient Calculator (and How to Use It)

The Definitive Guide to Effective Meal Planning

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What’s your take on The Plant Paradox? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!

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