The Plant Paradox Diet: Could A Lectin-Free Lifestyle Work For You?

mbg Contributor By Elsbeth Riley
mbg Contributor
Elsbeth Riley is a writer and editor living in Oakland, California. She is an ACE-certified personal trainer and holds a B.A. in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Expert review by Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Molly Knudsen, M.S., RDN is a Registered Dietician Nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University. She lives in the Greater Boston Area, and enjoys connecting people to the food they eat and how it influences health and wellbeing.
The Plant Paradox Diet: Could A Lectin-Free Lifestyle Work For You?

Image by Tatjana Zlatkovic / Stocksy

It's not surprising that a diet steering you away from seemingly healthy vegetables is called the "plant paradox" diet. Also called the Gundry diet after its physician founder, Steven Gundry, M.D., this diet avoids a plant protein in certain vegetables called lectins.

The benefits and criticisms alike are vast, and it's hard to wade through it all to know whether or not your body will benefit from this diet. But that's where we come in. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Plant Paradox Diet, plus a meal plan if you're thinking of trying it out.

The origins of the lectin-free Plant Paradox Diet.

While best known for this lectin-free diet plan, Gundry is a former heart surgeon who also conducted medical research in the '90s and was a pioneer in infant heart transplant surgery. Needless to say, he's got quite the resume (and he's been on the mindbodygreen podcast!).

In 2017, Gundry published The Plant Paradox, a book about "the hidden dangers in 'healthy' foods that cause disease and weight gain." It details the ways in which lectins can cause inflammation, which then can contribute to disease and weight gain, and contains a comprehensive list of foods to eat and avoid on the diet. The book gained popularity quickly, and in part because of the success that Kelly Clarkson experienced while following the diet. Gundry now owns and runs his own clinic in California examining the impact of diet on health.

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The benefits of the Plant Paradox Diet.

While there is limited research on how lectins affect our bodies, there is more research showing up about how inflammation is a main contributor to chronic diseases. The main benefit that the Plant Paradox Diet claims to offer is that it will—you guessed it—reduce this inflammation.

So how exactly does the Plant Paradox Diet reduce inflammation? It removes lectins, a protein found in many fruits and vegetables, from your diet, which Gundry says can be harmful for some people. Lectins, to put it simply, are actually one of the defense mechanisms within certain plants that are intended to keep predators, humans included, from eating them.

Among other foods, lectins are found in all nightshades—a popular family of plants including potatoes, peppers (bell as well as hot peppers like chili and jalapeño), eggplants, goji berries, and tomatoes.

And, according to Gundry, these pesky proteins can cause some problems, if you're intolerant to them.

"A lectin is a type of protein that forces carbs (sugars, starches, and fibers) to clump together and even attach to certain cells in your body when you eat them," explains Gundry. "Often, lectins can get in the way of important cells communicating with one another. And when that happens, the body's response is usually inflammation or some other type of reaction to toxicity, like nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting. A break in cellular communication can also result in symptoms like fatigue or forgetfulness."

It's important to note that this process tends to only happen to people with sensitivities to lectins. That said, it's always best to do what works for your own body; if you are intolerant to lectins, it may be a good idea to avoid them with the Plant Paradox Diet.

A piece of older research suggests that a diet high in lectins may contribute to autoimmune diseases like Crohn's disease, celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. Thus, the benefits of following the Plant Paradox Diet and cutting out lectins may include a reduced risk and better management of autoimmune disease and chronic disease—however, there are no clinical trials demonstrating this just yet.

While the goal of the Plant Paradox Diet is to reduce inflammation, weight loss may be an added benefit. There have been many claims of individuals shedding pounds on the Plant Paradox Diet. Many say that it's not simply the lack of lectin content in the diet but the focus on mindful and healthful eating that results in weight loss. (The diet recommends cutting out many processed foods and refined carbs, which doesn't hurt!)

Risks of the Plant Paradox Diet.

As with most aspects of well-being, it's all about balance. That said, this diet comes with some warnings. Following a lectin-free diet means eliminating quite a few perfectly healthy foods. And at a time when the majority of the country is still eating heavily processed foods full of artificial sugars and fat, it's natural to be wary of a diet that steers you away from some whole fruits and vegetables. You won't starve, but you certainly will be limiting your options when it comes to grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes, so it's really worth considering whether this diet is right for you before taking the plunge.

On that note, you might not want to start the Plant Paradox Diet if you feel perfectly fine eating lectins. If you don't have an adverse reaction to those foods, cutting them out from your diet may not be necessary (and can keep you from eating healthy vegetables).

It's also important to mention the lack of clinical trials surrounding lectins and a lectin-free diet. While there has been anecdotal evidence (as with Gundry's experience), it may be risky to regard the health claims as true without more research.

Before starting any diet, consider talking with your doctor or a registered dietitian about your options, especially if you're aiming to treat chronic disease.

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Plant Paradox Diet–approved foods.

If you're deciding whether or not to commit to a lectin-free diet, consider this the list of "yes" foods. This list is not entirely comprehensive, but it's a good place to get started. Visit Gundry's website for printable food shopping lists.

Oils

  • Olive oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Macadamia oil
  • Rice bran oil
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Sweeteners

  • Stevia
  • Xylitol
  • Inulin
  • Erythritol
  • Monk fruit

Nuts and seeds

  • Macadamia
  • Walnuts
  • Pistachios
  • Pine nuts
  • Pecans
  • Chestnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Psyllium
  • Brazil nuts
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Flours

  • Coconut flour
  • Almond flour
  • Hazelnut flour
  • Milk
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Sour cream
  • Cream cheese

Fish and seafood

  • White fish
  • Salmon
  • Canned tuna
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Lobster
  • Scallops
  • Calamari
  • Oysters
  • Mussels
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
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Dairy

  • Avocado
  • All berries

Vegetables

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Bok choy
  • Cabbage
  • Swiss chard
  • Arugula
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Carrots
  • Artichoke
  • Beets
  • Okra
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Mesclun
  • Garlic
  • Romaine
  • Mushrooms

Poultry

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Duck
  • Goose
  • Quail
  • Ostrich

Meat

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Pork
  • Elk
  • Bison
  • Venison

Foods to avoid on the Plant Paradox Diet.

If you decide the Plant Paradox Diet is the way to go, you'll have to be prepared to cut all of these foods from your diet, too. In addition to lectin-containing foods, this list also includes other pro-inflammatory processed foods that may increase the risk of chronic inflammation.

Refined starches and sugars

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Potatoes
  • Potato chips
  • Bread
  • Tortillas
  • Pastries
  • Cookies
  • Crackers
  • Cereal
  • Sugar
  • Agave
  • Splendid
  • Sweet n Low
  • Maltodextrin

Vegetables

  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peas
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Bell peppers
  • Legumes
  • Green beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Zucchini
  • Soy
  • Tofu
  • Edamame

Oils

  • Soy oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Corn oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

Nuts and seeds

  • Pumpkin
  • Sunflower
  • Chia
  • Peanuts
  • Cashews

Fruits

  • Most fruits are off limits

Grains (including sprouted)

  • Whole grains
  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Bulgur

Getting started on the Plant Paradox diet.

If you want to start a lectin-free Plant Paradox Diet, it's a good idea to map out a meal plan for yourself with approved foods. A diet works only if it's sustainable, and planning ahead can help. It may also be helpful to consult with a registered dietitian who can guide you on how to best remove lectins from your diet without compromising your overall nutrition.

Here's a sample of a day in the life of a Plant Paradox Diet:

Breakfast: Veggie scramble

Eggs are a great protein-rich breakfast choice that will help stave off cravings. Sauté up your veggies (mushrooms, onions, and broccoli make a great combo) in a skillet with olive oil or avocado oil, add in 2 to 3 whisked eggs, and cook. Top with a sprinkle of cheese, if desired. Alternatively, you can simply whip up some scrambled eggs and have them alongside an arugula salad—no one said raw greens are off limits at breakfast!

Lunch: Portobello mushroom pizza

For a welcome alternative to salads (which you may end up eating quite often on the Plant Paradox Diet), create a grain-free pizza using portobello mushrooms as the crust. Cook two large portobello mushroom caps for about 5 minutes on each side in a pan with olive oil. Remove from heat, then some pesto onto the gill side and top with prosciutto and mozzarella. (Skip the lectin-containing tomato sauce!) Return to the pan, place under your oven's broiler, and heat until cheese is melted.

Dinner: Shrimp stir fry

Flavor doesn't have to be compromised on a lectin-free diet—just make sure you're using plenty of approved flavor boosters. For dinner, try an Asian-inspired stir fry made with nutrient-packed bok choy and shrimp (or another approved protein). Simply cook up the shrimp, along with minced garlic and ginger, in a skillet with sesame oil. When the shrimp is pink, add in a few cups of chopped bok choy and cook until wilted.

When it comes to lectins, it's best to listen to your body and take all the existing research into account. While much more research is needed before we can say whether lectins are inherently "good" or "bad," if you have a sensitivity to lectins, the Plant Paradox Diet may be a good option for you. As always, consult your doctor before starting any restrictive diet, especially one that cuts out many healthy fruits and veggies!

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