The Plant Paradox Diet: Why This Doctor-Backed Plan Shuns Seemingly Healthy Veggies
Molly is a registered dietitian nutritionist who holds a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Texas Christian University and a master’s degree in nutrition interventions, communication, and behavior change from Tufts University.
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, this diet aims to have you avoid 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 (aka the Gundry diet).
The origins of the lectin-free Plant Paradox Diet.
Most fad diet plans these days may seem to come from the latest Instagram wellness influencer. It's hard to know who to trust when it comes to recommendations of what food you should or shouldn't put in your body. The Plant Paradox Diet, however, deviates from the influencer norm.
Steven Gundry, M.D., is a former heart surgeon. While best known for this lectin-free diet plan, he 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, Dr. 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 lectin can cause inflammation, which then contributes 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. Dr. Gundry now owns and runs his own clinic in California examining the impact of diet on health.
The benefits of the Plant Paradox Diet.
More and more research is showing that inflammation is a main contributor to chronic diseases. So it's no surprise that a diet came along intending to address this. The main benefit that the Plant Paradox Diet claims to offer is that it will—you guessed it—reduce 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 Dr. Gundry says are edible enemies. Lectins 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.
So what havoc can these pesky proteins wreak on your body? Potentially a lot.
"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 Dr. 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."
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 shuns many processed foods and refined carbs, which doesn't hurt!)
Risks of the Plant Paradox Diet.
As with most things in life, 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.
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.
Plant Paradox Diet–approved foods.
If you're deciding whether or not to commit to a lectin-free diet, consider this list of "yes" foods. This list is not entirely comprehensive, but it's a good place to get started. Visit Dr. Gundry's website for printable food shopping lists.
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Sesame oil
- Macadamia oil
- Rice bran oil
- Monk fruit
Nuts and seeds
- Pine nuts
- Hemp seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Brazil nuts
- Coconut flour
- Almond flour
- Hazelnut flour
- Sour cream
- Cream cheese
Fish and seafood
- White fish
- Canned tuna
- All berries
- Brussels sprouts
- Bok choy
- Swiss chard
- Collard greens
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 and autoimmune diseases.
Refined starches and sugars
- Potato chips
- Sweet n Low
- Sugar snap peas
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Soy oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Corn oil
- Peanut oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
Nuts and seeds
- Most fruits are off limits
Grains (including sprouted)
- Whole grains
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.
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