Oats for breakfast. Tomato and cucumber salad for lunch. Sauteed beans and zucchini for dinner. Some pumpkin, chia and sunflower seeds to munch on during the day. And of course, there’s yogurt for occasional sugar cravings.
Seems like you’ve cracked the weight-loss-essential diet?
Ask Dr Gundry, and he’ll tell you that you’ve gotten it all wrong!
The ‘Plant Paradox Diet’ recently came into limelight when American singer, songwriter, and television personality, Kelly Clarkson, attributed her 37-pound weight loss to it.
She told Extra, “I literally read this book, and I did it for this autoimmune disease that I had and I had a thyroid issue, and now all my levels are back up. I’m not on medicine anymore because of this book, it’s called ‘The Plant Paradox (by Steven R. Gundry, MD).’
What is the Diet All About?
“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?”
This line from the initial pages of Dr. Steven Gundry’s book, titled ‘The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain’, pretty much sets the tone for the following pages. The premise of Dr Gundry’s argument is simple: Avoid consuming the plant protein ‘lectin’ because it may lead to weight gain, leaky gut, cancer, autoimmune disease, diabetes, aching joints, Parkinson’s disease, depression, infertility, baldness, brain fog, among many other health issues.
The ‘paradox’, however, comes into play when you run a simple internet search for a list of foods containing the protein. Beyond the elimination of the conventional weight-gain villains like gluten, dairy, sugar and refined carbohydrates, the lectin-free diet advises you to cut down on:
- Legumes: beans, lentils and peas
- Nuts: cashews and peanuts
- Seeds: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and sunflower seeds
- Vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, sugar snap peas, green beans, potatoes, zucchini
- Fruits: non-seasonal fruits, ripe bananas, melon, squash, goji berries, pumpkins
- Grains: whole grains such as oats, quinoa, rice, corn, barley, bulgur, etc.
- Oils: soy, corn, peanut, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, cottonseed
What’s Wrong with Lectin?
In an article he wrote for mindbodygreen, Dr Gundry, who happens to be a heart surgeon, explains, “A lectin is a type of protein (susceptible to various diseases, bacteria, and viruses) that forces carbs (sugars, starches, and fibers) to clump together and even attach to certain cells in your body when you eat them.”
Moreover, they may stick to the gastrointestinal tract and lead to a leaky gut, further triggering inflammation or formation of antibodies.
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.Dr Gundry
Are All Lectins Bad?
Many studies have confirmed the link between inflammation and chronic health diseases of the gut, heart, brain and lungs. There are also others that have found lectins to be related to certain kinds of food poisoning. But even in these, the problem was specifically with vegetables that haven’t been cooked well.
According to American biochemist and nutritionist T. Colin Campbell, “The references that are cited in this book do a poor job of trying to justify its claims. And the bulk of the author’s wild claims lack references at all, with several examples of easily verifiable falsehoods.”
A review by author Michael Matthews suggests, “Cooking, soaking, and canning lectin-containing foods more or less eliminates the lectin content, making them entirely safe to eat even in large amounts.”
Benefits of Lectin
While it might not be possible to completely disclaim the harms of excessive lectin consumption, the benefits that the protein offers are numerous.
- Sufficient research exists to show that whole grains “may lower the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and may also contribute to body weight management and gastrointestinal health.”
- Certain foods containing lectin also provide dietary fibre, so any lack therein could lead to constipation.
- Moreover, complete elimination of lectin would not leave many protein-alternatives for vegetarians and vegans; and there’s no denying the importance of protein for our bodies. It’s a macro nutrient needed for the development of bones, muscles, skin, and blood.
- And do we really need to get into the need and nutritional values of our beloved fruits and vegetables? Making them a part of one’s daily life is extremely important because they are primary sources of essential nutrients, minerals and antioxidants.
- An extensive article in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health refers to several studies to conclude that some lectin-containing foods such as whole grains, nuts and legumes may lead to lower rates of cardiovascular diseases and faster weight loss.
Dr Mansi Chaudhary, clinical nutritionist at Fortis Healthcare, also stressed on the importance of the plant protein.
Plant proteins like lectin are like building blocks. They are required for healthy muscles and tissues. In fact, they are beneficial for weight loss because they have lesser calories than animal proteins.
She added that foods containing lectin are rich in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. For all these reasons, she doesn’t recommend total elimination of the protein, as advocated by Dr Gundry.
The potential harms of lectins cannot be disclaimed. However, unless suffering from a medical condition such as inflammation, diabetes, thyroid, or an autoimmune disease, there is no reason to completely eliminate them from one’s diet, considering their countless nutritional properties.
It is also understood that cooking, sprouting and fermenting lectin-rich foods or removing skins and seeds from them, can reduce their lectin content; minimizing the harms.
Therefore, it is difficult to formulate a general rule for the optimum amount of lectin consumption. An estimate can be reached after conscious evaluation of a person’s medical background. Lectin-rich foods are significant contributors of several essential nutrients, and eliminating them completely would certainly do more harm than good.