The "Plant Paradox" Is A Paradox

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When I first heard about the book The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain back back in May, I quickly dismissed it as reputable after reading a few snippets.  But, throughout the summer, I continued to see the author, this Dr. Gundry guy, everywhere.  From podcasts like Bulletproof Radio and Lewis Howes, to interviews with Tony Robbins, to getting in health arguments with Gwyneth Paltrow... I kept hearing more and more about it.  Most recently, after listening to his interview on the Lewis Howe's School of Greatness podcast, I thought,  

OK, this guy sounds quite logical.  His argument, in theory, makes sense.  I'm interested in reading more about this.

So, in an effort to keep an open mind and continue to learn about other perspectives on diet and health, I bought the book and dove in.  I will admit, by chapter 2 I was questioning all kinds of things about my diet.  Beans are bad?  Quinoa is bad?  Peanuts, cashews, oats, potatoes, bananas!  All bad?  During that time, I also experimented myself and eliminated many of the foods on Dr. Gundry's "do not eat" list.  After all, at the end of the day, I always trust my body to tell me what works and what doesn't.

Let me summarize the Plant Paradox theory.  The overarching premise is that plants, like any other species on earth, don't want to be eaten.  Instead, they want to survive and continue their species.  Because plants are obviously not mobile, they're forced to use internal defenses against other creatures who eat them.  These defenses are in the form of toxic chemicals called lectins (you're likely familiar with the most famous lectin of all, gluten).  Basically, the argument is, when an animal or human eats a certain plant, the plant releases a bunch of lectins.  These lectins then make the eater of the plant sick, cause stomach problems, and wreak havoc on the immune system.  Thus, the creature learns not to eat those plants again, and the plant species survives.  

On the other hand, some plants want to be eaten.  For example, Dr. Gundry argues that many fruits want to be eaten once they become ripe.  The lectin content in unripe fruits is very high because the seeds of the fruit are still developing.  But, once ripe, the lectin content decreases and the fruits want to be eaten so that the seeds are then spread elsewhere and new fruit trees are grown, thus keeping the species alive.

So, the Plant Paradox diet focuses on eating the plants that want to be eaten (with low lectin content) and avoiding the ones that don't want to be eaten (with high lectin content).  The "paradox" being that many of the fruits and vegetables we regard as very healthy, are actually harmful and causing weight gain and disease.  Interesting, right?  To me, that seems like a pretty logical argument.  

I could buy into this logic, to some extent, but then I take a look at the list of foods that are included in the diet... grass fed butter?  Organic heavy cream?  Grass fed pork and beef?  Wait a minute... that's where I lost him.  Look, I'm 100% open to different perspectives on health, but I thought we were past this whole "butter and cream is good for you" stuff.  Dr. Gundry also says he crushes olive oil every day and talks about it as if it's the fountain of youth.  But  what about all that science that shows olive oil and other oils promote cardiovascular disease?  Furthermore, he talks about how saturated fat is bad... but the foods on his list like olive oil, butter, cream, and meats all contain high amounts of it?  

Then, on the "do not eat" list, Dr. Gundry has all whole grains and legumes?  But why then are legumes a staple of all the Blue Zones (the places in the world with the longest living people)?  Why is legume intake associated with lower disease and increased longevity?  Why has whole grain consumption consistently been associated with lower blood pressure and lower rates of disease?

Then, as I started to dig deeper (which we all should do whenever reading something!), I took a look at many of the references he refers to throughout the book.  Many of his "peer-reviewed" publications are not legitimate peer-reviewed anything.  I even tried finding some detailed information about many of the subjects he claims to have cured of disease with the diet, and couldn't find any detailed results.  I've been reading nutritional studies long enough to recognize bogus findings, and the majority of his references simply do not support his claims.

Now, I'm not saying that science is the end all be all.  In fact, I think the human body is far more complicated than science will ever be able to understand.  May these "evil lectins" be causing health issues is some people?  Possibly, but the fact of the matter is there's no real science to support it.  It's unfortunate that this book has gotten so much publicity, as it just creates more and more confusion among people trying to put their best foot forward.

Much like the gluten craze, this is going to deter many people from consuming foods that are associated with better health and increased longevity, such as legumes, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables.  It's another one of these things, like "protein", "carbs", "fat", "sugar", and now "lectins" that is going to blind people to the bigger picture.  The bigger picture being, is the food that you're eating health promoting or not?  Just like you should not be asking, 

"How much protein is in that?"

You also should not be asking, 

"Are there lectins in that?"  

Instead, just ask, 

"Is this food health promoting or not?  How do I feel after I eat it?"  

Those are the only question you should be asking.

In conclusion, while I think Dr. Gundry's theory about plants is interesting and did get me looking at food in a different manner, there just isn't any real scientific support for his claims.  Does that mean it doesn't work?  No.  But it certainly doesn't mean it does... and are you going to trust a guy that sells a "Lectin Shield" supplement on his website?  I mean, come on...   

Also, my few weeks of eliminating "lectin-rich" plants showed no signs of anything.  I'm going to stick with the best evidence we have and I'm going to continue eating my beans and grains, just like the longest living people on the planet do.