Last Updated November 3rd, 2022
Dr. Steven Gundry is an author of the New York Times bestseller ‘The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain.’ The most important aspect of his work is the theory about lectins, a type of plant protein found in certain foods. Dr. Gundry states that the lectins actually damage the gut wall by causing inflammation and it results in many modern diseases. These types of food include beans, brown rice, chia seeds, nuts, tomatoes, soybeans, quinoa, and many others. The concept has given rise to various controversies and there are quite a few experts who contradict the results. The lectins are a part of the protective mechanism in plants that protect them from an adverse environment. When consumed, the lectins are hard to break down in the stomach and can resist the acidic environment of the gut. Potent poison ricin is a lectin that can be derived from the castor oil plant. Lectin is found in some quantities in almost all foods but legumes and grains contain the highest amounts.
Lectins are proteins that can effectively bind with carbohydrates but most of them can be cleared from food by the process of cooking. The diet promoted by Dr. Gundry advises that lectins are to be avoided to prevent weight gain and promote a healthy digestive system. The lectins are referred to as edible enemies in the book and it is stated that they can hinder communication between the cells and also cause an inflammatory reaction in certain cases. Since the lectins cling to the intestinal walls, any damage in the linings will allow them to slip into the bloodstream. This can lead to allergic and autoimmune reactions apart from nausea, diarrhoea, and bloating. Let us take a look into the details of Dr. Gundry’s diet in this article and find out how it impacts our health.
The structure of lectins
Lectins are a structurally complex class of proteins and their special characteristics involve the capability to combine with carbohydrates with considerable specificity. They are found in various organisms including bacteria, viruses, plants, and humans. Lectins also precipitate the polysaccharides and glycoproteins and their mode of action is very similar to that of the antibodies. But unlike antibodies, lectins are produced not only in animals but in a variety of organisms that are structurally diverse. The members of the lectin family are generally classified as category I or category II. The structure of lectins also makes them similar to enzymes but they do not show a form of catalytic activity. Most of the present research of lectins is done on specimens derived from plant sources. In plants, the seeds are the richest sources of lectin, even though their biological function is still not defined.
Lectins have been used in various ways in different fields and these include functions like isolating glycoproteins from biological fluids like serum and plasma. They are also being used in various levels of advanced research like aging, cell analysis, neuronal pathway mapping, cancer prevention, and others. The lectins can be toxic or inflammatory or both that can get deposited on certain organs. The role of lectins is being investigated in diseases like autoimmune diseases, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been established that the causes behind peptic ulcers like acid stimulation, failure of the mucous defence layer, and abnormal bacterial proliferation have been linked with lectins. At the same time, most of the lectins are not consumed raw and the process of cooking or soaking those in water can neutralise their toxic effects. In fact, seeds and grains have been a part of the staple diet in various developing countries.
The phases of Dr. Gundry’s diet
The diet is divided into three main stages which are mentioned below.
This is the first phase that can last up to six weeks and the first two weeks are the most important. This phase kick starts the weight loss that comes with this diet. One needs to adhere to the diet strictly during these two weeks and the main elements of the diet include protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats. The items like grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, and sugar are not consumed. Fruits and grains are gradually reintroduced from the third week.
The second phase in the diet is called the restoration phase when the user makes a transition from calorie-dense foods to low-calorie foods. The phase is designed to bring about a permanent change to eating habits by increasing the volume of leafy dense vegetables. Simultaneously, the amount of animal protein, cheese, grains, and legumes is decreased. This phase usually lasts from week 7 to week 12 or until the weight returns to a normal and stable point.
The final phase
The final phase is based on a meal plan that is based on the eating habits of early humans. Dr. Gundry suggests that early humans did not have daily access to animal protein and hence they were more dependent on wild plants. So, the diet focuses on consuming more plant food to keep away from chronic diseases and become a “vegephile.”
The diet allows the limited consumption of drinking red wine, champagne, and dark spirits for health. Protein consumption should be limited and items like natural seafood, pastured poultry, and grass-fed, pasture-raised meats are the best choices. Some of the foods that are allowed in the diet are listed below.
- pasture-raised meats
- A2 milk
- cooked sweet potatoes
- Leafy, green vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
- Extra virgin olive oil or olives, whichever can be purchased online
Some food elements that the diet suggests avoiding completely are listed below.
- Vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, squash, potatoes, and peppers
- Beans and legumes. For example, soy and peanuts
- Conventional eggs and milk
- Conventionally-raised meats
- Out-of-season fruits
- Grains: especially quinoa and brown rice
Is Dr. Gundry’s diet a healthy option?
In an interview, Dr. Gundry mentioned that the introduction of lectin-containing beans and grains in our diet thousands of years ago, negatively impacted our health in various ways. He also mentioned that consuming such food items is like “swallowing razor blades that literally cut the lining in our intestines.” Some items like kidney beans are so high in lectin contain that they can cause vomiting when consumed raw. Some studies have pointed out the high amount of lectin consumption can lead to “cause nutrient deficiencies, disrupt digestion, and cause severe intestinal damage.” For patients with celiac disease, the consumption of lectin in the form of gluten can cause damage to the small intestine. However, the evidence about the potential harms is limited and the nutritional benefits from cooked vegetables and beans outweigh these harms by far. The use of white bread or white rice as substitutes for whole grains is shown to have been shown to spike blood sugar levels.
In general, the dietary amount of lectin consumed by individuals is not large enough to cause any health damage. It is more so as the majority of it is consumed in cooked form. Some research has shown that micro-organisms such as influenza viruses and streptococci can make lectins more harmful for the body. In addition, the body can also generate certain enzymes during digestion that degrades some lectins. Other processes that deactivate lectins include sprouting of grains and beans and mechanically removing the outer hull of beans and wheat grains. Since the majority of lectin-containing foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, and other beneficial compounds, neglecting them can lead to nutritional deficiencies. It is also to be noted the reactions of different people to different types of lectins can vary and produce different effects.
The benefit of lectins
Apart from being rich in nutrients, lectins are also antioxidants, which protect the cells from free radical-related damage. They also slow down the process of digestion and hence the absorption rate of carbohydrates. This can prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and high insulin levels. The use of non-toxic lectins in low volumes to help in stimulating gut cell growth for certain patients is also being researched. The ability of lection to cause the death of cancerous cells is also another aspect that is a major subject of research. In many studies based on major segments of a population, a diet containing food items like legumes, whole grains and nuts has shown to reduce the rates of cardiovascular disease, weight loss, and type 2 diabetes. This is due to the large amounts of B vitamins, protein, fibre, minerals, and healthy fats present in these food items.
Disadvantages of Dr. Gundry’s diet
It is a fact that lectins are ubiquitous in every type of plant life and giving them up would lead to a loss of all the nutrients, vitamins, and compounds associated with them. Many of these items are essential for our health and natural sources from the plant kingdom are the best means to get them. Dr. Gundry advises the use of supplements and capsules but that will need additional expenditure which may not be feasible for many people. The use of pasture-raised meat and special poultry can also make it an expensive choice for many. At the same time, there is no proper research that backs up Dr. Gundry’s claim at present. The only fact that is evident is that consuming too many lectins can cause distress to the digestive system. The specific amount of lectin that can be considered harmful for the body is also not known. A lectin-free diet can also lack the necessary amount of dietary fibre that is important for preserving the health of the digestive system. At the same time, experts point out that being anxious about food choices can lead to mental distress which can affect eating patterns and lead to disorders. It is important to have a healthy relationship with the food that we consume.
Safe ways to consume lectins
There are some steps that can be taken to make sure that the lectins do not have any toxic effects on the body. The first step is to cook them properly and when they are subjected to a high temperature for a considerable period of time, most lectins get destroyed. In the case of beans, cooking them in boiling water for a minimum period of 30 minutes ensure that they are free from lectins. The minimum amount of lectin that remains in the food gets attached to the free carbohydrate present in the food and is passed out through the small intestine. When excess raw food is consumed and there are not sufficient carbohydrates to attach to, the lectins can stick to the walls of the digestive tract. This may lead to some toxic effects for the consumer. So when a raw diet is consumed, it is best to choose items that are mostly free from lectins. It is also important to stick to a balanced diet that does not suggest avoiding complete food groups. No food item is good for the body when consumed in large quantities and hence a balanced approach is the most beneficial.
The lectins are one of the abundantly found components in the food that we consume and hence giving them up completely is not an advisable option. In the case of some people, it is possible that an underlying digestive sensitivity, such as irritable bowel syndrome, can increase their sensitivity to lectin. It is more likely for them to experience negative symptoms from eating lectin. Since in most cases, lectin sensitivity is accompanied by physical discomfort, eating less quantity of such food is a reasonable approach to the problem. While Dr. Gundry’s diet stresses the consumption of approved fats, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables, its stance on lectins is not backed by sufficient scientific evidence. There is also a lot of research that is being conducted on the use of lectins as potential treatments for diseases caused by bacteria, fungi, and viruses. So more research is needed before a lectin-free diet can be recommended wholeheartedly. At present, it is best to stick to w wholesome and healthy diet plan that is backed by proper scientific research.
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