The Plant Paradox Diet Guide: Analyzing Lectin-Free Living

Is there enough research to back up this diet's claims?

Although popular diets often provide conflicting information, almost all nutritional advice promotes the consumption of more vegetables.

However, the Plant Paradox Diet puts restrictions on certain vegetables, suggesting that they contain compounds that are “anti-nutrients.”

This diet claims that lectins, a compound found in these certain plant-based foods, are anti-nutrients or toxins that can cause weight gain, inflammation, damage to the intestinal walls, and chronic diseases.

In this guide, we will discuss what the Plant Paradox diet entails, how to follow it, its potential benefits, and the science vs myths of the Plant Paradox diet.

Let’s jump in!

A meal plan template.

What Is the Plant Paradox Diet?

The Plant Paradox Diet program is based upon the concept that proteins in certain plant-based foods known as lectins are deleterious to your health.

Therefore, the Plant Paradox Diet meal plan avoids plant-based foods that are high in lectins, such as beans, lentils, soy, certain whole grains, and nightshade vegetables like eggplant and tomatoes.1Cárdenas, P. D., Sonawane, P. D., Heinig, U., Bocobza, S. E., Burdman, S., & Aharoni, A. (2015). The bitter side of the nightshades: Genomics drives discovery in Solanaceae steroidal alkaloid metabolism. Phytochemistry113, 24–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2014.12.010

‌The Plant Paradox diet was developed by Dr. Steven Gundry, a former cardiac surgeon, who first wrote about the premise of lectins being harmful to health in his book The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain.

According to Dr. Gundry, lectins are anti-nutrients or toxins found in certain plant-based foods that can cause weight gain, inflammation, damage to the intestinal walls, and chronic diseases.

Although research has demonstrated the presence of lectins in certain plant foods— and the potential dangers of certain lectins—there’s little to no evidence to support Dr. Gundry’s theories about how harmful lectins are for overall health and weight management.2Panacer, K., & Whorwell, P. J. (2019). Dietary Lectin exclusion: The next big food trend? World Journal of Gastroenterology25(24), 2973–2976. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v25.i24.2973

‌However, some people are particularly sensitive to lectins, especially those with gastrointestinal conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease.

For these individuals, a lectin-free diet or following Gundry’s diet may help alleviate symptoms and support better health.

Brussels sprouts.

How Do You Follow the Plant Paradox Diet?

The Plant Paradox diet meal plan is not necessarily a weight loss diet, so you don’t have to count calories or measure portion sizes.

You also don’t have to follow the Plant Paradox diet for weight loss specifically. You may want to maintain your weight or gain weight.3Weight Loss Depends on Less Calories, Not Nutrient Mix. (2015, May 22). National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/weight-loss-depends-less-calories-not-nutrient-mix

‌To this end, there are no stipulations on how frequently you can eat, so you can have as many meals and snacks per day as you want or follow a more restrictive intermittent fasting diet compounded on top of the Plant Paradox diet food list.

Rather, the Plant Paradox diet plan is designed to prevent your body from being exposed to what Dr. Gundry considers to be toxic lectins, so it is essentially just a lectin-free diet.

Dr. Gundry also provides two specialized versions of the Plant Paradox diet meal plan to cater to different dietary needs:

There is a version of the Plant Paradox diet for cancer that involves following a low-carb, high-fat meal plan, essentially like a keto diet

Beef.

However, if you have cancer and want to try the Plant Paradox diet keto plan, you should definitely speak with your oncologist and healthcare team to determine if this is a safe and effective diet during your treatments. 

The Plant Paradox keto plan for cancer has not been demonstrated to supplant cancer treatments nor necessarily improve outcomes for cancer patients, which is why it is essential to seek medical and nutritional advice from professionals before adopting the keto Plant Paradox diet for cancer.

There is also a 3-day Plant Paradox diet detox plan for individuals transitioning from a traditional diet to a lectin-free diet.

This plan is supposed to help detox your body and prepare you for a lifelong diet free from lectins, and expedite the healing process from “toxic” lectins. 

In addition to removing all lectins from the diet, the Plant Paradox detox diet plan removes all sugar, dairy products, eggs, whole grains, seeds, seed oils, nightshade veggies such as peppers and tomatoes, and caffeine. 

It also involves drinking at least 1.9 liters (or 8 cups) of water, unsweetened herbal tea, or decaffeinated coffee for three days and exercising to support “detoxification from lectins.“

Fish and seafood.

What Foods Can You Eat On the Plant Paradox Diet?

The general Plant Paradox diet meal plan (not the specific keto Plant Paradox diet for the Plant Paradox diet detox) is restrictive.

It removes many plant-based foods but still emphasizes whole, natural, unprocessed foods aside from high lectin-containing foods.

There are no restrictions regarding how many calories you can eat, how many meals or snacks you can eat daily, or your portion sizes with your Plant Paradox diet recipes.

Here are the primary foods to eat on the Plant Paradox diet meal plan:

Plant Paradox Diet Foods

  • Grass-fed meat
  • Pasture-raised poultry
  • Wild-caught fish and seafood
  • Hemp protein and hemp seeds
  • Certain nuts and seeds like macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, and sesame seeds sparingly
  • Fruits: Avocados, coconut, and berries only (berries sparingly)
  • Vegetables: mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, okra, carrots, radishes, beets, kale, nopales (cactus), and cabbage
  • Fats and oils: Organic grass-fed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, and avocado oil
Tomatoes.

What Foods Should you Avoid on a Lectin-Free Diet?

Per Dr. Gundry’s toxic lectin theory upon which he has based the Plant Paradox diet protocol, the following foods with lectins must be removed from your diet:

  • Soy: All forms of soy must be avoided, including tofu, miso, soybeans, foods that have soybean oil, edamame, tempeh, soy milk, soy yogurt, and any foods that contain soy lecithin, soy protein isolate, or other byproducts of soy. Additionally, any livestock fed with soy feed, such as chicken or beef fed on soy.
  • Legumes: All legumes must be avoided, including beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, and any products made from these ingredients, such as hummus, peanut butter, soups that contain beans, peanut oil, etc.
  • Farmed fish
  • Livestock or poultry that has been fed with grain or soy feed, including corn-fed cattle or poultry.
  • All grains and starches: Whole grains like quinoa, barley, whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and buckwheat, along with processed grains such as anything made with flour, popcorn, pasta, whole-grain bread, tortillas, cereal, pancakes, granola bars, oatmeal, cream of wheat, crackers, pretzels, etc.
  • Seeds and nuts: Aside from a small serving of the select few nuts, most nuts and seeds must be avoided. This includes sunflower seeds, peanuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds, Chia seeds, and flax seeds.
  • Fruits: All fruits aside from berries, coconut, and avocados. Even berries must be consumed in very small doses.
  • Vegetables: You cannot eat any nightshades such as tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, nor any type of winter or summer squash, including zucchini. Pumpkins, cucumbers, chili peppers, and potatoes must also be avoided. If you are responding very well to the diet, you can occasionally eat some nightshade vegetables if you peel them and remove all seeds, though the diet still suggests removing these foods entirely.
  • Dairy: You cannot have any conventional A1 milk products, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or American cheese but you can have full-fat A2 dairy.4Jianqin, S., Leiming, X., Lu, X., Yelland, G. W., Ni, J., & Clarke, A. J. (2015). Effects of milk containing only A2 beta casein versus milk containing both A1 and A2 beta casein proteins on gastrointestinal physiology, symptoms of discomfort, and cognitive behavior of people with self-reported intolerance to traditional cows’ milk. Nutrition Journal15(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-016-0147-z
  • Fats and oils: Most plant-based oils, including canola oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, and flaxseed oil, have to be avoided.
Avocado.

How Does the Plant Paradox Diet Propose to Improve Health?

As mentioned, the Plant Paradox diet plan isn’t designed specifically for weight loss.

That said, people may find that losing weight on the Plant Paradox diet plan is relatively easy because of the satiating effect of the high protein and healthy fats included in the diet plan.5A, F. (2016, May 18). Minimally Processed Foods Are More Satiating and Less Hyperglycemic Than Ultra-Processed Foods: A Preliminary Study With 98 Ready-To-Eat Foods. Food & Function. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27125637/

‌However, because many of the plant-based foods that are removed from the diet are low energy-density foods (lower in calories per net weight or volume), it may be that you find it difficult to have filling portion sizes on the more energy-dense foods.

Whether you are trying to follow the Plant Paradox diet for weight loss or health, one of the primary health benefits of the Plant Paradox diet is that the meal plan removes all processed foods and foods with added sugars.

These foods can contribute to weight gain,6National Institutes of Health. (2019, June 4). Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/eating-highly-processed-foods-linked-weight-gain increases in appetite, food cravings, and a host of deleterious health effects.7Martínez Steele, E., Juul, F., Neri, D., Rauber, F., & Monteiro, C. A. (2019). Dietary share of ultra-processed foods and metabolic syndrome in the US adult population. Preventive Medicine125, 40–48. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.05.004

‌Another potential benefit of the Plant Paradox diet is improving digestive health due to the fiber in the diet and the potential inflammatory effects of lectins.

Pecans.

It can also help regulate blood sugar levels and insulin due to the removal of high glycemic foods such as refined carbohydrates, sugars, and excessive fruit.8CDC. (2019, August 12). The Insulin Resistance–Diabetes Connection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/insulin-resistance.html

‌On the other hand, there are drawbacks to the Plant Paradox diet meal plan.

It’s quite restrictive and removes food groups that are generally considered to be healthy.

There is little research to suggest that lectins are toxic, particularly the lectins in foods like beans, which are denatured when the beans are soaked and cooked, sidestepping any potential issues with lectins.9Petroski, W., & Minich, D. M. (2020). Is There Such a Thing as “Anti-Nutrients”? A Narrative Review of Perceived Problematic Plant Compounds. Nutrients12(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12102929

‌Many of the Plant Paradox diet foods to avoid are high in fiber, B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and other micronutrients. 

Therefore, you may experience nutritional deficiencies if you are not supplementing or meeting these nutrient needs through other Plant Paradox diet foods. 

You should speak with your doctor and a dietitian before starting the Plant Paradox diet plan due to its limitations and lack of evidence-based principles.

A doctor standing with his arms crossed.

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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