And you’re probably saying, what the heck is a lectin?
They are microscopic instruments of violence yielded in the 400-million-year-old cold war between the animal kingdom (us included), bugs, and plants.
This book makes the case that the avoidance of lectins is a crucial piece to the puzzle of great health that the nutrition and diet gurus (of at least the past several decades) have been missing.
I’ve discovered a significant part of the answer to the mystery of why our collective health has declined and our collective weight has risen so drastically in just a few decades — and it starts with plant proteins called lectins.
Lectins are found in almost all plants, as well as some other foods. In fact, lectins are present in the vast majority of foods in the current American diet, including meat, poultry, and fish. Among their other functions, lectins level the playing field in the war between plants and animals. (p. xi).
So Lectins are a defense that plants mount to poison us.
Quite simply, plants don’t want to be eaten — and who can blame them? (p. 5)
You might be saying…
Wait a minute! I remember when plants were healthy, now you’re saying they’re unhealthy — is this a Mandela effect?
No, it’s not a Mandela effect, it’s an effect of the really awful state of the mainstream understanding of nutrition and of the progress of nutrition science out of the nutrition dark age that has characterized the standard western diet for about the past half-century. Please disabuse yourself of the notion that eating vegetables and fruit is universally “healthy” just because they are plants and plants are nicer than animals. Plants are in a fight for their lives just like everything else on this planet.
The plant paradox alluded to in the book’s title is…
We may be at war with plants, but they (or at least most of them) contain the vitamins, minerals, and a long list of flavonoids, antioxidants, polyphenols, and other micronutrients essential for our microbiome’s health — and, consequently, our health. (p. 25)
grains and beans were both the best and worst things that could have happened to our species. (p. 28)
Without lectin-rife foods, we, as a species, would still be scratching around in the dust. But, what’s got us here, is not going to get us there. Let’s unravel the paradox further…
Autoimmune disease is downstream from Lectins
More people than ever are now stricken with annoying and debilitating autoimmune diseases, their immune systems just don’t seem to like them very much. This has everything to do with lectins.
But the most dangerous trick pulled by lectins, which I now see on a daily basis in my patients, is that they bear an uncanny similarity to the proteins on many of our important organs, nerves, and joints. Now, in an abundance of caution, your immune system doesn’t want to make a mistake in defending your body by not attacking something important. In the days before antibiotics, you would have been in big trouble if bacteria were present in your body, which is why your immune system is hypersensitive to anything that even remotely resembles a bacterial cell wall or other foreign protein. (p. 65)
So when you think of lectins, think of that 90’s horror movie Mimic, where giant predatory bugs evolve and start mimicking humans causing havoc. That’s sort of what’s going on with lectins with disastrous biological consequences for us.
In fact, much of what we assume is a normal part of the aging process is actually the cumulative effect of lectin toxicity. (p. 86)
Lectins royally f*ck your gut
The sapient biohacker gets that life sucks when there’s a state of discord in their gut, which lectins cause.
lectins, which are designed to disrupt cellular communication by, among other things, causing gaps in the intestinal wall barrier, a condition known as leaky gut. (p. 12)
plants purposely make lectins that are virtually indistinguishable from other proteins in your body, a tactic called molecular mimicry. Lectins are nearly indistinguishable from certain other proteins in your body. By mimicking such proteins, lectins fool the host’s immune system, causing it to attack attack the body’s own proteins. (p. 24)
Lectin-rife foods to avoid
To name some of the worst offenders, the book includes a more complete list. How might you know (right away) that you’re consuming lectins?
Lectins are the cause of sinus issues, because excessive mucous production is the first line of defense to entrap the lectins we consume. Next time your nose runs after you eat spicy salsa, remember this. (p. 39)
You might question…
But how can plants and their lectins be so bad for us? We’ve been eating plants since time immemorial.
Well, unsurprisingly, our susceptibility to lectins has everything to do with the toxicity of modernity.
In the last half century, we have abandoned many of the tried-and-true ways of eating and preparing foods, opting instead for fast food, processed food, ultraprocessed food, microwave meals, and on and on. The makeup of our diet has also changed significantly. Corn, soy, and wheat, all packed with lectins, are in most processed foods. The lectin load on humans is higher than ever before, but there’s much more to the story. In this same five-decade time span, an onslaught of herbicides, biocides, drugs, fertilizers, food additives, skin-care products, and a host of other chemicals has also disrupted your internal messaging system, your gut, and the microbes in your gut. That chemical overload has compromised your ability to deal with grains, legumes, and other lectin-bearing plants. (p. 35)
Dr. Gundry (the author) has reached the conclusion after decades of practice that many of the diseases that afflict us are downstream from lectins.
Others (my patients) turn up when they are suddenly confronted with a diagnosis of diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, or another life-threatening condition. It should come as no surprise that I believe that the underlying mechanism that unleashes all these outcomes is the breakdown of the intestinal barrier by lectins, in cahoots with the Seven Deadly Disruptors. (p. 249)
I’m not saying that lectins are the one cause of all disease. My friend Mark Sloan has made the case in his books that disease ultimately emanates from dysfunctional cellular metabolism. You can imagine how a lot of friendly fire from the immune system because of lectins would certainly result in havoc on the microscopic metabolic level.
Grains royally f*ck you
This part of the book made me unhappy. Bread and grains are highly problematic because of a nasty little lectin acronymized WGA, which is especially common in the tasty whole-grain bread that you thought was “healthy.”
You may have heard of the French paradox, which refers to the fact that the French are able to eat baguettes (made with white flour), drink red wine, and enjoy butter without gaining weight or suffering the ill health effects, specifically heart disease, that plague Americans. (p. 46)
But the real reason that both French men and women are more likely to keep their shape and have fewer heart problems than Americans is that they are not consuming WGA. (p. 46)
To summarize, in ancient times when food was scarce, weight gain from consuming the lectins in grains and beans was a huge benefit, but today, the same result works against us. (p. 147)
So how do you avoid WGA? Simply steer clear of whole-grain bread and other whole-grain products. (p. 44)
Crackers royally f*ck you.
It is likely that BHT has been added if the food comes in a wrapper or has the words “whole grain.” (Don’t forget that any cracker, bread, cookie, or “crunchy” bar probably also contains transglutaminase.) Food manufacturers are not required to list this chemical on the packaging. (p. 117)
it is necessary to add dangerous preservatives such as butyl hydroxytoluene (BHT) to block the oxidation of the polyunsaturated oils in those whole grains. (p. 52)
- You can think of it as “healthy” peanut butter — which is what it has the consistency of and sort of tastes like.
- It’s calorie-dense and filling; you can make a meal out of it or just have a few spoonfuls as a snack.
- It’s very affordable.
- It makes a decent prepping food. As you can store it for the mid-term. During the COVID-19 lockdowns of 2020 I put about a 6-month supply of it into my “doomsday” prepping bunker and it didn’t go bad. For longer-term food preps, you’d need to refrigerate it.
It’s something I’d never even heard of before I moved to Europe and my hot Bulgarian girlfriend (now-wife) introduced me to it. Now I enjoy it almost every day. Eat Tahini guys (and get a Bulgarian girlfriend if you’re single — she’ll make your life better!)
The safest grain is…
Of the four billion people who use rice as their staple grain, most opt for white rice. Rice eaters traditionally have little or no heart disease, a fact that I attribute to the lack of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) from wheat in their diet. In my opinion, if you are going to add a grain back into your diet, the safest option is white basmati rice from India — not the American strain. (pp. 236–237)
Would it surprise you then to learn that sourdough bread, made by fermenting wheat with bacteria and yeast, consistently ranks as one of the safest and least injurious breads, in terms of blood sugar spikes? (p. 51)
Cows royally f*ck you
Our mooing “friends” seem so harmless and placid, right? Think again, A1 cows (like the steak sauce) produce dairy that humans really shouldn’t be consuming because of a genetic incompatibility.
If you think that drinking milk gives you a problem, it’s almost certainly the cow’s breed that is at fault, not milk per se. (p. 32)
That’s why I recommend that if you consume dairy, you opt for only casein A-2 dairy products, which grocery stores have recently started selling, particularly on the West Coast. Alternatively, use goat or sheep milk products to be safe. (p. 32)
The yogurt question…
Got to have yogurt? I prefer plain (unflavored and unsweetened) coconut milk yogurt, but if that is unavailable, plain goat or sheep milk yogurt will do fine. (p. 226)
Chicken royally f*cks you
The book convinced me to cut back drastically on chicken consumption. Chickens are a major source of lectins because of what the chickens are fed their entire lives.
Chicken might make your baby gay!
Research on rats suggests that greater chicken consumption, and therefore increased exposure to arsenic and phthalates, exposes the brains of male babies to estrogen mimetics in utero (in addition to the mother’s real estrogen), which impacts sexual imprinting and potentially gender identity. (p. 116)
Legumes royally f*ck you
I always thought that legumes were lame — and this book confirmed it!
beans, peas, soybeans, lentils, and other members of the legume family (often referred to as the so-called pulses) are another relatively recent agricultural addition to the human diet. An individual bean may be small, but with the highest lectin content of any food group, beans can have a big impact. (p. 206)
Want some examples of bean chemical warfare? Massive outbreaks of “food poisoning” have occurred in schools and hospitals when, as part of a “healthy eating days” program, cafeterias unwittingly served undercooked beans. (p. 207)
Antibiotics royally f*ck you
The war that the agricultural-industrial complex and mainstream medicine have waged against the natural gut biome with antibiotics has everything to do with modern humans’ susceptibility to lectins.
Every time you take a course of Levaquin, ciprofloxacin, or another broad-spectrum antibiotic for a urinary-tract or another infection, you kill most of the microbes in your gut. Shockingly, it can take up to two years for them to return. Many may be gone forever. (p. 98)
targeted antibiotics can be lifesaving; but you should be very cautious about taking broad-spectrum antibiotics for anything other than a life-threatening infection. (p. 99)
I’ll add, this is a great reason to not take the smart drug Modafinil often, which has broad-spectrum antibiotic effects.
Phthalates royally f*ck your thyroid.
So, if you are tired and fat and your hair is thinning, and you are eating whole-grain foods and boneless skinless chicken breast, and your doctor assures you that your thyroid hormone levels are normal, so you can’t be hypothyroid, think again. You may be making thyroid hormone, but it can’t get into the gate and off the plane to talk to each of your cells because phthalates are blocking the way. (p. 116)
And how do we unwittingly consume phthalates? It tends to leach off food packaging into our food. Another great reason to avoid packaged food (and definitely don’t microwave food in its plastic packaging!)
GMOs royally f*ck you (but you probably already know that).
Because non-GMO foods are now routinely harvested by spraying Roundup on them, and given the fact that all livestock and poultry are fed these grains and beans, you get a double whammy of Roundup even if you avoid GMO crops. (p. 122)
Mouthwash royally f*cks you.
The use of mouthwashes, which kill mouth bacteria as they give you that “minty clean” breath, dramatically increases blood pressure. (p. 113)
Bummer. I better stop taking hits of tasty peppermint oil throughout the day.
The case against eating raw…
one hundred thousand years ago, humans made a discovery that catapulted us past all other creatures in our war with plants: fire! Cooking partially breaks down many lectins. Plus, it is an easy way to break apart the cell wall of a plant. Previously, only gut bacteria were capable of both feats. This allowed our early ancestors to evolve in a way that dramatically lessened the amount of energy (and surface area of the intestines) required for digestion — a change that made calories more accessible to our energy-demanding brain. (p. 27)
(More than just a little) protein royally f*cks you
Bad news for the “carnivore diet” folks…
My research and that of others have confirmed that we are overproteinized as a society. From childhood, we are programmed to become protein-aholics. And eating modern animal protein is a major cause of our obesity crisis. (p. 215)
Two recent human studies have hammered the final nail in the animal protein coffin, a fact already established in animal studies. Both studies conclude that meat consumption contributes to the current epidemic of obesity as much as, if not more than, our staggeringly high consumption of sugar does. (p. 238)
Dr. Valter Longo of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California and I agree that people require only 0.37 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Since 1 kilogram equals 2.2 pounds, a 150-pound man needs about 25 grams of protein daily and a 125-pound woman about 21 grams. (p. 182)
Try to make wild fish and shellfish a significant portion of your protein intake, but avoid any farm-raised fish (do not be fooled by claims that it is organic), particularly salmon, tilapia, catfish, or shrimp. (pp. 218–219)
Bad news, you also get lectins from meat.
As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat.” But you are also what the thing you ate, ate. (p. 18)
Since we feed animals that wind up on our dinner table both grains and beans and antibiotics, that toxic stew also winds up in us, creating the perfect storm. And the storm becomes even more dangerous when we overuse broad-spectrum antibiotics ourselves. (p. 42)
So the book isn’t advocating veganism or vegetarianism, but instead having very high standards with the meat you eat. So I’ll cut back on my meat consumption to keep it under 25 grams daily. If I know that I have a big, indulgent meat-rich dinner coming up on a Saturday I’ll eat vegetarian meals throughout the week. I’ll stay away from chicken unless I know the farmer and have seen how they raise their cluckers. Beef and pork I’ll enjoy infrequently and pay a premium for the good stuff. I’ll try to mostly eat wild-caught seafood for protein.
A big point made is that its madness to eat the same fruits and vegetables year-round, this is something that humans have only been doing for about the past hundred years and it hasn’t been good for us.
Omit all out-of-season fruit (except those with resistant starches, the not-yet-ripe fruits on the Say “Yes Please” list, and avocados). Preferably, give all other fruit the boot! Modern fruit is as bad as candy. (p. 218)
The book makes the case that fruit is not a “health food” — it’s natural candy (which would explain why it tastes like candy!)
So when you eat sweet foods year-round, even if it is natural sugar from fruit, you disrupt this ancient rhythm and continually gain weight. (p. 110)
As you’ve learned, eating fruit in season allowed our ancestors to fatten up for the winter (p. 170)
If you had good parents they forbade you from eating candy most of the time when you were a child but let you have a little around Halloween. This would seem to be a good dietary strategy, as much as I love the tasty blueberries sold by the old women in street markets here in Eastern Europe, I’ll refrain from eating them in the first, second, and fourth quarters of the year and I’ll go a little crazy around autumn.
Would it surprise you to learn that early man was far more muscular before the advent of grains and beans? Take a look at any ancient Egyptian frescoes and statues: these were skinny, nonmuscular people. As it turns out, insulin mimicry is the true cause of the muscle wasting as we age! The more lectins we eat, the more the receptors for insulin on our muscles are filled with WGA and other lectins, and the more muscle we waste. (p. 146)
the plant paradox in action: the very foods that promoted our ancestors’ ability to gain weight and survive a harsh winter, making them more likely to produce a new genetic copy (aka a baby), were the same ones that would hasten their eventual demise — and ours. (p. 143)
Lectin-rife foods are shrinking us.
Based on ancient skeletal remains, we know that twelve thousand years ago humans averaged six feet in height. However, by 8000 BCE, the average human had shrunk to four feet ten inches — that’s a whopping fourteen inches in just a few thousand years! (p. 136)
“New World” plants are problematic, it’s not a great idea for people of European or Asian extraction to be chowing down regularly on tomatoes, squash, peppers, pumpkin, cashews, and other plants native to the Americas.
Again, all New World plants have troublesome lectins that most of mankind has eaten for no more than five hundred years. Even Native Americans came from Asia, so these plants are “new” to all of us. (p. 208)
Peanuts royally f*ck you.
The peanut, which originated in the Americas, is a legume, not a nut. As such, it is loaded with killer lectins. (p. 209)
Corn is for cretins!
did you know that the French banned corn as unfit for human consumption in 1900 and allowed its use only to fatten pigs? This was prompted by an outbreak of congenital mental retardation (cretinism) in northern Italians, who had adopted corn as their main grain. (p. 211)
Dr. Gundry unwittingly makes a “blood and soil” argument…
The longer your ancestors had been eating a certain leaf or other plant part that contains a lectin, the more opportunity your immune system and microbiome had to evolve to tolerate that lectin. (p. 26)
I used to (freaking!) love spicy flavorful Mexican food, then I didn’t have it for several years when I lived in Colombia. A little while back my wife and I went to the one Mexican restaurant here in Sofia and our tummies were not pleased! So I’ll be a little more mindful of eating what my ancestors ate.
What Paleo gets right (and wrong)…
The Paleo concept takes the high-protein diet a step further and is based on the faulty assumption that early man dined on buffalo and other large animals on a regular basis and that’s what made us healthy. In all likelihood, such kills were hardly a regular occurrence. Instead, our forefathers likely subsisted mostly on tubers, berries, nuts, and animal protein sources such as fish, lizards, snails, insects, and small rodents. Now, don’t get me wrong — our “ancestral diet” was designed to do what any diet does: ensure that you grow up, reproduce, and then get out of the way. Your genes designed the ancestral diet to make you an ancestor, if you get my drift. (pp. 152–153)
As you know from any movie about cavemen, it was dangerous work to take down a mastodon. For hundreds of thousands of years our ancestors were scrounging for animal protein, not gorging themselves on it.
What to eat…
I was happy to learn from the book that one of my favorite all-time foods, Coconut, which I’ve been eating very regularly for 8 years now, is lectin-free. This is because coconuts cleverly evolved a nearly impenetrable hard shell to protect the sweat, white “coconut meat” within. That coconut meat is the ideal form of “healthy fat” to fuel the mind and body, putting us into a ketogenic state.
The best example of ketosis in action is a pregnant hibernating bear. She enters her den pregnant but doesn’t eat or drink for five months. During that time, she gestates her young, gives birth, suckles her cubs, and emerges from the den skinny but with all her muscle mass intact. If she didn’t spare her muscles, she couldn’t hunt for food for her cubs. But the most amazing feat of all is that she doesn’t urinate for five months. How does she do all this? She lives on the ketones from the fat that she stored for the winter. (p. 260)
Thou shalt eat avocados!
Our dear friend the avocado is the only acceptable ripe fruit because it contains nary a trace of sugar and is composed of good fat and soluble fiber, which help you lose weight and absorb fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. (p. 171)
Cook with Perilla Oil.
I recommend perilla oil. It has the highest content of rosemarinic acid (from rosemary), which improves cognition and memory.18 You may not have heard of it, but it is the primary cooking oil in Korea, Japan, and China. (p. 216)
it has the highest content of alpha linolenic acid, a form of omega-3 fat associated with protecting heart health, of any oil. Look for it in Asian markets, natural foods stores, and Whole Foods, as well as online. (p. 308)
Salt is super!
Unlike standard table salt, which is mined and processed, sea salt is simply harvested from evaporated seawater. However, most table salt has added iodine, a nutrient essential for proper thyroid function. To get the best of both worlds, opt for iodized sea salt. (p. 308)
Try Healthy homemade Soda-Pop — Sparkling Balsamic Vinegar Spritzer
8 to 10 ounces San Pellegrino or other high-pH sparkling water, chilled + 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar de Modena (p. 335)
This I’m eager to try!
Thou shalt pressure cook!
The book has thoroughly convinced me to invest in a pressure cooker (which starts at about $50) for the Roseland kitchen. I suggest that you do likewise!
A pressure cooker will destroy the lectins in beans and other legumes, which are a fantastic source of nonvegetable protein, as well as in vegetables in the nightshade and squash families (actually fruits). Better yet, pressure-cooked beans, shorn of their offending lectins, serve as a smorgasbord for your gut buddies, and can improve longevity and enhance memory. (p. 180)
For a hassle-free, lectin-free lifestyle, a good pressure cooker can’t be beat. (p. 181)
You may be disinclined to purchase a pressure cooker, fearing that it could be dangerous. Almost everyone who grew up in the 1950s has heard about a pressure cooker exploding and creating a terrible mess, and perhaps even burning the cook… Today’s appliances are a whole different story, thanks to a metal interlocking lid designed to withstand enormous pressure, an airtight gasket, and a relief valve to allow the device to maintain a constant pressure. (p. 181)
If you struggle with constipation and less-than-awesome poops, listen up!
treatment of constipation, such as psyllium powder or husks, work not as a bowel stimulator laxative, but as a food for your gut buddies; this makes them grow and multiply, accounting for that bigger bowel movement. Even more interesting is the fact that the gang members in your gut can’t eat psyllium husks and other fibers, so prebiotics feed the good guys and starve the bad guys. One of the best prebiotics is inulin, an FOS that I have mentioned before. (p. 279)
Lectin avoidance makes you a super pooper!
One test that many of my successful patients report is that they no longer need toilet paper. You are reading that correctly. Think about it. Do you see your dog using toilet paper? There’s no need with perfectly formed poops. Your great ape cousins don’t need TP either. If everything is as it should be, there is no sense of urgency as a result of loose or poorly formed stools to push out lectins or bad bugs. (pp. 230–231)
Thou shalt fast
The book affirms that fasting is smart. Dr. Gundry is a hardcore faster…
January through May of each year, I fast for 22 out of 24 hours each day during the week, eating all my calories between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. and drinking generous amounts of green tea and mint tea, as well as a cup of coffee in the morning. I have continued this practice for the last ten years, so I know not only that it is doable, but that it is also sustainable. (p. 248)
Of course, the really important question with any book like this is, what’s the evidence? Well, there’s quite a bit, the book has nearly 200 footnotes pointing to scientific studies and clinical trials but what I found especially convincing was the anecdotal evidence, Dr. Gundry has been a doctor for a long time and his lectin avoidance diet has dramatically improved the health of many of his patients.
In my thirty-plus years of practicing medicine, I have come to the conclusion that the problems we have with our health are actually caused by very small things. (p. 55)
Over the last fifteen years, more than ten thousand of my patients have found that following my Plant Paradox Program results in both weight loss and remarkable reversals of numerous health problems. (p. 3)
Sonja R., a fifty-eight-year-old farmer and severe diabetic, was scheduled for an emergency triple bypass after having a heart attack. Five of her arteries had severe blockages. In the pre-op room, she asked whether any other option was possible. After I told her about my dietary approach, she said she would be my best patient if I would not operate on her. She kept her promise: three years later she has lost forty pounds, is no longer a diabetic, takes no medications, has no chest pain, and has a normal response to my cardiac stress tests. (p. 150)
Lectin cause cancer, the book explains why, but I’ll refrain from getting into that in this article as I’m working on an epic deep-dive article on cancer prevention.
The book documents numerous other powerful cases of lectin avoidance arresting and reversing serious terminal diseases. And I know what a skeptic might be saying…
These are just anecdotes, who cares?
Well, the book is very rigorously footnoted. Where there’s a significant overlap between the anecdotal evidence and the conclusions of published science the pragmatic biohacker implements. You can find anecdotes about “magic” crystals curing cancer and you can find “science” urging you to inject mercury. So the critical thinker looks for the intersection of science and a statically significant body of credible anecdotal evidence when making important decisions about their health and lifestyle.
The Plant Paradox Program
Dr. Gundry prescribes a six-week lectin-detox program which involves a cleanse protocol for rebuilding the gut biome, it’s very thorough so I won’t get into the specifics here.
The book provides a very thorough list of lectin-free foods, lectin-rife no-go foods, and foods with moderate amounts of lectins that you could indulge in infrequently. It’s worth picking up for that alone.
This is one of the better health books I’ve read this year. It’s well written for being a health book that relatively adroit laypeople will be able to understand.
I’d highly recommend it to anyone struggling with obesity, autoimmune disease, or cancer. Otherwise healthy, younger people just looking to optimize their diet, might not need to read it cover to cover but should at least skim the lists of problematic, especially lectin-rife foods, and cut them out.