The Plant Paradox: Why Vegetables Are Not All Good For you

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You’ve likely heard of this popular diet, made famous by singer Kelly Clarkson who lost weight and went off medications after adhering to the diet. 

“I read this book… it worked. My autoimmune disease is gone and I’m 37 pounds lighter in my pleather.” – Kelly Clarkson

But what is it and how does it compare to the carnivore diet?

And how could vegetables be bad for you?

Kelly Clarkson Transformation with the Plant Paradox Diet

What is the Plant Paradox?

The Plant Paradox is a book written by renowned heart surgeon Dr. Steven Gundry. The book claims to heal leaky gut, reverse autoimmune disease, bring blood sugar and insulin under control and help you lose weight.

How? By weeding out foods from the diet that have traditionally been viewed as healthy including:

  • Vegetables (especially nightshades)
  • Seeds
  • Beans and legumes
  • Traditional dairy products
  • Grain-fed and farm-raised animal proteins

Why? Some plant foods and factory-farmed meat and dairy cause inflammation. Lectins found in some plant foods can cause a serious inflammatory response and other health issues, like leaky gut syndrome (intestinal permeability), weight gain, and brain fog.

“Plants don’t want to be eaten. They simply want to survive. One of the ways they defend themselves against hungry animals like us is by producing toxic chemical compounds – proteins known as lectins.”

—Dr. Steven Gundry

Plant Paradox Do’s and Don’ts

Dr. Gundry's Plant Paradox Food Pyramid

Kudos to Dr. Gundry for calling out the bogus health advice that has made our country fat, sick and disillusioned. But, he missed the mark on a few key points. To break this down, let’s review what he got right and where his program leaves a bit to be desired. 

The 4 Things Dr. Gundry Got Right

#1 Think Before You Eat

First and foremost, Dr. Gundry highlights the need to think before you eat. Your health problems aren’t independent from the food you eat every day. Food can make you sick and it can help you heal. 

The Standard American Diet is filled with highly processed junk food. I challenge you to pick up any boxed, bagged or canned item in the middle of the grocery store and read the ingredient list. What you’ll soon find is 90% of those products will have wheat flour, sugar and industrialized vegetable oils within the first three ingredients. Even foods you think are healthy. Breakfast cereal? Check. Granola bars? Check. Salad dressing for your healthy salad? Vegetable soup? Margarine? Check, check, check.

While I don’t agree with everything Dr. Gundry promotes, we can agree that everyone would benefit from giving their food more than a second of thought before they shovel it in. 

So the next time you want to complain about some aspect of your health – weight, mental clarity, muscle mass, digestion. Pour that effort into what you’re eating and you’ll get much better results.

#2 Lectin Free Diet Good Health

One of the most damaging compounds in plants are lectins. They are sticky, carbohydrate-binding proteins that function as a defense mechanism for plants. They are designed to cause an immune response in the animals that eat them (including humans).

Lectins are associated with both mental and physical health problems. They bind nerve endings, cause blood cells to clump and also attach to viruses and bacteria. In some cases people with lectin sensitivity are more likely to get sick because of this.

Health problems associated with lectins include

  • Leaky gut (intestinal permeability)
  • Brain fog
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
Person holding his gut tightly

Common sources of lectins include:

  • Grains (wheat, quinoa, wheat germ, rice, oats)
  • Nightshades (unless you peel the skins and deseed them)
  • Beans
  • Seeds
  • Squash

We can agree, lectin-free is something Dr. Gundry got right. Stop eating the lectins people, I don’t care what the heavily lobbied and corrupt USDA tells you.

#3 Eat Meat

Dr. Gundry promotes eating grazing animals like beef, lamb and bison as well as wild caught fish. Animal protein supports satiety, helps heal the gut, promotes maintenance and building of both muscle and bones.

Medium rare steak with rosemary

The unapologetic truth here is that humans are carnivores.

We are meant to eat meat. What is the evidence? 

  • Human teeth are designed for biting into animal flesh
  • Our closest animal relatives (chimpanzees) eat meat
  • We require B12 (available only in animal foods)
  • Our strong sense of smell is an indicator we could find recently dead animals to eat

Eating meat promotes optimal health. This should not come as a surprise to anyone who has read anything at all on this blog. But don’t take it from me, take it from science.

If you’re interested in the diet that is highest in animal products in the world, it’s time to start exploring carnivore. Sign up below for my 14 day guide to getting started. 

#4 Eating Nothing is Good for You Too

Fasting is one pillar of Dr. Gundry’s Plant Paradox program.

He recommends skipping at least one meal per day, better yet two meals or a whole day of eating. From January to June he limits himself to one meal per day, eating all his calories between 6-8pm in the evening. 

Cycling between periods of eating and fasting aids in:

  • Cellular repair
  • Energy production
  • Focus
  • Weight loss
  • Digestion
empty plate with wooden spoon and fork

Fasting can seem like a daunting challenge but, Dr. Gundry recommends four different types depending on what works best for you:

  1. 24 hour fast: Fast completely for a full 24-hour period once or twice a week.
  2. The 16:8 method: Eat all your meals within an 8 hour period and fast the remaining 16.
  3. The crescendo method: Avoid eating 12-16 hours every other day.
  4. The 5:2 method: Restrict yourself to 500-600 calories on two days. The remaining 5 days eat as normal.

The research on fasting does not lie. The carnivore diet can be followed simultaneously with fasting efforts. In fact, because the carnivore diet induces ketosis (the same metabolic maintenance mode induced with fasting) it can be a great way to get all the benefits of fasting while preserving muscle mass.

“Ketogenesis, or the increase of ketones in the bloodstream, initiates activity in a variety of cellular signaling pathways known to influence health and aging. This activity enhances the body’s defenses against oxidative and metabolic stress and initiates the removal or repair of damaged molecules. The impact of ketogenesis carries over into the non-fasting period and can improve glucose regulation, increase stress resistance and suppress inflammation.” – National Institutes on Health (NIH)

Now, as you might assume, there are several components of the Plant Paradox that I don’t agree with, particularly for those with chronic mental and physical health issues. Let’s review…

What Dr. Gundry Got Wrong

#1 Goitrogenic Foods are Part of Gundry’s Plan

The Plant Paradox includes goitrogens. What are they? 

Goitrogens are foods that cause goiter, a swelling of the thyroid. These food components, found in broccoli, kale, cauliflower other cruciferous vegetables, interfere with iodine absorption in the thyroid. 

Iodine is required for thyroid hormone production. Without it, the thyroid cannot produce the T4 and T3 hormones. 

In response to deficient T4 and T3 levels, your pituitary gland produces more TSH to signal to your thyroid to produce more T4. The excess TSH causes swelling.

A lot of broccoli in a bowl

Goitrogens fall into three categories:

  1. Goitrins: Russian kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, collard greens 
  2. Thiocyanates: more of the same…kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli raab, collards
  3. Flavonoids: some new faces here…blackberries, dried oregano, dark chocolate (a superfood according to Gundry), green tea

Science shows that goitrogens are bad for your thyroid, an organ that plays an indispensable role in all metabolism. Bottom line – avoid goitrogens. 

#2 Eat Food with Oxalates

Oxa-what? Let’s start with oxalic acid. Oxalic acid is an organic compound found in plants.  Much like lectins, oxalic acid is considered an anti-nutrient intended to fed off predators. 

Think of oxalic acid like a magnet. It attracts minerals like calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium and binds to them. These compounds bind together to form oxalate salts. When we talk about oxalates, these are what we’re discussing.

Now think about this for a minute – oxalic acid binds with essential nutrients your body needs for electrolyte balance, bone health, and relaxation of the nervous system. It is actually leaching these necessary nutrients from your body. Kind of sounds like a parasite, right? Not far off and that’s why oxalates are known as “anti-nutrients”.

Oxalates are associated with a number of health problems, including:

  • Kidney stones
  • Autism
  • Reduced mineral absorption
  • Joint pain
  • Skin and eye issues
  • Fatigue

Foods highest in oxalates (100–900 mg per serving) include:

  • Spinach
  • Beet greens
  • Rhubarb
  • Beets
  • Peanuts
  • Endive
  • Cocoa powder
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Turnip greens
  • Swiss chard
  • Star fruit

You’ll notice quite a few foods that are included in the Plant Paradox food plan. Obviously, this is a pretty large oversight on Gundry’s part. I don’t know about you but I’d prefer to keep all essential nutrients in my body.

#3 Saponin Containing Foods are Featured in Gundry’s Plan

Saponins are a class of bitter-tasting compounds that produce soap-like foam when added to water. Most saponins occur naturally in plants and are detrimental to health. 

Similar to oxalates, phytins, lectins, and tannins, saponins are antinutrients

Quinoa, spinach, oats, and beans are all sources of saponins. To his credit, Gundry’s plan actually eliminates most sources of saponins through lectin avoidance. But, spinach is the last vegetable standing. 

Spinach is included on the Plant Paradox food plan and because it is cheap and easy to find at most grocery stores, disciples of the Plant Paradox use it as a staple food. 

If you’re trying to lose weight, reverse autoimmune disease and improve gut health, saponin containing foods should definitely get the ax. 

Spinach leaves overflowing

Why? 

  • Research shows that saponins in plant foods may interfere with the absorption and digestion of glucose, protein, and vitamins A, B12, D, and E
  • Eating too many saponins can cause leaky gut . Intestinal permeability, commonly known as leaky gut, allows bacteria, metabolites, and small food molecules to “leak” into your bloodstream and cause autoimmune issues and inflammation.

Get Serious About Carnivore

Let’s land this plane folks. In summary, Dr. Gundry, a well-meaning and well-respected physician has forced some much-needed attention on what the vast majority of the American public is eating. He rightly promotes avoidance of lectins, encourages fasting, and incorporating animal protein as part of a diet to reverse disease and create health.

Unfortunately, his plan only goes half the distance. The Plant Paradox still includes anti-nutrients and other health disrupting compounds like goitrogens, saponins, and oxalates.

So what’s the solution? I think we both know the answer to that one. If you’re serious about your health, and I mean really serious, think of the Plant Paradox as a sideshow and the Carnivore diet as the main event. 

If you’re interested in the diet that is highest in animal products in the world, it’s time to start exploring carnivore. Sign up below for my 14 day guide to getting started. 

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