Book review: 'The Plant Paradox' By Steven Gundry, MD
The Plant Paradox has been on my radar for quite some time, and this past July I finally got around to reading it.
Despite it’s popularity on Amazon and among wellness circles and health gurus, until very recently, I was a bit hesitant to read it. Admittedly, there are times when my diet does feel restrictive; because of the title of the book, along with snippets of information I had come across about Dr. Gundry’s theory on lectins, I worried that the list of foods I needed to be concerned about would grow, and as a result, my diet would become even more restrictive. I know myself and if I come across reasonable information or evidence that suggests that something I am consuming is unhealthy or disruptive to my body (i.e. the digestive system, gut, etc.), I tend to get spooked and cut it from my diet.
Before I get in to any thoughts or opinions, the general premise of The Plant Paradox is that certain foods that are traditionally considered nutritious or healthy are actually quite bad for us, due to their high lectin content. These include wheat, all fruits, legumes such as beans, peas, peanuts, etc. and ‘night shade’ vegetables such as tomatoes and eggplants - to name only a few.
Lectin is a protein, which is found in nearly all foods, but a particularly high amount is found in certain food groups, such as those listed above. According to Gundry, when these lectins enter the body via the foods we eat, they disrupt our gastrointestinal (GI) and permit bacteria to spread throughout the body, including our immune system, which causes ‘leaky gut’ syndrome and inflammation. When this happens, our body’s natural response is to fight the foreign invader - a reaction that resembles that of an autoimmune disease. In addition to this, Gundry argues that lectins cause other adverse effects on the body, such as weight gain because it behaves much like insulin, a hormone, which allows your body to use sugar from the foods you eat for energy and to store glucose (sugar) for future use, which leads to fat storage.
There were parts of The Plant Paradox that I enjoyed reading and found rather fascinating. It was truly interesting to learn about the evolution of plants and their lectins, specifically that lectins are, in a way, used by plants to repel animals (or humans) from picking and eating them; that the skin and seeds of a plan usually contain the highest concentration of lectins; and that you may use a pressure cooker to eliminate lectins in certain foods.
With that said, there were many moments throughout the book that left me feeling overwhelmed, confused and even a bit uncomfortable at times.
To be fair, much of this had to do with the fact that there were a lot of foods on Gundry’s ‘No’ list that are staples in my diet, such as chia and pumpkin seeds, quinoa and other pseudo grains, and a ton of vegetables (beyond just nightshades). When I came across this information, at first I found it debilitating. I wondered, if I followed his advice and eliminated these things, what on earth would be left for me to eat? This was the exact feeling I was worried that I would have.
Thankfully, I gained some perspective and reminded myself that, before reading Gundry’s lectin theory, I had never come across any scientific explanation that suggests these foods were disruptive to our body’s ability to function properly. Of course, there are individual cases where certain foods don’t agree with you (I, for one, have trouble digesting legumes and become super bloated if I eat more than a very small amount). But to suggest that pumpkin or chia seeds are the devil, frankly, did not sit well with me.
I also found it unusual to see Quorn products, such as the Chik’n Tenders, Cutlets, Grounds, Turk’y Roast and Bacon style slices as the recommended options for Plant Based ‘Meats’. First of all, only the Quorn Tenders and Cutlets aren’t actually vegan; the Grounds and Turk’y Roast contain egg white and milk protein, which make them suitable for vegetarians but not vegans. Making things more confusing is the fact that both of the vegan options that he recommends actually contain wheat gluten, which Gundry repeatedly labels as a big fat NO when it comes to food choice. These recommended suggestions for vegans are odd, a bit careless and downright confusing!
Finally, there are a lot of health claims made throughout this book and Dr. Gundry does so with an air of confidence and certainty that, when coming from an accomplished doctor, you don’t think to question.
But all health claims should be questioned, no matter who they’re coming from. Especially in the world we live in today, where claims about diet, health and nutrition come at us fast and furiously, and can be confusing since so many of these claims are at odds with one another. Admittedly, I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to being lured in to trendy diets (before I committed to a plant-based diet six years ago, I spent a solid 15 years jumping on diet bandwagons without questioning whether or not they were sustainable or even good for my health). But for some reason, as I read The Plant Paradox, I found myself questioning a lot of the claims being made. I certainly believe that the right diet can help treat and prevent chronic and auto-immune diseases, because there are many doctors who have spent the last several decades researching and conducting clinical trials that would successfully prove this (The China Study is a great example of this). In the case of The Plant Paradox, Dr. Gundry doesn’t really point to any controlled studies or trials that have been reviewed or published that could substantiate his claims about healing or eliminating the illnesses and ailments of his various patients.
I’m not a doctor. I’m not here to offer a critique of Dr. Gundry’s credentials or his medical research. I’m just an ordinary person, who happens to be curious about achieving good health. After reading The Plant Paradox I didn’t feel compelled to try any of the diet plans included in the book, so I can’t speak to the effectiveness of Gundry’s approach in practical terms. Whether you’re deciding if this is a book worth reading or an approach to diet and health worth trying, I will tell you the same thing that I tell myself: consume as much information as you can, from as many different sources as possible; try new things where you see fit; and decide for yourself what works or feels good for your body and what does not.