photography by PHUONG NGUYEN
Hold onto your seats: We're bound to shake up everything you thought you knew about vegetables. You may be intrigued, or you might get upset, but let's let Dr. Steven R. Gundry explain.
Thirty years in the making, The Plant Paradox, Gundry's new book, is a trailblazing and revolutionary view on what foods aid in or debilitate your health. And a main culprit highlighted in the book is a little known protein called lectins. Lectins, as Gundry believes, are not only the cause of digestive upset, but also the root of all disease.
We chatted with Dr. Gundry, a trained cardiologist and heart surgeon, and had him highlight everything you need to know about lectins, and why you might want to cut them out of your diet.
In the simplest terms, what are lectins? And what do they do to our bodies?
Lectins are proteins that seek certain sugar molecules to bind to and impart or block information. Lectins are used by plants and animals as a main part of cellular communication. But plants use lectins as a major defense against being eaten by their predators. They have the ability to pry open the tight junctions that hold intestinal cells lining our gut wall together, thereby causing a dangerous issue known as “leaky gut.”
Lectins and bacterial cell wall particles called LPSs are foreign proteins that activate our immune system (our internal “border patrol) resulting in inflammation throughout our body. This inflammation produces pain, brain fog, joint issues, heartburn, fatigue, etc.
For example, an animal bothered by eating a particular plant usually decides that feeling lousy isn't worth it and leaves it alone. The plant wins, the animal wins, and everyone's happy. But humans are not so smart, we just keep eating the stuff that makes us miserable.
Can you remove them from foods?
Lectins are heat resistant proteins, that is they are difficult to destroy by cooking, although it certainly helps. But pressure cooking destroys all lectins with the exception of gluten (yes, gluten is a lectin, but it's actually a pretty minor one.).
Soaking also diminishes lectin content, which is the reason that traditional cultures soak beans or quinoa for days before cooking. And spoiler alert: Sprouting increases the lectin content of grains.
The lectins in the nightshade family—potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, goji berries, and eggplants—are concentrated in the seeds and peels, so peeling and deseeding dramatically reduces the lectin content. That's why traditionally, Italians always peel and deseed tomatoes and peppers before using them for sauces.
Do lectins make you gain weight?
Lectins cause weight gain in two essential ways. They attach to the insulin receptor on fat cells and switch on an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase that tells the fat cell to convert sugar into fat. They also attach to the insulin receptor on muscle cells and block the muscle cells from using sugar; diverting it to the fat cells.
Secondly, because they are the cause of leaky gut and inflammation, as I show in The Plant Paradox, inflammation signals a war. We store fat as fuel for our troops (our immune cells) who are fighting the war. That is why we store fat in our belly (gut) because that's where the war is being fought first, on the frontline.
What is the first important change you can make for your health regarding lectins?
Remove grains, beans, peas, soy, nightshades, peanuts, cashews, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and chia seeds, certain milk products, and avoid commercially raised chicken (even free-range) pork, lamb, and beef. Use wild seafood and shellfish as your primary animal protein if you eat animals at all. Buy a modern pressure cooker and use it. Eat green, and you will become lean. Think that the only purpose of food is to bring olive oil into your mouth.
You have an interesting point of view for a doctor, in that you believe foods can entirely heal us. How can we be more diligent about our health naturally?
Hippocrates, 2,500 years ago, believed in the innate ability of all creatures to have perfect health, but that outside forces often prevented this from happening. He believed and taught that the purpose of the physician was to identify those forces and remove them. The patient would then heal themselves.
I believe that you must help your doctor understand that his job is to not give you drugs, but to find the forces that are keeping you from healing and having perfect health. If he doesn't want to help you, get yourself a new doctor.
Turns out we've got millions of little friends called holobiomes. What are these little guys, why are they important, and how can you nurture this symbiotic relationship?
You are a complex super organism consisting of human cells and trillions of non-human bacteria, virus, worms, fungi, and yeasts living in you, on you, and around you. This holobiome makes up 90 percent of the cells in you and 99 percent of the genetic material that makes you you.
In other words, you are a condominium for bugs! You are their home, which they will defend. They control your emotions, your moods, your weight, and your health. If you give them what they need to flourish, they will take care of the care and maintenance of their home: you! The Plant Paradox shows how to do just that.
The Plant Paradox diet is pretty revolutionary for many reasons, but especially for the foods to avoid, many previously thought to be “healthy.” There has been a lot of kickback on this.
I say, give me two weeks of hating me, and then I bet you'll start loving me. Like one of my early patients told me: "Feeling well never tasted so good!"