The Plant Paradox Diet is based on a popular diet book. Its central tenet is that you should avoid lectins, an antinutrient found mostly in plants.

The diet’s creators claim that lectins may cause weight gain, inflammation, and chronic disease.

However, there’s not much scientific evidence to support the idea that all lectin-containing plant foods are harmful. In fact, many foods with lectins are extremely nutritious.

Thus, you may wonder whether this diet is worth pursuing.

This article reviews the Plant Paradox Diet to tell you how it works, whether it aids weight loss, and its benefits and downsides.

diet review scorecard
  • Overall score: 3
  • Weight loss: 3.5
  • Healthy eating: 2.75
  • Sustainability: 2.5
  • Whole body health: 3.25
  • Nutrition quality: 4.75
  • Evidence-based: 1.5

BOTTOM LINE: For lectin-sensitive individuals, the Plant Paradox Diet can be a game changer. Yet, for most people, it’s excessively restrictive, banning many nutritious foods. No evidence suggests that all lectin-containing foods are inherently unhealthy.

The Plant Paradox Diet was first espoused in the book “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain” by Steven Gundry, a former cardiac surgeon and physician.

The book’s premise is that many plant foods harbor lectins, which are antinutrients that are said to cause weight gain and a host of chronic diseases.

While it’s true that many plant foods contain lectins, there’s little evidence to support the theory that lectins are as harmful as Dr. Gundry proposes (1).

Nonetheless, some people, especially those with preexisting digestive problems, respond well to a lectin-free diet.

What are lectins?

Lectins are proteins found in many foods, but primarily in legumes, grains, and nightshade veggies like tomatoes and eggplants (1).

According to Dr. Gundry, lectins are toxins that plants produce to survive and shouldn’t be eaten because of the many complications they cause, including inflammation, intestinal damage, and weight gain.

Although some lectins are dangerous, many foods that contain lectins are nutritious, boasting fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

For example, raw kidney beans — which are packed with nutrients — also contain phytohaemagglutinin, a lectin that can be extremely harmful if eaten in large amounts. However, cooking destroys this lectin, making cooked kidney beans perfectly healthy (2).

Gluten-containing grains also contain lectins, and according to Gundry, should be avoided. Yet, while some people, such as those with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or certain autoimmune diseases, benefit from a gluten-free diet, gluten is considered safe for most.

Summary

The Plant Paradox Diet bans lectins, which are proteins found in many plant foods. The diet’s advocates assert that all lectin-containing plants are harmful, but research overwhelmingly suggests that many are safe and healthy.

The Plant Paradox Diet is fairly straightforward, as it simply involves avoiding lectin-containing foods.

You’re allowed to follow whichever style of eating works for you, whether that’s three meals and snacks, intermittent fasting, or some other eating pattern.

All the same, there are two main spin-offs of the diet.

Specialized programs

The “Plant Paradox” book features two specialized programs — a low carb, high fat ketogenic version of the diet for people with cancer, and a 3-day “detox” plan for people who are new to lectin-free eating patterns.

If you have cancer and are interested in following the keto program, discuss it with your healthcare team and make sure you also follow their advice and treatment. Keep in mind that this diet cannot and should not replace cancer treatments.

According to Dr. Gundry’s website, the detox program involves a strict lectin-free diet for 3 days, plus a daily regimen of light exercise and drinking at least 8 cups (1.9 liters) of water, tea, or decaf coffee each day.

Not only does the detox bar all lectins but also all dairy products, eggs, sugar, seeds, grains, nightshade vegetables, soy products, and seed oils. Dr. Gundry claims that it helps prepare your body to follow a lectin-free diet long term.

Summary

The Plant Paradox diet involves eliminating lectin-containing foods, but there’s no structured program unless you choose to do its 3-day detox or ketogenic program for cancer.

Although the Plant Paradox Diet is restrictive, cutting out numerous plant foods, it emphasizes whole and nutritious sources of protein and fat.

Foods to eat

You’re encouraged to eat these foods on the Plant Paradox Diet:

  • Proteins: grass-fed or -finished meats, pasture-raised poultry, free-range eggs, wild-caught fish, and hemp products like “hempeh,” hemp tofu, or hemp protein powder
  • Starches and grain-free products: sweet potatoes, plantains, rutabaga, parsnips, and paleo wraps or breads
  • Nuts and seeds: macadamia nuts, walnuts, pecans, hemp seeds, sesame seeds, and hazelnuts
  • Fruits: avocados, berries, and coconut
  • Vegetables: mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, okra, carrots, radishes, beets, kale, nopales (cactus), and cabbage
  • Dairy: goat’s milk and cheese, organic sour cream, organic cream cheese, organic heavy cream, and Brie
  • Fats and oils: grass-fed butter, plus olive, coconut, and avocado oils

You’re meant to only consume berries sparingly and limit nuts to a 1/2-cup (approximately 75-gram) serving per day.

Although most cow’s milk is excluded, A2 milk is allowed. It’s produced from cows that naturally only produce one type of casein protein — A2 beta-casein (3).

The A1 beta-casein in conventional milk may cause digestive problems in some people, which is why it’s banned on the diet (3).

Foods to avoid

The following foods contain lectins or other compounds that Dr. Gundry considers harmful. Thus, you should avoid them on the Plant Paradox Diet.

  • Proteins: soy products, grain- or soy-fed livestock, farmed fish, and all beans and legumes
  • Grains and starches: pasta, potatoes, cookies, crackers, pastries, whole grains, wheat, rice, oats, quinoa, barley, corn, and popcorn
  • Nuts and seeds: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, peanuts, and cashews
  • Fruits: all fruits, except berries
  • Vegetables: cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkin, and other squashes, as well as nightshades like tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant
  • Dairy: all conventional A1 milk products, as well as Greek yogurt, American cheese, and cottage cheese
  • Fats and oils: vegetable, soybean, canola, corn, peanut, and sunflower oils

According to Dr. Gundry, you can eat a select few of the banned veggies — tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers — if they’ve been peeled and deseeded.

summary

The Plant Paradox Diet emphasizes whole, nutritious sources of protein and fat while banning nightshades, beans, legumes, grains, and most dairy.

To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you eat. This is called a calorie deficit.

Notably, neither the Plant Paradox Diet nor its 3-day detox or keto programs are explicitly intended for weight loss. They don’t involve any calorie restriction techniques, such as portion control or calorie counting.

As such, if you want to lose weight on this diet, you should consider carefully tracking your food intake.

Because the Plant Paradox Diet is rich in protein and healthy fats since it excludes most starchy foods, it may promote increased feelings of fullness. In turn, this may make it easier to stick to a calorie deficit (4).

The diet also removes most processed foods and added sugars, which may naturally lower your calorie intake.

Regardless, you may want to choose an alternative eating pattern that’s expressly intended for weight loss.

Summary

The Plant Paradox Diet’s focus on whole, unprocessed foods may make it easier to maintain a calorie deficit. Still, the diet isn’t built to help you lose weight.

The Plant Paradox Diet may provide several benefits, such as improving insulin sensitivity and digestive health.

May aid insulin sensitivity

Limiting sugary items, grains, and most starchy foods may improve your insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates your blood sugar levels.

Sugary foods, processed grains, and starchy foods — especially those with little fiber, protein, or fat — rapidly increase your blood sugar levels, causing a spike in insulin (5).

Over time, especially if you habitually eat these foods, your body may become insulin resistant. This condition is implicated in weight gain and several chronic illnesses, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s (6, 7).

Still, removing these foods from your diet may boost insulin sensitivity, decreasing your risk of weight gain and chronic disease (8).

May boost digestive health

One of the key benefits of the Plant Paradox Diet and other lectin-free diets is better digestive health, especially for people struggling with digestive issues or lectin sensitivity.

Although not everyone is sensitive to lectins, some people react adversely to them, especially to gluten or the lectins in nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants (9, 10).

Lectin-sensitive individuals may experience damage to their digestive tract lining and imbalances in gut bacteria if they eat lectins (11).

This can not only lead to digestive problems like constipation or diarrhea but also complications like a weakened immune system, stunted growth, and skin conditions (11).

By eliminating lectins, people with lectin sensitivity may see improvements in their digestive symptoms, allowing their gut time to heal.

If you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues or suspect that you’re lectin sensitive, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.

May aid autoimmune conditions

The autoimmune protocol (AIP) is a lectin-free eating pattern that’s similar to the Plant Paradox Diet.

The AIP is a type of paleo diet that may help manage autoimmune conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease, and Hashimoto’s.

In many people, wheat and other lectin-rich grains promote inflammation that can lead to gut dysfunction, changes in immunity, and the development or worsening of inflammatory or autoimmune conditions (12).

One study in 15 people with IBD found that the AIP reduced inflammation and improved symptoms after only 11 weeks (13).

A similar, 10-week study in 17 women with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis prescribed the AIP and noted a significant reduction in inflammation, along with an improvement in symptoms and quality of life (14).

For these reasons, the lectin-free Plant Paradox Diet may likewise benefit individuals with autoimmune conditions.

Summary

The Plant Paradox Diet is best used to relieve symptoms for people with lectin sensitivity. Because it removes most processed and sugary foods, it may also improve your insulin sensitivity.

The Plant Paradox Diet has several downsides, chief among them its excessive food restrictions.

It eliminates a wide variety of foods, from legumes and seeds to nightshade veggies to conventionally raised meats. While this may help people with lectin sensitivity, you’re unlikely to see many benefits if you’re not sensitive to lectin.

In fact, many of these banned foods are nutritious and contain relatively few lectins, especially after cooking them.

For instance, beans and legumes are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Moreover, most of their lectins are neutralized when they are properly prepared by soaking and cooking (15).

Because the diet discourages grain-fed meats and conventionally raised poultry, it can also be expensive to follow. Grass-fed meats are typically much more expensive than grain-fed ones, as well as potentially more difficult to find.

Summary

The Plant Paradox Diet is unnecessarily restrictive for people who aren’t sensitive to lectins because it bans a variety of nutritious foods. It may be expensive to follow as well.

The Plant Paradox Diet eliminates lectins, an antinutrient that may be harmful for people with lectin sensitivity. As such, it bans legumes, beans, grains, and numerous veggies.

However, there’s very little evidence that anyone without lectin sensitivity should cut these foods from their diet. In fact, these foods provide beneficial fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients.

What’s more, you can reduce or eliminate most lectins via cooking.

While the Plant Paradox Diet may improve insulin sensitivity and offer a few benefits for weight loss, many people may find it too restrictive, as well as expensive.

If you’re experiencing chronic digestive issues and considering this diet, be sure to consult your healthcare provider first.