Kelly Clarkson announced this year that she lost 37 pounds, and she’s crediting a diet based on Dr. Steven Gundry’s best-selling book The Plant Paradox, which nixes gluten as well as other “lectins,” a type of protein that is also found in many vegetables, fruits, nuts, and more.
The singer said in June she initially tried the “lectin-free” plan to help with an autoimmune disease and a thyroid issue, and ended up losing weight as part of this “overall health approach.”
While Kelly has found success by going lectin-free, this restrictive eating style isn’t for everyone. Avoiding lectins alone won’t make you drop pounds. Skipping the processed foods where they’re found and eating lectin-containing beans and whole grains will actually help most people reach their goals.
If you’re considering joining the Plant Paradox bandwagon, here’s why you shouldn’t hop on just yet.
First, tell me more about these “lectins.”
Lectin is a protein present in most foods, but pulses, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit contain particularly high amounts. According to Gundry, gluten — a protein that’s found in wheat, barley rye, and triticale — is just one type of lectin.
Why does the diet hate on lectins?
The Plant Paradox cites evolution as to why eating lectin is harmful: Plants developed this protein as a defense against predators, a.k.a. animals and insects. Gundry says lectins disrupt your GI tract and allow bacteria to enter your immune system, causing “leaky gut” syndrome and inflammation — a state in which your body attempts to “fight” a vegetable predator. The book likens this response to that of an autoimmune disease.
He also says that eating lectin causes weight gain because it acts similarly to insulin, the hormone that takes up glucose (sugar molecules) by your peripheral tissues (a.k.a. fat cells) for storage.
Which foods contain lectins?
Lectin is found naturally in these foods:
Including soy and peanuts
Like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers
Because dairy cows and commercial chickens eat grains
Especially quinoa and brown rice
Gundry instead advises followers to eat grass-fed meat, coconut oil, and certain vegetables like greens, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.
So should I stop eating lectins?
While Gundry talks a big talk, there are no human studies linking the dietary lectins with a harmful immune response in healthy people. The only studies done on the topic showing negative effect have used test tubes of animal models. So while this demonstrates the effects of consuming lectins themselves, it doesn’t show what happens when you eat lectin-containing foods.
Let’s use the example of antioxidants. Many studies have linked eating antioxidant-containing foods with a decreased risk of chronic disease. But consuming antioxidants in high-dose supplement form has the opposite effect on the body. So should we avoid antioxidant-rich foods? Absolutely not. Should we avoid antioxidant supplements? Yes.
One thing to note: Research has linked eating undercooked red kidney beans with food poisoning, but in that case it’s consuming certain type of lectin raw that causes illness. Prepare your beans normally and there’s no need to worry.
How did Kelly lose weight?
Since lectins are in everything, they’re also in processed foods. If you were to take anything away from the idea of going lectin-free, avoiding the lectins in the form of corn syrup, for example, would help you both lose weight and decrease chronic inflammation — but only if you were overindulging in corn syrup-containing foods to begin with.
Eating less butter and cream, which contain high amounts of saturated fat, and other processed grain and bean products, which may contain high amounts of sodium, would also help you lose weight. Added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat are all over-consumed in the American diet, according to the USDA.
TBH I just skimmed all of that. What’s the bottom line?
Any diet that limits veggies, fruit, vegetable oils, and 100% whole grains, is worth questioning. To date, there’s no data supporting the idea that consuming lectin-containing foods will harm you or promote weight gain. In fact, eating more plant-based foods and has way more research behind it in terms of weight loss.
But will going lectin-free actually hurt you? Unlikely, unless you dramatically cut back on fiber as a result of the restrictions on fruits and vegetables.