Why You Should Ignore “The Plant Paradox” by Steven Gundry

The skeptical cardiologist first encountered the blather of Dr. Steven Gundry while researching and writing a post entitled  The #1 Red Flag of Quackery.

Gundry came across my radar screen due to the popularity of his useless supplements and his pseudoscientific justifications.

He is also widely described as a cardiologist but he is not,  He is a  cardiothoracic  surgeon.

He wrote a book published in 2009 entitled Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution in which he states:

“Until six years ago, I primarily flexed my survival muscles as a heart surgeon and researcher on how to keep heart cells alive under stress”.

Indeed up until 2004 Gundry was a well-respected cardiac surgeon but since then he has been selling diet books and supplements on his website, gundrymd.com.

Gundry is also a Goop doctor.

I’ve been meaning to write specifically about his most popular useless supplement, Vital Reds.

In the meantime, Gundry has  come out with another best-selling.  book entitled  “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in Healthy Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain”.

This book claims to reveal to its readers the great dietary “secret” that is causing almost all chronic diseases. Of course, Gundry is the only person with the brilliance and insight to have recognized this. Only those who are willing to plunk down the money to buy his book will learn this secret and the (mostly gobbledook) science behind it.

This  technique of convincing the naive that only you are aware of the “hidden” factor which is  the cause of their various maladies is a standard come-on in the world of pseudoscience.

The Plant Paradox would have you believe that lectins are the major danger in our diet.

I’ve come across four  well-researched pieces which destroy any validity to the concepts put forth by Gundry in The Plant Paradox.

Campbell: Is It Possible Gundry Is Out To Make A Quick Buck?

The first is from T. Colin Campbell of China Study fame. While I don’t agree with his overall dietary philosophy (see here) in his article he has taken the time to read Gundry’s book in detail and address in great detail the multiple bogus claims and the lack of scientific support. Campbell begins:

The claims come fast and furious in this book, stated with a degree of certainty, without nuance, that undoubtedly appeals to many readers. But the referencing is so lacking and sloppy that Dr. Gundry should be embarrassed. The references that are cited in this book do a poor job of trying to justify its claims. And the bulk of the author’s wild claims lack references at all, with several examples of easily verifiable falsehoods. Because his claims are quite profound and novel, referencing of the findings of others and his own results are especially important. This is especially troubling for an author who touts his own research experience.

After debunking Gundry’s lectin claims , Campbell suggests that Gundry’s major goal is selling more useless supplements, including one that will protect readers from the dreaded lectin:

In conclusion, there are many people who desire good health and deserve good information and we resent that they must suffer such poor quality and confusing information under the assumption that it is good science. Is it possible that Dr. Gundry is just out to make a quick buck? He admits that his patients give up to a dozen vials of blood for testing every couple of months at his clinic. Overtesting is common practice in supplement-driven clinics. This extensive testing, (which are another topic), is almost always used to demonstrate some type of nutritional pathology, which of course can only be corrected by taking the suggested supplements. And of course, Dr. Gundry sells supplements, including “Lectin Shield” for about $80 a month. According to his website, “This groundbreaking new formula was created to offset the discomforting effects of lectins (proteins commonly found in plants that make them harder to digest). Lectin Shield works to protect your body from a pile-up of lectins and to promote full-body comfort.”

Are Lectins The Next Gluten?

The second article I highly recommend was written for The Atlantic last year by one of my favorite medical writers, James Hamblin, MD.

Entitled, “Lectins Could Become the Next Gluten“, the article combines a tongue–in-cheek commentary with interviews with scientists who debunk Gundry’s claims. Hamblin also interviews Gundry which is particularly revelatory as to Gundry’s lack of credibility.

Although Gundry claims his writing is not motivated by money, Hambling notes:

Yes, he also sells supplements he recommends. The last 20 or so minutes of his infomercial is a string of claims about how supplies are running low, and it’s important that you act immediately, and that if you do manage to get through to a customer representative you should order as much as you have room to store—the shelf life is great, etc. And the necessity of supplements is the crucial argument of the book. He writes, “Getting all of the nutrients you need simply cannot be done without supplements.”

The GundryMD line of products includes something he invented called vitamin G6. Another is a “lectin shield” that’s “designed to neutralize the effects of lectins.” These are available on his website for $79.99. There you can also get six jars of Vital Reds for $254.70.

Are Lectins As Toxic As Oxygen?

David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, FACLM, who has way too many letters after his name wrote “Do We Dare Eat Lectins?” and concluded that Gundry’s idea that “the binding of lectins from plant foods to our cells is a major cause of ill health, and thus we must all fear and avoid lectins” is “utter nonsense.”

The answer to- “should you fear lectins now?” is- yes, if and only if you do the same for oxygen.

As I recently noted to a colleague, oxygen is not a theoretical toxin with theoretical harms in people; it is a known toxic with established harms. The atmosphere of our planet is thus highly analogous to the dietary sources of lectins: both contain compounds with potentially toxic effects, but net benefit is overwhelming both from eating plants, and breathing.

Eat Your Beans But Skip Reading The Plant Paradox

Finally, I’ve updated this post with a skewering of Gundry’s latest book “The Longevity Paradox” written by Joel Kahn, MD

In the Longevity Paradox Gundry comes up with his own unique and totally unsubstantiated theory of atherosclerosis (the build up of plaque in our arteries which causes heart attacks). Kahn points out that there is nothing in the scientific literature to support this theory:

“On pages 97–101, Dr. Gundry provides a theory of atherosclerosis that he provides to support the central role of avoiding lectins for health, the thesis of his The Plant Paradox. He provides ideas about molecules called Neu5Gc and Neu5Ac and how the differences amongst species. As humans do not make Neu5Gc, or so he asserts, eating lectins, and particularly grain lectins, bind to our tissues which “lays the groundwork for heart and autoimmune diseases in spades”. How many references to scientific studies are provided in these 5 pages to support this novel and bold assertion? Zero! I was intrigued enough to do my own literature search and can confirm zero exist. This is another example of hypothesis or fiction presented as an established fact because Dr. Gundry has a white beard like Santa and a medical degree. Shame, shame.”

Fake Dietary Science Undermines Valid Dietary Recommendations

Hambling closes his piece by noting that book publishers have no accountability for publishing dietary/health misinformation as they are incentivized to publish and profit from the most outrageous claims.

This is a problem much bigger than any plant protein. Cycles of fad dieting and insidious misinformation undermine both public health and understanding of how science works, giving way to a sense of chaos. It seems that every doctor has their own opinion about how to protect your body from calamity, and all are equally valid, because nothing is ever truly known.

Lectiophilically

-ACP

N.B. Gwyneth Paltrow (GOOP) deserves a prominent place in the Quackery Hall of Shame.

Julia Belluz of Vox has a typically spot-on piece about GOOP which begins:

Gwyneth Paltrow has made a career out of selling pseudoscience on her lifestyle website, Goop. Over the years, the actress has proclaimed women should steam their vaginas, that water has feelings, and that your body holds secret organs. Mixed into these absurd assertions is her bogus detox diet and cleansing advice, all of it in service of promoting Goop’s beauty and wellness products

46 thoughts on “Why You Should Ignore “The Plant Paradox” by Steven Gundry”

  1. Thank you for this informative article. Have you read the books ”Let Food be your Medicine” and, Dr. Colbert’s Keto Zone Diet” by Don Colbert, MD? I was wondering if you have read these books and what is your opinion of what he writes and, is his writings factual and legit or is he just trying to sell books?

    Thank you, Anita Perez

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    1. I just heard a new quack, Dr. Rand McClain, selling TeloGenesis. There are so many of these guys making millions off of innocent people. Quackery is a very remunerative occupation.

  2. I am driven by science based information. Recently a doctor told me, I read too much. Then refused to write a prescription for cymbalta because it had a black box warning. I have taken cymbalta for 11years due to chronic pain, depression, etc. thank you

  3. Quack or not, by whatever definition, he’s not the only one. I could mention certain Big Pharmaceutical companies and published “benefits” of statins Always as the Question, ‘how much longer will I live by taking this Magyck Potion?’

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj7ldyKQnRA

    – Where this Doctor – Paul Mason – has a closer look at the vital need for lots of …. fiber.
    – Doubt what he says? Think of the Eskimo (ok, Inuit) who lived on a diet rich in meat, and blubber. And fat. And fatty meat. Early contact with them made no mention of their chronic constipation. Possibly because it wasn’t a problem. – But compare their diet with the advertisements we see for breakfast cereals.
    Dishonesty is not restricted to Snake-Oil Salesmen !

  4. You are my new hero (at least for the time being). Thank you for adding brains and more than a sprinkling of logic to the equation. In light of Dr. Gundry’s over zealous mission to save the eater from himself as an act of selfless service, I can’t help but notice selfies in Palm Springs and his push for organic foods and supplements donut eaters can’t afford, not to mention those “way past his age” glasses. The red flag should be more than obvious. I’m always suspect of anyone who says, “I’m just here to help.” Not that everything he says is wrong.. but maybe a little extreme and definitely money-driven.

  5. Interesting I should come across this just after watching Gundry’s video and also noticed the “We might run out!” marketing at the end. I’ve just started chemo and have been looking for ways to both assist my body’s natural healing processes and deal with raging indigestion, but I also know that there’s a mega-billion marketing industry out there. The more I read the more I appreciate Michael Pollan. And I’m glad you approve of full fat yogurt – my yogurt maker has payed for itself many times over and I don’t add sugar.

  6. Was looking for your thoughts on Texas superfood And are there any good supplements for getting your fruits and vegetables. And lastly you say countries Reds are useless. Why is this is it the ingredients?

  7. Thanks for this great feedback and I won’t be taking the plunge into Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution after all. Appreciate the research conducted to debunk this Leaky Gut theory.

    1. Can you show me where leaky gut is debunked? I’m not asking for references about how plants defend themselves or anything about Gundry’s stupid overpriced nonsense pills, I’m wondering how you generalized your interpretation up to leaky gut. None of the articles talk about lipopolysaccharides, so I’m left feeling like Monsanto told you leaky gut doesn’t exist.

  8. Yeah, DR. Gundry mentioned Dr. Oz I deleted my history and moved on.

    Dr. Oz should be ashamed of himself. His show really is like unto a sideshow with people he brings on to fill time.

    Not only is he not convincing but the pushers of their wares are even less so.
    The vendors (I call them) really appear to be neighbors or ex-clients who he has recruited to keep his show going.

    Every time he opens his little lips to speak his eyes stretch and he breaths in and out pop little big lies and I was amazed that the audience actually fed into the three ring circus act time and time again.

    I am very serious Dr. Oz seems to me the type of man who will continue to pull at straws rather than admit defeat and go back to his so called practice.

    I personally think in the beginning his looks drew people, but age is taking its toll and it’s as if he is sinking and grabbing whatever he can to stay afloat.

    Whatever, meaning, amature after amature pushing their wares. It is plain to see they do not put a lot of professional thought into their presentations, but then, why should they, when they are catering to an audience of people who are looking for a pied piper to fix that which may not be an issue until DR. Oz says it is.

    Dr. Oz in my personal opinion is no less than the imaginary character Wizard of oz! If he still has his practice I surmise that hoodwinkcockledoodleado will not fly wirh them and I believe he has the good sense not to try it wirh his patients.

    I even bet his customers sat at home eatting popcorn and drinking gin and call one another after every show and roll with laughter at how gullible the people are that attend the show.

    Personally, I feel sorry for them! Dr. Oz should be have feathers glued on his bottom and made to do the rooster dance
    and sing cockledoodleado until his sense of decency and compassion for other human beings returns.

    1. i totally agree with you: they “should be have feathers glued on his bottom and made to do the rooster dance and sing cockledoodleado until his sense of decency and compassion for other human beings returns”!

  9. Thank you for the article. The video threw me off with repetitive emphasis on his claim of being a “celebrated cardiologist” and the painfully obvious pressure tactics at the end…but I listened to all of it because I wish there was some truth in the claims

  10. Thank you for your article. It confirmed my suspicions. One measure that I use for evaluating advice is how long does it take to give the advice. If an email runs for pages and pages, it is likely bogus. And I listened to Dr Gundry’s video presentation in its entirety to see what techniques he used. It ran for about an hour! And when he stopped speaking, the screen still showed the “Next” button. After about a minute of silence, he said, “I see that your are still here. That is probably because you have questions.” And he launched into another 10 minutes of his pitch!

    1. I have the same opinion, and have never heard it verbalized before. If it takes you more than 3 minutes to tell me the wonderful, helpful, everyone will benefit, medical “news,” then I immediately know you are trying to make a buck and it’s bunk!

  11. I watched Dr. Gundry’s video clip for about 20 minutes,out of 50+ minutes, before I realized he was selling a panacea. It shouldn’t have taken that long. He is selling people a be-young-and-energetic-again dream, which does not exist.

  12. I love Dr.Gundry and his plant paradox book is on point! The proff is in the pudding! EVERYONE OUT THERE TRY THOS PROGRAM IT WORKS !!

    1. Yeah i was on the gundry diet for 6 months…lost weight do to lack of calories…followed his emergency diet the whole time. All I got out of it was tired 24/7. Constipated all the time;;Oh and the supplements he keeps sending them whether you ordered them or not. Oh by the way
      lost 30 lbs but not 1 inch around the waist. He should be thrown in jail for fraud. Pathetic greedy man is all he is…ah take a good look at him …aging and over weight. Pathetic at best.

  13. I was listening to Gundry’s infomercial on his latest product that includes polyphenols which he said only he has figured out can fix dark spots. His infomercials sounds like he’s selling snake oil, actually letting us know that he’s a snake oil salesman in the process. All the get it now or else is a red flag. I actually wondered if
    He was a doctor or an actor. I’m so glad to run across your website that confirms my suspicions.

  14. I was about ready to buy until the claim of order right now before they sell out… the last red flag I needed

  15. I can’t keep up with the number of these quacks that keep coming out. They feed on people’s paranoia and their desire to find the right snake oil for them.

  16. This critique of the book is not very substantial, in that it doesn’t really address the claims of the book, just relies on the comments of authority (Dr Campbell). I think the author of this article didn’t read the book, just maybe the review of Dr Campbell. I never liked “authority as argument”. Dr Campbell’s findings in the China study are important, and I think the main reason he doesn’t like Dr Gundry is because he took a small jab at him in his book.

    Campbell also doesn’t like sloppy citations and someone who pushes their products instead of doing “pure science” (like those pharma and biotech “FDA approved” companies, right? 🙂

    Anyhow, I read the book. It has a lot of science behind, but it also feels a bit sloppy and indeed, at times like an advertisement for Gundry’s diet (as far as I can tell though he is not really pushing his supplements in the book, only the diet).

    However it draws attention to a very important issue, that we still don’t quiet understand: inflammation, and how it’s related to what we eat. And that’s a good direction, whatever the cause: lectins, medication, animal proteins, additives, lack of sleep, glyphosate, etc. Let’s have more research on this, but his book is a start and it seems mostly honest. Just ignore the bombastic tone and take whatever seems useful. It should be read in the context of other nutritional research, e.g. that of Dr Campbell, Buettner’s books, or nutritional / medical science in general, understanding how the human metabolism works, the role of insulin, IGF-1, etc.

    It’s not in the book, but the prevalence of food allergies has grown several folds in the past 20 years. Instead of taking pills for allergies, diabetes II, arthritis, heart disease etc, changing a bit our lifestyles and what we eat would be a better way in my humble opinion. That is, better for people in general, not better for the industries producing these medications, the addictive processed foods, or non-processed but genetically modified crops drenched in glyphosate… All this is so obvious, sometimes I wonder how are we constantly missing the mark. There is something every decade. DDT, arsenic, aspartame, teflon, glyphosate, etc. It’s fascinating to watch these stories repeat decade after decade.

    Gundry, Campbell, Buettner, the WHO, your PCP and nutritionist all suggest very similar things with minute differences:
    – only eat when hungry and not as a pastime
    – don’t eat processed foods
    – eat mostly a variety of locally grown vegetables (don’t forget starchy root veggies)
    – limit sugar (including overly sugary non-seasonal fruits)
    – limit animal proteins and fats (a little fish and maybe eggs are ok, use a variety of cold pressed plant based oils)
    – probably a good idea to limit grains, especially in the US (I think this will be the next big fight between food lobbies and science / healthy people)
    – sleep 7-8 hours
    – move around, don’t sit for too long.

    That’s basically it. Well, Gundry suggests to cook your veggies, especially beans in a pressure cooker to get rid of the lectins – which is probably a good idea. Also, these people will probably also disagree about grains (eat vs don’t eat / whole vs polished). I say let science sort it out and in the meantime eschew grains completely or limit amounts and to traditional sources, e.g. a french bakery or home made fresh bread, traditional Italian pasta, etc. But probably good to avoid and Gundry adds to the already accumulating evidence that grains were something we had to start to resort to eat a few thousand years ago and we are probably not too well adapted to eat.

    If you read the above two paragraphs, you can skip reading all the these books and focus on something productive that you will contribute to life, universe and everything. 🙂

    1. Optimist,
      I can agree with a lot of what you say.
      Namely
      – ” read the book. It has a lot of science behind, but it also feels a bit sloppy and indeed, at times like an advertisement for Gundry’s”. But when you say it has a lot of science behind it, tell me exactly what you think he says that is supported by good science.
      -Pretty much all camps agree that inflammation plays an important part in the development of our major chronic diseases but science has not shown us the cure, merely suggested multiple possible causes.. Gundry definitely hasn’t contributed anything in this area.
      -your listing of what most agree on for good nutrition except for this “limit animal proteins and fats (a little fish and maybe eggs are ok, use a variety of cold pressed plant based oils)”. There is an ongoing scientific debate about this and we await solid data that we should limit animal proteins and fats.

  17. It is totally – repeat: ‘TOTALLY’ – obvious Gundry is a charlatan and scam artist from simply one minute of watching/listening to one of the inevitable videos you have to look at if you click on one of his pages advertising something like ‘One Simple Fact’ etc…

    Why? Because minutes and minutes later you are still waiting for this ‘One Simple Fact/Truth/Food/Exercise/Whatever’

    And you’ll wait more and more and more.

    IF he were at all genuine, just like any other genuine reporter, truth teller, observer, scientist, friend or whatever he’d put it clearly and simply out front, up top, right there before you even start on any further reading or videos.

    And IF he had any breakthrough truths the whole world would jump on them straightaway and pretty soon we’d all know.

    But he is an interesting case. Evil genius you might say. For he’s obviously at least intelligent enough to pass med school and diligent enough to perform cardiac surgery.

    So he’s no low-life scam artist.

    He’s more like a high-life self deluded fool. Perhaps egomaniac or something. Delusions of magnificence. Maybe believes all he says himself.

    But, last word, if you’re a doctor you should be, according to me, primarily concerned with the welfare of the human race – in which case if you’ve got a good secret, a good medicine, a good exercise or anything at all – you let it be freely known by name at least and freely available in fact if you can.

    So the mere fact that he doesn’t just tell it up front and for free shows him up for what he is.

    And more: ‘could never lose weight’ he said ! Said he himself could never lose weight until he discovered this secret… blah, blah…

    Mate I’ll tell you the ‘secret’ to losing weight infallibly and for sure:

    DON’T EAT SO MUCH.

    You can take that to the bank.

    1. It’s the ‘fashionista’, colour- choice of spectacle-frames that (Yes, I’m being Judgemental…) puts me off before he starts selling the benefits of
      ‘essential’ (proprietary) supplements, – at $?? per day?
      Besides, the need for so many ‘Extras’ tells me that his protocol is defective, being deficient in these essential nutrients!

  18. Oh my I feel so fullish to have purchased all of the products that I have so far. We recently got scammed and it has made me suspicious of all the things that I’ve been buying for myself and animals. My husband tells me all the time how nieve I am to believe in some of these products. The money back garrentee is what usually gets me. I’m very ill and just want to feel normal again and don’t really want to be on pain meds. I know how addicting they can be. I have like 8jars of the vital reds and just recently bought the probiotic and it has helped me instead of taking my prescriptions linzess. Instead of being on the toilet all the time it has been helping me not have to take the liness and being in the bathroom for hours with the prescription. I feel so wronged. So not stupid but just to trusting in people I’ve been that way my whole life and have been so hurt by it. My next step is to just get refunds on all of this stuff I’ve been so trusting of.

  19. “You can trust me, I’m a Doctor” is whats at play here. Although I don’t see his diet causing harm to people. I see his advice as highly unproven theories with no scientific research behind it. Dr Gundry, leave your opinions to the Naive and get back to the Scientific Method. Science 101. My opinion is that your ego and greed for money has taken you down this path of teaching this misinformation.

  20. “oxygen is not a theoretical toxin with theoretical harms in people; it is a known toxic with established harms. The atmosphere of our planet is thus highly analogous to the dietary sources of lectins: both contain compounds with potentially toxic effects, but net benefit is overwhelming both from eating plants, and breathing.” I don’t agree with Gundry’s dietary reccomendation, but this is a ridiculously unscientific claim. We can’t live without oxygen, oxidative stress notwithstanding, but various peoples have lived in great health eating various levels of various different types of plant foods, including peoples who have eaten little plant food at all. Carbohydrates are not an essential nutrient, and many hunter gatherer tribes have eaten plant foods primarily as survival and medicinal foods, not for nutrients. And plants do have numerous antinutrients whether you want to acknowledge it or not So the claim that plant foods are good, pure and simple, is utterly unscientific conventional wisdom, nothing more.

    1. Smart man.
      Most of these other commenters are morons( they don’t even know what they “know”/ and what they don’t” know”)
      Plant goodum because Wiseman sayum.

  21. Purchased the Vital Reds, Primal Plants, and Prebiothrive. No noticeable difference in how I look or feel over several months, including any actual weight reduction. The Prebiothrive produced daily bowel movements w/o any adverse effects. Never ventured into the ever-widening variety of products and potions being promoted by the good doctor. Thank you for a very informative article.

  22. Thank you Dr. Anthonyp for some sanity! Some of the healthiest people I know eat: tomatoes, potatoes, egg plant.. one is a 60 year old triathlete with no joint issues, etc. explain that, Dr. Gundry? Pure Quackery.

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