What Is the Plant Paradox Diet and Is It Healthy?

The diet Kelly Clarkson credits for her weight loss goes against conventional eating advice.

smashed tomato

Photo by Paul Gadd / Getty Images

Photo by Paul Gadd / Getty Images

If you're up on latest diet trends, the Plant Paradox diet has surely entered your radar. Kelly Clarkson credited the diet plan for her recent weight loss, and The Plant Paradox and The Plant Paradox Cookbook hold top spots on Amazon's diet book bestsellers.

The most popular diets are often the most controversial (see: Jillian Michaels' strong feelings about the keto diet), and that's definitely the case here. In fact, plenty of nutrition pros have called BS. Here's what you need to know about the diet.

What is the Plant Paradox diet?

Lectins are the enemy of the Plant Paradox diet. These are a type of protein found in plants that scientists believe are part of the defense mechanism plants use to paralyze predatory insects. Lectins pass through your body without being digested and are categorized an anti-nutrient since they lower your ability to absorb key vitamins and minerals. The Plant Paradox diet calls for avoiding lectins by cutting out a long list of foods, including nightshades (think: eggplants, tomatoes, red peppers), out-of-season fruits, grains, and raw legumes, to reportedly reduce inflammation, repair gut health, and prevent weight gain. In fact, the diet's creator, Steven Gundry, M.D., says that consuming the lectin in beans and grains is "like swallowing razor blades that literally cut the lining in our intestines."

Dr. Gundry, a former heart surgeon, developed the diet after studying the way humans have eaten throughout history and pinpointed lectin-containing foods: "When major lectin-containing foods were introduced to our diet about 10,000 years ago in the form of grains and beans, our health dramatically changed for the worse," he tells Shape.

After deciding to adopt this way of eating for himself, Dr. Gundry says he lost 70 pounds, cured his arthritis, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and migraines, all despite cutting back on exercise. It was from this experience that the Plant Paradox diet was developed. While Clarkson was the most recent, notable "success story," Dr. Gundry says he has also seen biomarker improvement in people with autoimmune diseases who adhere to the diet.

Still, saying that many fruits, veggies, and whole grains (the pillars of many healthy eating recommendations) are actually bad for you is a pretty bold claim. So, is there any truth to it? 

Is the Plant Paradox diet healthy?

It's widely accepted that lectins can have negative health effects in certain contexts. Kidney beans are so high in lectins that they can cause vomiting if you eat them raw. For people with celiac disease, gluten, a type of lectin, damages the small intestine. (Related: Gluten-Free Meal Plans Perfect for People Who Have Celiac Disease) And, according to one study, eating high concentrations of lectins has the potential to "cause nutrient deficiencies, disrupt digestion, and cause severe intestinal damage."

But don't overhaul your fridge just yet. A review of studies on lectins concluded that, at least in the case of cooked foods, lectins don't carry negative health effects, and the nutritional benefits from these fruits and veggies far outweigh any limited evidence of potential harm from the lectin. Not to mention that the diet calls for cutting out a lot of foods, and research shows that varying what you eat is crucial for gut health. Importantly, some of the diet's banned foods actually have the benefits the diet is designed to achieve. For starters, whole grains and kefirboth promote a healthy digestive system and chia seeds (all on the "no" list) have anti-inflammatory properties. The diet also calls for swapping whole grains for white bread or white rice, but these kinds of refined grains have been shown to spike blood sugar levels.

Okay, but does the Plant Paradox diet promote weight loss?

The diet's claim to fame is fighting off inflammation, but weight loss is an added bonus. Clarkson said that she set out to reverse an existing thyroid issue but unintentionally lost 37 pounds. Not everyone's convinced that the elimination of lectins is why the Plant Paradox promotes weight loss. "It's not the absence of lectins that's magical; it's that people following this plan aren't eating pizza [and] baked goods," Dawn Jackson Blatner told People. In general, experts believe that elimination diets simply won't help you lose weight

Still interested in giving the diet a whirl? First, consider consulting your doctor, who can best weigh in on if an elimination diet like this is the way to go. Then check out this sample menu for a day of eating on the diet, according to Dr. Gundry: For breakfast, a green smoothie, grain-free muffin, or pastured eggs with spinach, mushroom, and olive oil. (Though he recommends skipping breakfast—as a kind of intermittent fasting). Then you might eat a salad at lunch with "lots of olive oil," and for dinner, Dr. Gundry's spin on egg rolls or Pad Thai. Farm-raised and grain-fed meats are a no, as are out-of-season fruits. Dr. Gundry recommends downing at least one avocado a day. And if you want to follow the diet, you should definitely invest in an Instant Pot first. Dr. Gundry calls for cooking all legumes in a pressure cooker before eating them to reduce their lectin content, as research suggests pressure cooking beans removes lectins more effectively than boiling them. (Try these yummy keto Instant Pot recipes.) 

And, if you're considering the Plant Paradox Diet, it's not necessarily all or nothing, according to Dr. Gundry. "Can most people cheat [on the diet]? Yes," he says. "But in the case of autoimmune patients, my findings are you're going to pay for it." As a golden nutrition rule, unless you have a food intolerance, no need to completely cut out foods.