Call to mind a rose, so fragrant and lovely that it’ nearly impossible to resist the urge to pick it and take it home. But watch out for the thorns! Nature is full of such defense mechanisms designed to help plants survive and thrive so they can spread their seeds. And while we all know the tiny daggers on a rose’ stem can cause us pain, scientists have recently made a startling discovery: The plants we eat have invisible-to-the-eye protective measures that can cause havoc inside the human body too.
As Steven Gundry, MD, the Yale-educated director of the Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs, California, and author of The Plant Paradox ($19.25, Amazon) explains, proteins called lectins are one of plants’ main defensive systems — akin to cellular thorns. Over thousands of years, humans have evolved to develop biological resistances to the lectins in most common foods that render them harmless, notes Dr. Gundry. This has allowed us to eat plants for centuries without worry — until recently, that is.
The problem: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) harbor lectins that are new to the human diet. “GMOs are created by inserting foreign genes into plants to make the plant produce more of the lectins that enhance its ability to resist insects and other pests,” explains Dr. Gundry. As a result, insects don’t eat the GMO plants and farmers save money on pest-control products. “This sounds like a really good idea, but the problem is, this practice is introducing new lectins into our diet, and the lectin load on humans is now higher than it’ ever been before.”
This influx of lectins sets up a cycle of creeping weight gain. “Harmful plant lectins hack into our cellular communication systems,” says Dr. Gundry. One key way lectins do this: “They mimic the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin, so they’ re able to dock to insulin receptors throughout the body and give cells wrong information.” When lectins bind to insulin receptors on fat cells, for example, they instruct the cells to store incoming blood sugar as fat. Lectins also prevent blood sugar from entering muscle cells-and without the necessary sugar to fuel their functions, muscles shrink. “The more harmful lectins we eat, the more muscle wastes away,” says Dr. Gundry. As a result, the body thinks it’ starving and turns up hunger hormone production. But if you give in to those cravings? Incoming calories are stored as fat. The cumulative result is less metabolismrevving lean muscle and ever-growing pockets of fat.
Complicating matters: Even women who avoid GMO fruit and vegetables are affected. According to the Center for Food Safety, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, at least 75 percent of processed foods contain GMO ingredients. And science published in the International Food Research Journal reveals GMOs are in all processed foods that contain soybean oil, soy lecithin, and cornstarch. Similarly, GMO corn and soy are fed to the poultry, cattle, and even fish in our food supply. “Most of the corn fed to livestock in the United States is genetically modified,” Dr. Gundry asserts. “When you eat the meat from those animals, harmful lectins make their way into you.”
Fortunately, it’s possible — and even easy — to minimize lectin intake. Dr. Gundry says simple changes to how you shop for groceries and prep meals can eliminate the majority of harmful lectins in your diet. “You’ re not going to eliminate all lectins from your diet but you are going to control which ones you consume and how much,” he adds. The reason: “Not all lectins are harmful — we actually use our own lectins in the human body to communicate information between cells.”
In just days, you’ll see the change, promises Dr. Gundry, who lost 70 pounds by avoiding lectins. Women who follow his food formula drop up to four pounds in three days. And the fat keeps falling off. In fact, an animal study in the journal Nutrition & Metabolism suggests that the diet improves the body’s ability to properly respond to insulin, which is a sign that the vicious cycle of creeping weight gain has halted. Indeed, animals in the study that were put on a lectin-free diet weighed 22 percent less and had 43 percent less jiggly subcutaneous fat than those on a standard diet.
As the fat melts away, the benefits multiply. “Your body has the ability to restore itself once you eliminate the foods that prevent it from healing,” Dr. Gundry says. “My autoimmune and arthritis patients revel in their newly pain-free and energized lives.” Science also shows that a low-lectin diet eases inflammation by 82 percent, and women FIRST spoke to report freedom from brain fog as well as glowing skin. Read on for the plan that can help you look and feel decades younger!
“Once women begin the program, weight loss is almost inevitable.”
How to Do It
Minimizing your intake of harmful plant lectins can stop fat storage in its tracks and cause the weight to fall off your frame, says Gundry. To lose up to 4 pounds in 3 days and experience a wealth of health benefits, including increased energy and fewer aches- put these strategies to work:
In the Supermarket…
Make low-lectin picks. The first step for many of Dr. Gundry’ patients is nixing processed foods and favoring organic produce, which isn’ grown with the GMO seeds that generate high levels of unhealthy lectins. Dr. Gundry also advises his patients to nix lectin-loaded grains (like brown rice, quinoa and wheat) in favor of sorghum and millet (which are naturally free of lectins) as well as Indian basmati white rice (which is naturally low in lectins and high in lectin-lowering resistant starch).
Favor these proteins. “Even organic and so-called 'free-range’ animals contain harmful lectins because they are fed soy and corn,” asserts Dr. Gundry. “As a result, some of the most dangerous plant lectins now lurk in the meat of our favorite animal foods.” To avoid them, look for “pasture-raised” poultry (not “free-range”), “wild-caught” fish, and “grass-fed and grass-finished” beef, lamb, and bison.
Explore fermented grains. “Fermentation significantly reduces lectins because bacteria and yeast ‘eat’ lectins,” shares Dr. Gundry. That means common fermented foods like dill pickles, sauerkraut, and pickled peppers are smart picks. And the recommendation also applies to wheat. “In Europe, bread is traditionally raised through fermentation with yeast or sourdough, unlike shelf-stable American bread,” says Dr. Gundry. Even most “fresh-baked” store-brand breads in the US contain GMO wheat and the dough is rarely fermented.
Get a helping hand. “Our beneficial gut bugs have evolved to efficiently consume lectins before they can cause damage, but without these bugs, you don’ have this defense against lectins,” explains Dr. Gundry. Factors, like taking antibiotics and eating artificial sweeteners, can damage beneficial bugs, so many women don’ have enough helpful microbes to fight the ever-rising tide of lectins in the modern American diet. To nurse your beneficial bacteria back to health so they can help eliminate harmful lectins, Dr. Gundry suggests taking a targeted probiotic that contains the strain Bacillus coagulans (we like Schiff Digestive Advantage: $17.78, Amazon). Also, aim to consume at least two daily servings of foods that contain resistant starch — a class of unique carbs that fuel the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Good options include green (not ripe) bananas, potatoes, asparagus, okra, artichokes, onions, and garlic.
In Your Kitchen…
Prep veggies this way. While it’ not possible, practical or even advised to eliminate all the lectins in our diet, Dr. Gundry says most of the harmful lectins in seeded veggies (especially conventionally grown eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, summer squash and winter squash) lurk in the peels and seeds. “Removing the skins and seeds from tomatoes, peppers, and squash greatly reduces the lectin load,” he says.
“Americans have been slow to adopt these techniques, but the Italians and French always do this.” To quickly peel tomatoes, drop them in boiling water for 60 seconds or roast them under a broiler for 15 minutes, then once they’ re cool, pinch off the skins. Peppers can also be roasted then peeled or carefully deskinned with a vegetable peeler. To de-seed a tomato, carefully cut it in half horizontally, then use a small spoon to scoop the seeds and pith out of the four seed cavities in each half.
Try a pressure cooker. “A pressure cooker will destroy almost all lectins,” Dr. Gundry asserts. That makes it the best cooking method for beans (which contain harmful lectins), tomatoes and grains-although Dr. Gundry notes that pressure cooking cannot eliminate the harmful lectins in wheat, oats, rye, barley or spelt. While traditional stovetop pressure cookers do the job, Dr. Gundry recommends a modern pressure cooker for ease of use. “It’s one-touch, like a rice cooker. And it makes meals so much faster. For a busy family, pressure cooking meals is an amazing help.”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.