Today you will find a guest blog article from our Director of Research, Michael Donaldson, PhD. Please enjoy the wealth of experience and wisdom this article entails:Michael Donaldson, PhD writes:
Here at Hallelujah Diet we are constantly seeking to understand health and nutrition. We know that we understand only in part. And we have made improvements to the Hallelujah Diet program based on continuing research.
So, when a book comes along from a vegetarian doctor claiming to tell us “everything you thought you knew about your diet, your health, and your weight is wrong,” we checked it out. The Plant Paradox, authored by Steven R. Gundry, MD, came with some recommendation saying that it might help us understand what was “missing,” or “why the diet may not work for some.” Well, we try to help as many people as want to try the Hallelujah Diet, so we checked it out.
After the long introduction, pointing out his own expertise and clinically gained wisdom to speak to matters of health, and talking about the war between plants and animals (what?), I wanted to know if I could trust “Dr. G.”
Before we get into Dr. G's claims about how harmful a plant-based diet loaded with lectins can be, let's get a basic understanding of what exactly lectins are. Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrate molecules, and are found in almost all foods. Essentially, they help molecules stick together without involving the immune system, which could potentially influence cell interaction. No matter what type of diet you follow, it's really difficult to avoid lectins unless you completely stop eating the foods containing them. Grains like barley, oats, rice, buckwheat, quinoa and spelt are rich in lectins. This also means that grain-fed animals, such as poultry and beef, are abundant in lectins, as are dairy products like milk, sour cream, cheese and yogurt. Even legumes, nuts, seeds and certain fruits and vegetables like corn, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, pumpkin, squash and tomatoes have lectins. Plants contain lectins as a mechanism for defending against microorganisms, pests and insects. Additionally, lectins in plants and vegetables bind to seeds so they pass through the digestive system flawlessly when consumed by animals to support regrowth after digestion. Let's get back into Dr. G's plant paradox and why avoiding lectins isn't the answer to enhancing your overall health and well-being.
Reading into Dr. G
First, I don’t buy the war between animals and plants or evolution. In Genesis 1:29 God originally gave us the plant kingdom for food. My understanding of creation is that mankind is the crown jewel of all God created, and He put us in place to be good stewards of His creation. So, thinking that plants were made to be food for us just makes sense. There is a symbiotic relationship between mankind and plants, even indicated by their generation of oxygen for us and our generation of carbon dioxide for them. They are good for us and we are good for them. I don’t see a war here.
So, I wanted to know if I could trust Dr. G. I can’t go interview any of his patients. I have no way of knowing if any of these stories in the book are valid. I assume so, but can I trust him to tell me the truth?
Well, how does he do with things I can verify, like scientific references? I will give you a few examples and then let you decide for yourself.
Making sense of the science
First, in the Introduction, page xi, I came across his referral to gluten as a lectin. Gluten a lectin? That was a new one to me. So, I went to PubMed and checked it out. Here I found a reference to a study that examined lectin activity in gluten. It turned out that “Our results indicate that the lectin properties of gluten are due to traces of WGA.” (Pubmed #3839672) WGA is wheat germ agglutinin, a lectin. Well, how about gliadin, a component of gluten complex in wheat? Maybe he meant gliadin? Another study showed conclusively that, “Gliadin preparations failed to cause agglutination of any of the cells tested, whereas established pure plant lectins were active cell agglutinins.” (Pubmed #3709069). Conclusion: gluten and gliadin are not lectins. Strike one for Dr. G. My suspicion is mounting. But maybe he is just a bit loose with the facts.
Second, as I was browsing through the book on page 209 I came across his take-down of peanuts. I’m interested in knowing why you shouldn’t eat peanuts, so I read more carefully. As near as I can tell by reading through 2 of the 3 full-text references, the claims he made here are not derived from the sources he referenced. He claims, “94 percent of humans carry a preformed antibody to the peanut lectin.” I got the impression that the reference would be something about this idea. Instead, the research group investigated using PNA (peanut agglutinin, a non-toxic lectin in peanuts) as a way to identify adenocarcinomas in esophageal biopsies by histological examination. The abnormal tissue bound PNA, whereas normal tissue did not. In fact, Table 1 and Figure 1 in the article show the normal control subjects as having very, very low binding of PNA. This is exactly the opposite of Dr. G’s claim of 94 percent! Strike 2 for Dr. G. My distrust is growing, but still not sure.
So, I went to the next reference in the paragraph and checked it out. The claim in the text is that lectin in peanut oil causes atherosclerosis in experimental animals, whereas peanut oil without lectin in it does not cause the disease (see p. 209). This would have been a great study to see. However, the reference is about identification of peanut lectin in someone who ate peanuts. I did not read the full-text of this article, not wanting to waste $31 on verifying this dubious claim. I found an abstract from the same authors and it looks like the same work (same title, too). In this study a person ate 200 grams of raw peanuts (not advised, who eats raw peanuts?) and peanut lectin was detected in his blood one hour later. This report has nothing to do with atherosclerosis or experimental animals or peanut oil. Strike 3 for Dr. G. He has not earned my trust.
Losing trust in the information
But the “stunner” claim takes the cake. In the next sentence Dr. G claims, “When peanuts are fed to humans and their resulting bowel movements are fed to rats, precancerous lesions appear in the rat colons.” When I read the reference I found Dr. G had grossly misused the scientific data, in every sense of the word. First, the peanut lectin used in the study was purchased from Sigma Chemical, not derived from human feces (whew!). Second, this was an in vitro study using cell cultures, without the use of rats. Third, the study (again) points out the peanut lectin only binds to abnormal tissue lacking terminal sialic acid on the O-linked oligosaccharides of glycoproteins (Yes, I successfully defended my PhD thesis and published peer-reviewed articles on glycosylation and oligosaccharide processing in insect cells, trying to modify the cell culture environment so as to obtain terminally-linked sialic acid, the requirement for human therapeutic glycoproteins, so lectins and glycoprotein processing actually are in my field of expertise.) The cited reference was a molecular biology examination of how peanut lectin changes cell signaling pathways in a culture of HT29 colon cancer cells. Normal cells do not bind peanut lectin and peanut lectin does not cause precancerous lesions to appear. Strike 4 for Dr. G. You are out! (Sure, it only takes 3 strikes, but I was being generous and that last “stunner” claim was too much to leave alone.)
Do I trust Dr. Gundry to state the truth? No. Are the stories in the book true? I do not know, but I do not trust him. Knowing what I just told you, do you trust him? If you aren’t sure, you should read the blog article from T. Colin Campbell as well. This careless use of the scientific literature exists throughout the entire book. For a novel “change-your-mind-about-everything-you-know-about-nutrition” idea, you had better document your argument very well. There is no way his arguments could stand up to peer-review and get published. Only among nutrition-confused Americans can you write a book to bash healthy foods and make it a best seller.
Are Americans really struggling with health from eating lectin-rich foods? Too much whole grain bread? Did we get fat by eating too much brown rice and beans and salsa? Too many tomatoes and sunflower seeds? Too much quinoa? Too much barleygrass juice? Really?
While Dr. G claims that his lectin-free diet is essential to living your best life, we at Hallelujah Diet strongly disagree. Certainly, there are numerous foods with lectins that we recommend avoiding (for various reasons) but a plant-based diet is the optimal choice for improving your overall health and well-being.
Gaining your health back
If you have an autoimmune disease what should you do? If you are overweight (after all, who isn’t in the USA?) what should you do?
Making drastic changes in your everyday eating habits is the first step. The Standard American Diet is referred to as SAD for a reason: Consuming high-fat meats and dairy products, plus refined sugars and processed products in those ridiculous portion sizes is a recipe for disaster. Not only does this lead to weight gain, neurodegenerative diseases, a leaky gut and other debilitating conditions, but it can also impact your mental well-being, making you look and feel less confident about your overall health. If you want to make big changes and gain your health back, you don't have to follow a lectin-free diet to achieve those results. A primarily raw, plant-based diet is the next route to take on your journey of life. The simple act of removing those unhealthy "foods" from your dietary habits and replacing them with fresh living foods like raw fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds is one of the smartest ways to gain back control of your health.
To get started, you may consider a three- or seven-day juice cleanse, which consists of drinking at least two quarts of fresh vegetable juice each day for a week. If you need more assistance than that, you can try Hallelujah Diet Perfect Cleanse. This kit consists of a variety of supplements that can help you reclaim your health and get on the right track to start following a plant-based diet. From there, you can start eating more salads, smoothies and juices and incorporate some of our favorite fruit- and vegetable-based recipes into your dietary regimen.
What is the best way to dramatically increase your vegetable intake? Here is a “secret” that actually works: Get a juicer and use it. Drink at least 16 ounces of vegetable juice every day (at least 80% vegetables / 20% fruit for best results). You can make twice as much every other day and store the juice one or two days. Use your blender and make green smoothies, too. Then follow the Hallelujah Diet or make gradual changes to get you there. If you follow the Hallelujah Diet you will dramatically improve your physical and mental health. Perfect health? No, not in this imperfect world, but yes, excellent health.
We will continue to serve you and put forward real solutions to help you improve your health. We are here to serve you, so let us know how we can best do that.