Extensive Proof that Lectin Avoidance Diet is Seriously Flawed – Superfood Box
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Extensive Proof that Lectin Avoidance Diet is Seriously Flawed

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By Tilman Nathaniel, Founder of Superfood Box

Where the Lectin Avoidance Diet Came From

The Lectin Avoidance Diet, popularized by Dr Steven Gundry, claims you should avoid all fruits and vegetables in the nightshade family and avoid legumes. First off, avoiding fruits and vegetables?! You don't hear that very often in realm of healthy eating. He claims tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and goji berries are highly inflammatory. In the second sentence of his recent book, The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in "Healthy" Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain, he proclaims "After all, I'm a heart surgeon." 

One reason I was skeptical is that Gundry sells his own supplements. I did a quick keyword search through Google Books to see if his book mentioned his most popular Vital Reds supplement, but there was no results. This supplement is a 4oz superfruit blend that sells for the low price of $69.95. It also seems a bit off that this supplement has 2827 customer reviews, while many of his other products have none.

Tomatoes - Anti-Inflammatory

I started with a simple search on Google Scholar: tomatoes and inflammation. In the second result I found this study:

A human study was carried out to investigate whether tomato juice, rich in natural lycopene and fortified with vitamin C, is able to reduce several biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation and whether the effect can be attributed to lycopene, vitamin C or any other micronutrient.

The results stated:

Drinking two glasses of tomato juice (500 ml) daily for 2 weeks reduced the inflammation marker CRP.

And they concluded:

A synergic effect between vitamin C, lycopene and other tomato micronutrients seems likely to be responsible for the beneficial effects of tomato juice on oxidative stress and inflammation.

Moving down the list of results on Google Scholar, I noticed an intriguing title: Tomatoes, Tomato-Based Products, Lycopene, and Cancer: Review of the Epidemiologic Literature. And we're off to a good start here:

Among 72 studies identified, 57 reported inverse associations between tomato intake or blood lycopene level and the risk of cancer at a defined anatomic site; 35 of these inverse associations were statistically significant. No study indicated that higher tomato consumption or blood lycopene level statistically significantly increased the risk of cancer at any of the investigated sites.

 Again, they point out the lycopene content in tomatoes:

The unique biochemical properties of lycopene may render it able to protect cellular components against specific types of damage from highly reactive oxygen species. The source of the reactive compounds differs by tissue type and includes smoking, sunlight, chronic inflammation, and normal metabolic processes ( 110 - 112 ). 

Next, a third study clearly indicating the anti-inflammatory properties of tomatoes, and I'm still on the first page of my Google Scholar search: Tomato juice consumption reduces systemic inflammation in overweight and obese females.

The conclusion is very clear:

Tomato juice reduces inflammation in overweight and obese females. Thus, increasing tomato intake may provide a useful approach for reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases such as CVD and diabetes, which are associated with obesity.

Potatoes - Mixed Inflammatory Reponses

Potatoes were bit of a mixed bag. Regular potatoes seem to have more evidence in favor of causing inflammation. However, purple potatoes were clearly anti-inflammatory. 

My first result was an animal study which concluded:

Our results demonstrate that consumption of potato skins containing glycoalkaloids can significantly aggravate intestinal inflammation in predisposed individuals.

Next, I skimmed over a study on pigmented potatoes: Pigmented Potato Consumption Alters Oxidative Stress and Inflammatory Damage in Men. Their study showed that:

Pigmented potato consumption reduced inflammation and DNA damage in healthy adult males.

This study was "Supported by the Washington State Potato Commission and the US Potato Board" so I took it with a grain of salt.

Another study titled Potatoes and Health, a collaboration by researchers from McGill University and University of Maine, explains how potatoes have both anti-inflammatory and inflammatory effects:

Potatoes and Human Health Study

However, the authors seems to lean towards an anti-inflammatory view in the summary:

There is some evidence that potato protein, resistant starches, and phosphorylated starches also contribute cholesterol-lowering properties. Phytochemicals, especially antioxidants, were implicated in reducing inflammation, a risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Let's look at one more on the common potato for good measure. The role of potatoes and potato components in cardiometabolic health: A review

Potatoes and potato components have been shown to have favorable impacts on several measures of cardiometabolic health in animals and humans, including lowering blood pressure, improving lipid profiles, and decreasing markers of inflammation.

Now, let's consider another type of potatoes. Although, these are not a part of the nightshade family, encouraging people to avoid potatoes will naturally result in the avoidance of all types of potatoes. Numerous animal studies on Sweet Potatoes point to anti-inflammatory effects, but I didn't see any human studies coming up. Also, a number of them were discussing the anti-inflammatory effects of the plant's leaves. One really interesting study presented by Chinese researchers determined that Purple Sweet Potatoes had an anthocyanin pigment that demonstrated a " neuroprotective effect on the aging mouse brain."  

PSPC (Purple Sweet Potato Color) consequently improved the spontaneous behavior and cognitive performance and enhanced the capacity of the brain inherent antioxidant or anti-inflammation. These findings about the pharmacological efficacy of PSPC would contribute to brain aging research or aging-related diseases research. 

Eggplant - Anti-Inflammatory

Antioxidant and hepatoprotective activities of five eggplant varieties, a study out of Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand, breaks down how the phenolic and flavonoid content extracted from 5 types of eggplants effected human liver cells:

The antioxidant activities of the eggplant were correlated with the total amounts of phenolic and flavonoid (r = 0.5310-0.7961). Significant correlation was found between hepatoprotective activities and total phenolic/flavonoid content (r = 0.6371-0.8842) and antioxidant activities (r = 0.5846-0.9588), indicating the contribution of the phenolic antioxidant present in eggplant to its hepatoprotective effect on t-BuOOH-induced toxicity. 

This might sound a bit complex or scientific, but let me know break it down for you. Hepato simply means relating to the liver. Antioxidants are molecules which prevent cell damage caused by free radicals being released during oxidation, a process that can set off a chain reaction leading to cancer. And t-BuOOH was the substance used in the study to cause inflammation. 

A study out of Iran looked at eggplant peels, recommending eggplant extract as an anticancer nutrient. 

The results indicated that the toxic effect of eggplant extract was more on the cancer cells compared to the normal cells and it is notable that, the death rate of the cancer cells in three concentrations showed a significant difference compared to the normal cells. From the results of this study, it is recommended that further investigations be conducted on eggplant extract as an anticancer nutrient.

Goji Berry - Anti-Inflammatory

Commonly misspelled gogi and also known as wolfberries, goji berries are a superfood packed with nutrients that offer numerous health benefits. A superfood is typically defined simply as a nutrient dense food. Some also define it as a food having all the essential amino acids. Goji berries contain 18 amino acids, including all eight essential amino acids.

There are three branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs: leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are essential for muscle growth and repair, which explains why they’re commonly used as athletic supplements. Goji berries are the number one source of all three BCAAs out of any other fruit tracked by the USDA’s database.

Goji Berries BCAAs

However, if you really want to cash in on your BCAAs, check out spirulina, which is listed as the best source of BCAAs by far in the vegetables category.

I was curious how goji did with a few other amino acids I’ve been reading about lately- namely tryptophan, proline and glutamic acid. They didn’t list any tryptophan but goji was also the highest source of proline and glutamic acid out of any other fruits! Proline supplements are claimed to give many people a sense of relief and happiness. Glutamic acid has been called the “brain fuel” amino acid. It detoxes the brain and helps to produce GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, in the brain.

A study on goji berry extract consumption indicated that intake has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects in overweight and hypercholesterolemic subjects by modulating mRNA expression. 

Another study in Australia demonstrated goji berry's protection against UV radiation in an animal model:

Antioxidant activity in the skin was demonstrated by the significant protection by 5% goji juice against lipid peroxidation induced by UVA radiation. Furthermore, two known inducible endogenous skin antioxidants, haem oxygenase-1 and metallothionein, were found to be involved in the photoimmune protection. The results suggest that consumption of this juice could provide additional photoprotection for susceptible humans.

Another study comparing goji berries, blueberries and cranberries found that all have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in a rat paw edema model:

In summary, two main findings can be addressed with this study: (1) Berry fruits presented antioxidant and anti inflammatory activities “in vitro” and “in vivo”; (2) the extracts of GOJI, CRAN, and BLUE modulate the inflammatory process by different mechanisms.

Finding raw goji berries is difficult due to their seasonality and how quickly they go bad if not frozen or dried.

Peppers - Anti-Inflammatory

Purdue University's website describes extensive research on the plant family of peppers - capsicums. They described a substance found in these plants which can help inflammation when used in creams and applied externally:

The medicinal applications of capsaicinoids have brought innovative ideas for their use. Medicinal use of Capsicums has a long history, dating back to the Mayas who used them to treat asthma, coughs, and sore throats. The Aztecs used chile pungency to relieve toothaches. The pharmaceutical industry uses capsaicin as a counter-irritant balm for external application (Carmichael 1991). It is the active ingredient in Heet and Sloan's Liniment, two rubdown liniments used for sore muscles. The capsaicin is being used to alleviate pain. Its mode of action is thought to be from nerve endings releasing a neurotransmitter called substance P. Substance P informs the brain that something painful is occurring. Capsaicin causes an increase in the amount of substance P released. Eventually, the substance P is depleted and further releases from the nerve ending are reduced. Creams containing capsaicin have reduced pain associated with post-operative pain for mastectomy patients and for amputees suffering from phantom limb pain. Prolonged use of the cream has also been found to help reduce the itching of dialysis patients, the pain from shingles (Herpes zoster), and cluster headaches. Further research has indicated that capsaicin cream reduces pain associated with arthritis. The repeated use of the cream apparently counters the production of substance P in the joint, hence less pain. Reducing substance P also helps by reducing long-term inflammation, which can cause cartilage break down.

Another study focused on the carotenoids in peppers and their beneficial health benefits:

The three peppers evaluated in this study are good sources of carotenoids. The carotenoid extract obtained from guajillo peppers exhibited high antioxidant activity, safe margin of toxicity, and significant analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits. 

A Russian study also analyzed a polysaccharide, which was found to be anti-inflammatory in an animal study:

The present study demonstrates that the pectin capsicuman CA, which possesses anti-inflammatory properties, can be isolated from fresh sweet peppers using extraction with simulated gastric media.

Legumes - Anti-Inflammatory

Legume include alfalfa, clover, peas, beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupin bean, mesquite, carob, soybeans, peanuts and tamarind.

In a 4-year study published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, titled Fruit and Vegetable Consumption and Its Relation to Markers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Adolescents, the consumption of legumes was inversely correlated with Serum interleukin-6, a pro-inflammatory cytokine. 

A research paper, Nutritional quality of legumes, and their role in cardiometabolic risk prevention: a review, describes some ways legumes have been positively correlated with anti-inflammatory effects:

Recently, data have shown that legume consumption is inversely associated with serum concentrations of adhesion molecules and inflammatory biomarkers (serum concentrations of high-sensitive C reactive protein (hs-CRP), tumor necrosis factor a [TNFa], and interleukin [IL]–6) among Iranian women. The favorable association of legume consumption with molecule adhesion and inflammatory biomarkers might be explained by the low GI values of legumes.

Legumes are rich in fibers, magnesium, and other components that are associated with improved glucose and inflammatory responses. 

Beneficial effects of soy protein were demonstrated in Iranian women with the metabolic syndrome85 by improving lipid metabolism. These postmenopausal women also showed reduced inflammatory markers, as well as reduced insulin resistance.

Effectively, this review reports the nutritional quality of legumes and the beneficial effects of their phytochemicals on the excess body weight, hyperinsulinemia, hyperlipidemia, inflammation, and the oxidative stress, which are the major cardiovascular risk factors, commonly associated with obesity and diabetes.


Still not convinced? Listen to this podcast:



Afshari F, Seraj H, Sadat Hashemi Z, Timajchi M, Ensiyeh O, Ladan G, et al. The Cytotoxic Effects of Eggplant Peel Extract on Human Gastric Adenocarcinoma Cells and Normal Cells. Mod Med Lab J. 2017; 2 (1) :90-96. URL: http://modernmedlab.com/article-1-42-en.html

Akanitapichat, Pannarat & Phraibung, Kallayanee & Nuchklang, Kwunchai & Prompitakkul, Suparichart. (2010). Antioxidant and hepatoprotective activities of five eggplant varieties. Food and chemical toxicology : an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association. 48. 3017-21. 10.1016/j.fct.2010.07.045.

Bosland, P.W. 1996. Capsicums: Innovative uses of an ancient crop. p. 479-487. In: J. Janick (ed.), Progress in new crops. ASHS Press, Arlington, VA.

Edward Giovannucci; Tomatoes, Tomato-Based Products, Lycopene, and Cancer: Review of the Epidemiologic Literature , JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 91, Issue 4, 17 February 1999, Pages 317–331, https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/91.4.317

Dietary Wolfberry Extract Modifies Oxidative Stress by Controlling the Expression of Inflammatory mRNAs in Overweight and Hypercholesterolemic Subjects: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. You Jin Lee, Youngsook Ahn, Oran Kwon, Mee Youn Lee, Choong Hwan Lee, Sungyoung Lee, Taesung Park, Sung Won Kwon, and Ji Yeon Kim. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2017 65 (2), 309-316. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.6b04701

Ghavipour, M., Saedisomeolia, A., Djalali, M., Sotoudeh, G., Eshraghyan, M., Moghadam, A., & Wood, L. (2013). Tomato juice consumption reduces systemic inflammation in overweight and obese females. British Journal of Nutrition, 109(11), 2031-2035. doi:10.1017/S0007114512004278

Hernández-Ortega, Marcela, et al. “Antioxidant, Antinociceptive, and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Carotenoids Extracted from Dried Pepper (Capsicum annuumL.).” Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, vol. 2012, 2012, pp. 1–10., doi:10.1155/2012/524019.

Holt, E. M., Steffen, L. M., Moran, A., Basu, S., Steinberger, J., Ross, J. A., … Sinaiko, A. R. (2009). Fruit and vegetable consumption and its relation to markers of inflammation and oxidative stress in adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(3), 414–421. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.11.036

Jacob, K., Periago, M., Böhm, V., & Berruezo, G. (2008). Influence of lycopene and vitamin C from tomato juice on biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation. British Journal of Nutrition, 99(1), 137-146. doi:10.1017/S0007114507791894

Mary Ellen Camire, Stan Kubow & Danielle J. Donnelly (2009): Potatoes and Human Health, Critical. Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 49:10, 823-840

Mcgill, Carla & Kurilich, Anne & Davignon, Jean. (2013). The role of potatoes and potato components in cardiometabolic health: A review. Annals of medicine. 45. . 10.3109/07853890.2013.813633.

Mice drinking goji berry juice (Lycium barbarum) are protected from UV radiation-induced skin damage via antioxidant pathways. Vivienne E. Reeve, Munif Allanson, Sondur Jayappa Arun, Diane Domanski, Nicole Painter. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 2010 Apr; 9(4): 601–607. doi: 10.1039/b9pp00177h

Pigmented potato consumption alters oxidative stress and inflammatory damage in men. Kerrie L. Kaspar, Jean Soon Park, Charles R. Brown, Bridget D. Mathison, Duroy A. Navarre, Boon P. Chew. J Nutr. 2011 Jan; 141(1): 108–111. Published online 2010 Nov 24. doi: 10.3945/jn.110.128074

Popov, Sergey V., et al. “Chemical composition and anti-Inflammatory activity of a pectic polysaccharide isolated from sweet pepper using a simulated gastric medium.” Food Chemistry, vol. 124, no. 1, 2011, pp. 309–315., doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.06.038.

Qun Shan, Jun Lu, Yuanlin Zheng, et al., “Purple Sweet Potato Color Ameliorates Cognition Deficits and Attenuates Oxidative Damage and Inflammation in Aging Mouse Brain Induced by D-Galactose,” Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology, vol. 2009, Article ID 564737, 9 pages, 2009. doi:10.1155/2009/564737

Bell Peppers Capsicums Eggplant Foods That Help Inflammation Foods That Reduce Inflammation Gogi Berries Goji Berries Google Scholar Inflammation Support Foods Inflammatory Responses to Nightshades Lectin Avoidance Diet Lectins in Nightshades Legumes Lycopene Nightshade Foods Nightshade Foods List Potatoes The Plant Paradox Tomatoes Vitamin C

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