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Plant-based diets: the hidden toxins

Plant-based diets: the hidden toxins

Plant-based diets seem to be very much in fashion at the moment. Countless articles, videos, programs, and books all advocate the supposed health-giving benefits of such diets. These are usually reinforced with pretty pictures of highly colourful salads or collections of fruits and vegetables. In recent times, such a diet has been advocated as the only option if we want to ‘save the planet’. There is much information to the contrary. In fact, the plant-based diet itself leads to huge carbon emissions and environmental damage. As Al Gore once said, this is an inconvenient truth.

Despite this glut of seemingly endless ‘information’, occasionally stories leak out wherein those who were previously advocating wholly plant-based diets go back to eating in a more balanced way. On occasions, they sometimes even go the whole hog and move onto keto or carnivore diets (1). This is usually because their previous plant-based diet had caused their health to plummet. If such a diet is so supposedly so healthy, why would this be?

Toxins in a Plant-based diet

It turns out that many of the plants that we are told form part of a healthy plant-based diet are actually full of toxins. Some people have a greater tolerance for these toxins than others, but most will suffer over time. Interestingly, some of the most enthusiastically advocated foods are some of the worst. Kale, broccoli, and spinach, for example, often referred to as ‘superfoods’ by their advocates, all turn out to be sources of oxalates. These tend to bind to calcium as it leaves the body and can cause kidney stones. Oxalates also bind to calcium in the gut. This stops the body from being able to absorb the needed calcium and lead to bone weaknesses in the long run, a commonly reported problem for vegans (2).

The Plant Parodox book, problems with plant based diet


Lectins are proteins that are found commonly throughout the planet kingdom, as well as in microbes and even animals.. They have a property that allows them to stick to carbohydrates. This is the reason it is known as an ‘antinutrient’. By binding, it stops the body from having access to carbohydrates. Although common throughout the living world, not all lectins are treated by our bodies in the same way. Some can pass through our digestive system completely unchanged.

On the other hand, some lectins, particularly those that are plant-based, can negatively affect your health through this antinutrient property. Some of these bind to other substances beyond carbohydrate that have nutritional value for the human body. Over time, this can cause some serious problems the most obvious of which is malnutrition. Your diet can be supplying all the nutrients your body needs but the antinutrient property of the lectins will stop the body from being able to have access to those nutrients.

Interestingly, some sources of lectins are so effective as antinutrients that they are actually considered poisonous. Ricin, for example, a deadly poison that was used to assassinate the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov in London in 1978. The dose was tiny, just 0.2 mg in fact, fired from a specially contrived umbrella tip. Markov was dead after four days of intense suffering. Very nasty (3). Ricin works via inhibiting the synthesis of proteins in the body. The castor bean plant (Ricinus communis) famously contains the lectins that give ricin. Poisonings from direct consumption of these beans are a common occurrence, unfortunately (4).

Lectins have been linked to the development of Parkinson’s disease. They do this by accessing the substantial nigra via the vagus nerve that links the stomach to the brain. Once there, they inhibit the production of dopamine. This process is enabled if there is a degree of gut permeability (leaky gut) caused by over-exposure to such things as glutens and WGA (5). These are commonly found in wheat, barley, and rye-based products. Plants can be dangerous things!

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Lectins, a 360 degree analysis book


One often sees polyphenols promoted for their health-giving qualities. They are seen as antioxidants that are claimed to protect us against heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. Some of these benefits may be more apparent than real, however. The antioxidant effect, for example, may occur simply because the body detects them as dangerous foreign entities to be expelled. In vitro (in a petri dish or test tube) polyphenols may display antioxidant activity, but such effects are unlikely to be repeated in vivo (within the body). The concentration of polyphenols required to have the effect found in vitro are far higher than would normally be present in the human body.

It may well be that what is actually happening is that the body’s own intrinsic antioxidant system will have been provoked by the presence of polyphenols. Some trials have shown that ingestion of polyphenols does not lead to a net addition to the body’s antioxidant system. A spike in antioxidant reaction is seen, but this may be a response to the polyphenols being perceived as a threat. Levels of glutathione, the body’s own inherent antioxidant, are not increased.

Polyphenols come with a surprisingly wide range of potential problems, despite the almost universal approval that one will find if one googles the subject. Page after page of polyphenol praise will result. A deeper search, however, will find the dark undersideof these plant compounds. For example, some polyphenols are known to have a carcinogenic effect (6). Further, other studies indicate that polyphenols may be genotoxins (7). This means that they are capable of damaging genetic material such as DNA. This can lead to gene mutations and cancer. On a slightly less dramatic level, polyphenols can interfere with iron absorption (8). It does this by inhibiting nonheme iron absorption, hence it may particularly affect those on a vegan diet (another antinutrient effect). There are also studies that link these plant compounds with problems affecting thyroid hormone biosynthesis (9). The list goes on and on.


Glutens are actually a form of lectins but they do so much damage that I think they deserve a section of their own. The etymology of the word ‘gluten’ gives a clue to the nature of the problem in itself. It means “a sticky substance,” and comes from the French gluten “sticky substance” (16c.) or directly from Latin gluten (glutin-) “glue”. Gluten is the composite name given to the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. The gluten category includes Gliadin in Wheat, Hordein in Barley, Secalin in Rye, and Avenin in Oats.

The single most obvious problem connected with gluten is coeliac disease. It is a chronic intestinal disorder caused by sensitivity to the protein gliadin. It is characterised by distention of the abdomen and very unpleasant, sometimes watery stools. The underlying cause is the malabsorption of nutrients to some extent typical of many of these plant-related problems (10)

Beyond coeliac disease, the consumption of gluten-containing foods can also lead to inflammation. This often occurs along with other uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhoea and bloating. Over the longer term, because of the increase in gut permeability, commonly known as ‘leaky gut’, inflammatory problems are experienced all around the body. Further, we know that the brain is connected to the stomach via the vagus nerve, hence the connection with neurological problems such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia (11).

Grain Brain book plant based illness

Another unpleasant result of too much gluten in the diet is the all-too-common ‘wheat belly’. In previous times, such protruding stomachs were commonly referred to as ‘beer bellies’, but this failed to take into account that many of those who possessed such protuberant bellies were not, in fact, drinkers. These days, the sight of people possessing wheat bellies is all too common. In point of fact, the change in body shape has been readily apparent across the Western world since various governments and health authorities recommended the consumption of ‘whole’ grains and carbohydrates in general over fat and protein.

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The cardiologist, William Davis, wrote a very informative book on this subject in 2014. He pointed out the reason why such bellies were becoming ubiquitous; the over-consumption of wheat-based products. He recommended a range of dietary changes to address the problem. Dr Davis warned that failure to do so could lead to blood sugar surges, glycation leading to premature aging, disordered immune responses, and so on.

wheat belly book


The acronym ‘WGA’ stands for Wheat Germ Agglutinin. It is yet another lectin that is to be found in wheat. Consuming WGA can easily result in such ills as obesity and inflammation. Such phenomena are so common in this day and age that one is often amazed looking at films of street scenes from the sixties, prior to the advent of the food pyramid and recommendations to consume ‘whole’ wheat and grains as the underpinning of a ‘healthy’ diet. Viewing these old videos, I am amazed at how slim and healthy people look, relative to today. It’s hard to spot a single overweight person. Fast forward to today and walk down any High Street in the UK or Main Street in the US. Some days it feels like it’s harder to spot a person of normal weight, such problems are so commonplace.

For all the recommendations to eat ‘whole wheat’, this is exactly where the WGA is found in the greatest concentrations. Perversely, in this sense at least, processed white bread may actually be healthier than whole grain. Wheat Germ Agglutinin is somewhat smaller than most lectins. This property allows it to more easily pass through the intestinal wall. Having done so, WGA will have access to your whole body. The first noticeable symptoms are often joint pain and inflammation. The WGA, having entered the body, binds to joint cartilage, thus causing the body’s immune system to respond. The result? Chronic inflammation and joint pain.

Another unpleasant consequence of consuming WGAs is that they stop sugars from fulfilling their task of nourishing muscles. Having blocked this process, it then turns that sugar into fat. In this sense, it acts in a similar way to insulin, thus it leads to weight gain. Beyond the damage to joints pointed out above, WGA markedly contributes to inflammation in general. It can help viruses enter the body. Crucially, it can cross the blood-brain barrier. This may allow access to the brain and neurological system to whatever cells it happens to be bonded with. Hence the connection to many of the neurological issues we face today; dementia, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, to name but a few.

On a more personal note and to finish with WGA. A decade ago I suffered a heart attack. At the time, my diet was strictly vegetarian and included many whole grain products. Like a lamb to the slaughter, I followed the NHS dietary guidelines of the day. I also swam three times a week, constantly exercised in other forms, kept my weight down and generally seemed to be living a ‘healthy’ lifestyle. According to Dr Stephen Gundry, WGA, of which there was an awful lot in my diet through pasta, bread and other wheat-based products, causes arteries to harden with plaque. In simple terms: atherosclerosis. I cannot help but wonder now, having the perspective of ten years and a lot more knowledge about food and diets, if I myself was not a victim of WGA. Fortunately, I lived to tell the tale. These days, no wheat-based product knowingly passes my lips.

Plant-based anti-nutrients

As the reader will no doubt have noticed by now, many plants come with anti-nutrients. In practical terms, this means that you can eat a wide range of highly nutritious foods, yet not reap the benefits. Many of these nutrients will be negated by being bound to lectins, WGAs, gliadin, etc. These plant-based compounds chelate, or bite into minerals, thus binding them to the compound and stopping their absorption in the body. The list of antinutrient effects from common foods consumed on a plant-based diet is so long that it would be impossible to list them all and keep this blog to a sensible size (13).

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It is interesting to note how often mainstream dietary advice is 180° wrong. Much of the advice we are given is not only mistaken but more or less exactly mistaken. If you did the polar opposite to what is recommended you are likely to come up with a healthier diet. The food pyramid, for example, would be a much better guide to a healthy diet if it was turned upside down. The foods that are recommended as the basis of the diet, such as wheat-based products, fruits and vegetables, should be eaten sparingly, if at all. On the other hand, those we are told to eat sparingly such as eggs, cheeses, and meat should be consumed liberally. One wonders how they could have gotten it so profoundly wrong!?

The Dietitian's Dilemma book

What are the alternatives?

At this stage, the reader may be wondering what kind of diets they can safely follow. There are, of course, many possibilities. I will briefly outline three below:

The Ketogenic Diet

The Ketogenic Diet, or keto for short, puts the emphasis on the consumption of fats over carbohydrates. It has a long and proud history of being a very effective weight loss diet. Some fruits and vegetables are allowed but, because these are mostly carbohydrate, they can only be consumed in very small quantities.

The Complete Ketogenic DIet For Beginners Book

The Paleo Diet

The Paleo Diet is based on the idea that we should consume the foods that were available and eaten by our Paleolithic ancestors. The idea is that such foods will be biochemically appropriate to a human diet because we have adapted to them over an extended period of time. This means that it effectively turns it back on processed foods and many of the genetically altered plant-based foods available today through the industrialised food system.

The Paleo Primer book

The Carnivore Diet

The Carnivore Diet is perhaps one of the simplest of all diets. The primary idea is that the species-appropriate diet for human beings is meat. This does accord with what we know of our ancestor’s dietary practices. Meat was the preferred source before the advent of agriculture, though some fruits and vegetables would be consumed if meat was unavailable. For some reason, it is viewed as a controversial choice in this day and age. This may say more about the times we live in than the diet itself.

The Carnivore Code anti plant based diet book


The above article merely gives a few of the more prominent plant toxins. Unfortunately, the limitations of the blogging format make it necessary to truncate the information somewhat. Suffice it to say, as Doctor Paul Saladino often phrases it, plants are not your friends. Whole groups of plants come with manifold dangers. Peas, beans, cruciform vegetables, wheat, barley, oats, and nightshades, to name but a few, all contain dangerous toxins that can build up in the human body. Whilst a little, consumed on rare occasions, maybe OK, continuous consumption of such ‘foodstuffs’ is likely to lead to all manner of inflammatory problems, gut issues, and even neurological illnesses.

One has to pity those on a strict vegan diet. Not only are they subject to a huge range of potential deficiencies, but they also have to deal with these inherent dangers in their plant-based diets. When one views those on a long term vegan diet, one is often struck with how emaciated and pale such folks appear. This effect is probably due, at least to some extent, to the kind of malnutrition that consumption of antinutrients inflicts on an ongoing basis. If I were able to influence such folk, I would urge them to adopt a more reasonable diet and try to ensure that it contains enough nutrients in a bio-available form. A diet wherein they don’t have to supplement on a day-to-day basis merely to survive.


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