In this article, we review the Gundry Diet as conceived, written, and published by Dr. Steven R. Gundry in his 2008 work, “The Diet Evolution, Turn Off the Genes That Are Killing You and Your Waistline.” Since publishing this book, Dr. Gundry has become one of the preeminent experts on the microbiome and digestive health in the supplement industry. He is widely quoted in research papers, industry forums, and YouTube interviews for his work with pre, pro, and postbiotics and their impact on gut health and immune function.
Dr. Gundry’s resume, education, and credentials are impressive. He is a Yale graduate with special honors, an Alpha Omega Alpha graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, and a former Professor of Surgery and Pediatrics in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Together with his colleague, Leonard Bailey, they performed more infant and pediatric heart transplants than anyone else in the world. He invented one of the most widely used devices to keep the heart muscle alive during open-heart surgery and holds patents on numerous other medical devices.
In 2002 Dr. Gundry resigned his position at Loma Linda University and established The International Heart and Lung Institute, and within it, The Center for Restorative Medicine in Palm Springs, CA. Dr. Gundry has also gone on to produce a variety of well-known supplements with his Gundry MD line, such as Vital Reds, Bio Complete 3, Total Restore, and many more. Since then, Dr. Gundry has been perfecting his Diet Evolution, documenting its impact on patients’ weight and other beneficial health outcomes, and focusing on the microbiome. To quote the doctor, the beginning of his “No More Mr. Knife-Guy” period.
So is his well-known book, Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution, worth the read? We’ll take a closer look at Dr. Gundry’s guide to a better and healthier life in this Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution review!
Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution – Pre “Holobiotics” and Lectins
Those who have encountered any of the doctor’s more recent publications, visited his website, or used his supplements, will notice we don’t discuss “Holobiotics” or lectins in this article. These terms and concepts were introduced in Dr. Gundry’s second book, “The Plant Paradox, The Hidden Danger in Healthy Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain.” Many scientists, dieticians, and researchers have classified Gundry’s position relative to lectins as pseudoscience. We reserve judgment on lectins for another day and focus on the principles and methods of Diet Evolution.
Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution – Tricking the Genes That Are Killing You
The diet Dr. Gundry preaches works. It will not only help you lose weight, but it will improve important health markers such as blood pressure and cholesterol. The diet addresses conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and arthritis, and perhaps most importantly, may help you live longer, healthier. The principles of the diet are logical, science-based, and supported in clinical studies. We review the strategies in each of the diet’s three phases, Teardown, Restoration, and Longevity, and what to expect. The doctor’s position on food choices, supplementation, and some of the more advanced tactics in the Longevity phase, such as Intermittent Fasting and caloric restriction, matches much of what current science supports. However, his thoughts about exercise and his rationale for this position are a bit outside of the norm, and we will discuss this in the Exercise segment.
The most difficult part of the diet for this reader was Dr. Gundry’s explanations relative to “tricking our genes – which are trying to kill us.” In all candor, we cannot determine if the “Save for Winter” and “Winter is Now” are clever analogies meant to be taken at face value or to help illustrate the body’s reaction to certain stimuli.
Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution – A Three-Phased Approach
Dr. Gundry’s program is designed in three phases to help people adapt their food choices, eating habits, and behaviors. To initiate the program and for immediate results, there is the Teardown Phase, followed by a stabilization and maintenance period in the Restoration Phase, and a life-long approach for a longer, healthier life in the Longevity Phase. Throughout the program, one gradually evolves their diet and lifestyle to manage their weight and achieve better health.
Understanding Friendly and Unfriendly Foods
It would be difficult to embark on the Evolution Diet without understanding the various food groups the doctor refers to throughout his book. As such, we include an appendix at the bottom of this review that details the specific foods in each grouping:
- Friendly Foods
- Proteins – Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dairy, and Soy
- Vegetables – those you may eat as much as you wish
- Nuts and Seeds
- Meal Replacement Bars & Protein Powders
- Unfriendly Goods
- Starchy Vegetables
- White Foods
- Beige Foods
- Killer Fruits
- Other Foods to Avoid
- Brown Foods to Banish Entirely
Finally, there is another grouping of Friendly Fruits, which the doctor allows after the first two weeks of the Teardown Phase; however, only in moderation (specific serving sizes) and with the caveat that partaking of these friendly fruits will slow weight loss progress.
The Teardown Phase – Getting Started
Designed to kick-start your weight loss program, the Teardown Phase is minimally a six-week program that can be extended for those with more significant weight loss issues. This period represents the start of dramatically altering your food choices, focusing on lean proteins (as you’ll see in the Addendum, you have an ample assortment of protein sources), leafy greens, and other vegetables, with snacks of nuts and seeds. Sugars, processed foods, and refined grains are banished.
The diet allows for three meals with protein and vegetables and two snacks per day. Protein portions are the size of your palm, greens, and vegetables are as much as you wish, and nuts and seeds are small snacks (1/4 cup) twice per day. After the first two weeks of abstaining from all fruit, Friendly Fruits are added back into the mix, albeit in moderation – no more than two servings per day. Simple. Healthy. Sustainable.
Dr. Gundry states one can safely follow the diet for up to a year. We respectfully disagree, believing the Teardown Phase to be sustainable for an indefinite period, providing, as the doctor recommends, the protein sources are clean and of high quality:
- Lean cuts of grass-fed meats
- Free-range poultry
- Non-farm-raised fish and seafood
- Cheese in moderation
- Eggs, Almond Milk, plain yogurt
You also supplement your protein intake through vegetables, nuts, seeds, and if you choose protein bars and powders.
Another point for debate is the three meals and two snacks per day. We feel eating three meals and two snacks every day at specific intervals is one of the most unnatural things you can do. Should you opt to follow the guidelines of the Teardown Phase for an extended period, we recommend skipping one of those meals periodically or incorporating an Intermittent Fasting strategy into your regimen. The doctor does seem to concur as these strategies appear in the Longevity Phase.
Throughout the diet’s phases, the doctor recommends eight to ten glasses of water each day.
The Restoration Phase – Same Foods, Different Proportions
This second phase is all about consolidating your gains (or, more accurately, your weight loss) and normalizing your eating patterns and behaviors. You eat the same foods as in phase one; however, in different proportions. Dr. Gundry reminds us that truly changing habits requires three months of sustained change. To make your new habits permanent, the Restoration Phase lasts for another six weeks.
The doctor suggests you gradually wean back your protein portions throughout the Teardown Phase. As you enter Restoration, you should now be consuming a portion half or one-third the size of your palm. At the same time, you should be dramatically increasing the leafy greens and other vegetables in your diet. Nuts and seeds are still allowed twice per day, and Friendly Fruits continue in moderation.
The Longevity Phase – for the Rest of Your Life
After three months on the Evolution Diet, most of Dr. Gundry’s patients achieved or exceeded their desired weight loss, and their blood panels showed remarkable improvement. For many, their illnesses had been mitigated. As the doc says, “I love cardiac surgery. But giving people the tools to heal themselves transcends just about anything I can do with a knife, needle, and thread.”
The Longevity Phase is designed to be followed for life and features “calorie optimization,” eating those foods with the greatest micronutrient density but the least calories. Your food choices in this phase are heavily weighted towards vegetables, particularly salads and other raw vegetables. Banished foods from the other phases remain banished.
This phase aims to continuously reduce calories by becoming a “vegiphile,” a term coined by Gundry to describe someone who loves to eat veggies. Throughout Longevity, you reduce or eliminate foods that are concentrated sources of calories, such as animal proteins, dairy (cheese), and especially grains and legumes. Another benefit of the food choices in Longevity is an overall reduction of fat in the diet. As stated, raw vegetables are the preferred option in Longevity as raw vegetables preserve more of the micronutrients.
As you have moved through the program, you dramatically reduced your caloric intake. In Longevity, the doctor introduces the concept of “hormesis” – a body’s generally favorable response to low exposures to toxins or other stressors that in more significant doses would be harmful. Perhaps the most apt example of a hormetic stressor in this context is the Calorie Restriction Diet (CR). In clinical studies, this severe calorie restriction program, about one-third fewer calories, has been shown to extend life in laboratory settings. To replicate the effects of CR, the doctor recommends his patients consider adding intermittent fasting into their programs.
Supplementation on Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution
Since we consume fewer plant micronutrients than our ancestors, the doctor is a proponent of supplementation as a form of health insurance. We wholeheartedly concur and have often equated a quality MVM (Multi-Vitamin and Mineral) to an insurance policy against deficiencies in the diet. In addition to an MVM supplement, the doctor recommends the following while on the Evolution diet:
- During the Teardown Phase, selenium (200 – 400 mcg), chromium (400 – 1000mcg), and cinnamon (1/4 teaspoon twice per day) can help you reduce glucose and insulin levels.
- For gut health and immune function, you will need beneficial bacteria in the form of probiotics (4 billion per day) and prebiotics to support their growth (500 – 1000 mg twice per day).
- The Fab Five per the doctor are Vitamin E (400–2,000 IU), Vitamin C (500 – 1000 mg twice per day), Magnesium (500 – 1000 mg), Folic Acid (800 – 5,000 mcg), B Vitamins (50–100 mcg).
- For those exercising – Coenzyme Q-10 CoQ10, for stamina and strength (150 – 200 mg) and L-carnitine to transport energy into the muscle cells (250–500 mg twice per day).
Obviously, we concur with the doctor’s recommendations; however, we could not help but notice the omission of additional dietary supplements to aid in weight loss and building lean muscle:
- Proven-effective weight loss aids – caffeine, Yohimbe, green tea extract, capsaicin, CLA
- Clinically supported supplements for lean muscle gains – creatine, beta-alanine, nitric oxide boosters, BCAAs
On the topic of weight loss and lean muscle, Dr. Gundry correctly notes that muscle burns more calories than fat and that exercise expends energy in the form of calories. When speaking of intake, to quote the doc, “To Earn It, You Have to Burn It.”
The Fitness Component of Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution
Per the doctor, “research on successful long-term weight loss demonstrates that some kind of exercise program is essential to maintain lowered weight.” The doctor also states that selecting an exercise program that you enjoy makes it easier for compliance and making the practice a habit. That’s one of our favorite theories on exercise – if you genuinely enjoy your activity of choice, odds are better you will stick with your goals. Exercising strictly for the sake of exercise, in a discipline you don’t enjoy, simply won’t last.
The exercise component of Diet Evolution is minimal and can be summed up as take long walks; if you run, it should be for short sprints, and some resistance training is required, heavier weights with fewer reps. The theory is based once again on how our genes interpret our actions and how our ancestors lived – our ancestors lifted, pulled, wrestled, and sprinted after things; they also walked long distances. The more you duplicate these actions, the more your genes will identify your behavior as that of a successful animal.
Not a proponent, the doc compares cardio to “low-ranking primates, desperately struggling to make the grade, and the effort produces little in the way of results.”
Suffice it to say, this is an area of concern for us. Regular exercise improves the cardiovascular system, strengthens the immune system, and stimulates the lymphatic system. It increases blood flow delivering more oxygen to our cells and the brain. Exercise helps keep the body balanced and strong.
In Summary: Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution
What do we like most about Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution? First, it’s effectiveness in weight management, improving health markers, and addressing certain medical conditions. It’s simplicity, no counting calories or macros, and very limited measuring beyond the palm of your hand and a ¼ cup of nuts and seeds. It’s ease of compliance in Teardown and Restoration. Okay, going predominately raw vegetables in Longevity for the rest of your life seems quite the stretch.
Throughout the Evolution Diet, you evolve your diet backward in time. In Teardown, you eat as our ancestors did a century ago. In Restoration, you emulate the diet of our ancestors 10,000 years ago. And, in Longevity, you return to the patterns of our earliest ancestors.
Yes, we live longer today than our ancestors; however, far too many people are likely to suffer more years of ill health. The Evolution Diet is about thriving, not merely surviving, about improving your general health while hitting your weight and longevity goals.
Addendum – The Foods of Dr. Gundry’s Diet Evolution
Proteins – Meat, preferably grass-fed
- Beef filet, flank steak, stew meat, ground sirloin, round steak, jerky / Lamb / Pork tenderloin, ham, Canadian bacon, prosciutto (but no slab bacon) / Wild game, venison
Poultry, preferably free-range
- Chicken / Cornish game hen / Duck / Goose / Turkey / Turkey “bacon” / Turkey and chicken cold cuts, preferably sliced and not processed parts / Wild poultry
Fish (preferably wild, not farm-raised)
- Alaskan halibut / Anchovies / Freshwater bass / Hawaiian fish, such as ono, mahimahi, opakapaka / Mackerel / Salmon, preferably Alaskan / Sardines / Shellfish, including crab, lobster, squid, calamari, shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels / Trout / Whitefish and perch (preferably from Lake Superior) / Yellowtail and albacore
- Fresh Cheeses – Farmer cheese (1 cup) / Feta cheese (½ cup) / Low-fat cottage cheese (1 cup) / Mozzarella cheese, water packed (½ cup) / Ricotta (1 cup)
- Aged Cheeses – Asiago / Bleu cheese / Cheddar / Goat cheese (any kind) / Gruyère / Pecorino Romano / Parmigiano-Reggiano / Swiss
- Other Dairy – Almond milk (plain or flavored, unsweetened only) / Eggs (preferably omega-3, free-range preferred) / Kefir / Soymilk (plain or flavored, unsweetened only) / Yogurt (plain)
- Soy and related products
- Black soybeans / Edamame / Seitan (warning, this is wheat gluten) / Tempeh / Tofu (firm only) / Tofu shirataki noodles
- Arugula / Beet greens / Chard / Collards / Dandelion / Endive / Escarole / Kale / Lettuce, including romaine, Boston, and all red and green lettuces / Mustard greens / Purslane / Radicchio / Spinach / Turnip greens / Watercress
- Artichokes / Bamboo shoots / Beans (string, green, yellow) / Bean sprouts / Beets (raw only) / Bok choy / Broccoli and broccoli rabe / Brussels sprouts / Cabbage (napa, Chinese, green and red) / CapersCarrots (raw only) / Cauliflower / Celery / Chayote (vegetable pear) / Chicory / Cucumbers (including pickles) / Fennel / Garlic / Ginger root / Herbs (cilantro, basil, mint, sage, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, etc.) / Jícama / Kohlrabi / Mushrooms / Olives / Onions / Shallots / Scallions / Chives / Peppers (hot, such as jalapeño) / Peppers (sweet bell, all colors) / Pumpkin (up to 1 cup a day) / Radishes (including daikon) / Sugar snap peas, snow peas (but not shelled peas) / Summer squash (patty pan, yellow crookneck, zucchini) / Water chestnuts
- Canola oil / Flaxseed oil (do not heat) / Grapeseed oil / Hempseed oil (do not heat) / Macadamia nut oil / Olive oil (extra-virgin only, preferably unfiltered and cold-pressed) / Sesame oil (both plain and Asian roasted) / Tahini (sesame seed paste), in small amounts only / Walnut oil (do not heat)
- A.1. Steak Sauce / Fish sauce / Lemon and lime juice / Mustard (without honey or sugars) / Salsa (preferably fresh) / Salt and pepper / Spices and herbs / Tabasco and other hot sauces / Tamari or soy sauce / Tomato sauce or paste / Vinegar (apple cider preferred, or any other type) / Worcestershire sauce
Nuts and Seeds (raw, unsalted)
- Almonds / Brazil nuts / Cocoa beans (cocoa nibs) or chocolate with greater than 70 percent cocoa / Coconut, dried or fresh unsweetened only (very high in calories) / Flaxseeds (ground) / Hazelnuts / Hemp seeds (or powder) / Macadamias / Peanut butter and other nut butters / Peanuts (unless you’re cooking with them, use only roasted peanuts) / Pecans / Pepitas / Pine nuts (pignolia) / Pistachios / Pumpkin seeds / Sesame seeds / Walnuts
Meal Replacement Bars and Powders
- Atkins Advantage / Doctor’s Carbrite Diet / Pure Protein / Think Thin / Most low-carb protein shakes, such as Atkins Advantage and Pure Protein / Hemp protein powder (unsweetened) / Rice protein powder (unsweetened) / Soy protein powder (unsweetened) / Whey protein powder (unsweetened)
- Coffee / Consommé, bouillon, clear broth / Plain spirits without mixers / Red wine / Tea (black, green)
- Apple (1 medium) / Apricots (4 fresh) – Avocado (½) / Banana—green-tipped only (1) / Blackberries (1 cup) / Blueberries (1 cup) / Boysenberries (1 cup) / Cherries (1 cup, about 10) / Citrus—oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, tangelos (one whole, or half a grapefruit) / Cranberries (1 cup) / Currants (1 cup fresh) / Grapes—but not seedless ones (1 cup) / Guava—no guava juice (3 small) / Huckleberries (1 cup) / Kiwi (1) / Kumquats (2) / Lychees (1 cup, about 5) / Mulberries (1 cup) / Nectarine (1) / Papaya—green only, in salads (1) / Passion fruit (1) / Peach (1 medium) / Pear—firm, not ripe (1 medium) / Plums (2 small or 1 medium) / Pomegranate (½ cup seeds) / Raspberries (1 cup) / Strawberries (1 cup, about 6) / Tomato (1 medium)
- Beets (cooked) / Carrots (cooked) / Corn (cooked) / Peas (shelled) / Root vegetables (parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, celery root) / Sweet potatoes / Winter squash (Hubbard, acorn, butternut, and others) / Yams
“White” Foods – avoid at all costs
- Artificial sweeteners (Equal, Sweet ’n Low, Splenda, etc.) / Candy (including sugar-free) / Flour / Frozen yogurt / Ice cream / Mayonnaise / Milk (skim, or fat-free) / “No-added-sugar” foods / Pasta / Potatoes / Ranch dressing / Rice (including white basmati and most brown rice) / Rice milk / Saltines / Soymilk, (regular or “lite”) / Sugar / White bread
“Beige” Foods – off the menu
- Bagels / Blended coffee drinks / Bread (including flat bread, pita, and whole wheat, whole-grain, and sprouted-grain products) / Breaded food (any kind) / Buns / Cereals (hot and cold) / Chips / Cookies / Crackers / Deep-fried food (any kind) / French fries / Low-fat processed foods / Muffins / Pastry / Pizza / Pretzels / Rolls / Tortillas (flour or corn)
- Dates / Dried fruits of any kind (currants, prunes, blueberries, cranberries, etc.) / Fruit leather/strips / Mangos / Pineapple / Plantains / Raisins / Ripe bananas / Ripe papayas / Ripe pears / Seedless grapes
Other Foods to Avoid
- Alcohol in a mixed drink / White or Rosé Wine / Beer / Malt Liquors / Fruit juice (all kinds) / Honey / Molasses / Maple Syrup / Corn Syrup / Jam, jellies, preserves, condiments made with sugar / Jell-O (including sugar-free Jell-O) / Soft drinks, including sugar-free and diet brands / Vegetable juice (all kinds)
Foods to Banish Initially – Brown Foods
- Amaranth, Barley / Brown basmati rice (from India) / Buckwheat (kasha) / Bulgur / Corn kernels (fresh and raw only) / Farro / Legumes (beans such as lentils, lima, garbanzo, navy, pinto, kidney, etc.) / Millet / Oats (whole or steel-cut, but not old-fashioned or quick oats) / Quinoa / Rye, Soy/spelt/garbanzo bean flour (for coating only) / Spelt / Whole wheat berries / Wild rice