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Is the McDougall Program Really Healthy?

The Starch Solution.

The Healthiest Diet On The Planet.

The McDougall Program.

All of these books have been authored by John McDougall during the past thirty years, all insisting that the healthiest diet is a low-fat, low-protein diet consisting of 80-90% cooked starches. A medical doctor, he became convinced early in his career that this diet – which many would call a healthy vegan diet – could cure a number of diseases, especially cardiovascular disease. And his experience with many of his patients have born that theory out, despite the efforts of his contemporaries to discredit it.

Is Dr. McDougall’s diet healthy?

Is a high-carb, plant-based diet the best? John McDougall and other medical doctors – along with a growing group of other health practitioners such as naturopaths, chiropractors, and doctors of osteopathy – have a lot of cumulative evidence that show the answers to these questions to be a resounding yes.

As a vegetarian and natural health and nutrition buff who is thrilled by the existence of medical doctors who base their practices on preventing disease through proper diet, I won’t argue with the fact that eliminating flour-based and sugar-filled foods along with animal products will go a long way to improve anyone’s health.

Umm…except…John McDougall’s “starch solution” allows for flour-based foods. I’ll get to that in a moment, but for now, let me throw out on the table that among the M.D.s, N.D.s, and other health care practitioners who advocate a plant-based, high-carb diet, McDougall is in the minority in believing there is anything healthy about flour-based products.

Because, there’s not.

Dr. John McDougall, author of “The Starch Solution.”

So for now, let’s take the baked goods out of the equation. Let’s say that this so-called “healthiest diet” only includes whole, non-flour starchy foods. In that case, I would agree that his diet plan is healthy for a lot of people.

But, is it the healthiest for everyone?

My first area of disagreement with Dr. McDougall

I have three problems with Dr. McDougall’s diet. The first problem is that whole grains are not healthy for a whole lot of people. If you ask the Paleo crowd, they’ll tell you that whole grains aren’t healthy for any human being.

Why not? Whole grains retain the outer “shell” of the grain, and that shell contains proteins that make it very hard to digest. The reason is that grains are the seeds of grasses, and the animals that consume grasses will also consume the grain once they appear. Being seeds, they don’t want to be digested, they want to be planted in the ground. God created this hard outer shell on grains so that they would go right through the digestive systems of ruminant animals and be planted into the ground.

See all that brown stuff covering these wheat berries? Though nutritious, it is NASTY for your digestive system!

While soaking and cooking whole grains neutralize the hard-to-digest proteins to some extent, it doesn’t neutralize them completely – or all of them. Gluten, for example, is only diminished by a small fraction when wheat berries or wheat flour is soaked for twenty-four hours. And gluten is in refined grains as well as whole.

What are the potential consequences of putting something into the digestive tract that is hard to digest? Uncomfortable gas and bloating, leaky gut (minuscule tears in the small intestines that allow substances to enter the blood which have no business being in the blood), and digestive diseases such as diverticulitis.

I believe whole grains are to be eaten in small quantities, if at all, because while they do provide a nice range of nutrients, they are basically not healthy for the human body. And if we take whole grains and flour out of the starchy diet equation, we’re left with white rice, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams, corn, and green bananas.

Most people don’t even consider green bananas a food because it doesn’t take much to make you sick to your stomach, so let’s toss that out altogether. (And to be fair, I don’t think green bananas are a part of Dr. McDougall’s starch diet.)

Not everyone tolerates beans well, even if they are pre-soaked and cooked for a long time. Sprouted mung beans and lentils, consumed raw, are much easier on the digestive system than any other bean (and most others, if not all others, need to be cooked).

A lot of people are allergic to corn, and research strongly suggests that a diet high in corn leads to vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency. Some people are so sensitive to the toxins in potatoes, that even the less-toxic varieties such as fingerlings and red potatoes are a no-no for them.

That leaves us with white rice and sweet potatoes, as well as sprouted mung beans and lentils if you tolerate them well. If you can live with getting 1500+ calories per day from those foods, good on ya, mate! I would be bored to tears if I had to restrict my diet like that.

Let’s say you’re one of the minority of people whose digestive tract can handle whole grains, and you don’t have any problems with any of the other starchy foods. Fantastic! I hope you realize how blessed you are.

But there would still remain the second and third problems with McDougall’s diet.

The second problem with the McDougall program

When I got pregnant, I was underweight. I needed to gain weight. How did I do that?

I added more – a lot more – starchy foods to my diet.

Hmm. Interesting, because the healthy diet plan in question is supposed to help people to lose weight.

Look at the one- and two-star reviews for any of the good doctor’s books on Amazon, and you’ll see people complaining that they gained weight, rather than losing weight, on McDougall’s diet.

As well, you will find reviews from diabetics stating that his program made their blood sugar numbers worse, not better. From the vast reading I’ve done on the topic of diet and nutrition, this probably is the result of flour food consumption, rather than quinoa and lentil consumption.

So the second problem with this starch-based diet is that it doesn’t help everyone to have better health. Especially when flour is allowed in this supposedly healthy vegan diet.

My third area of disagreement with McDougall’s diet plan

John McDougall claims that the human diet has always consisted primarily of starchy foods.


That’s a pretty heavy claim to make, seeing as how the good doctor wasn’t born until 1947. Like the rest of us, he wasn’t around when the human race first began. So how does he know what we’ve always eaten?

Answer: he doesn’t.

But anthropologists have a pretty good idea of what the original human diet looked like. So do people who believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in evolution or creation. True experts on either side will tell you that the original human diet consisted of raw fruits and vegetables with a smattering of seeds and nuts. If they ate any animal foods early on, it was likely eggs from birds and reptiles. Tubers, such as potatoes, were probably on the menu fairly often, but not 80% of the diet. And they would have been consumed raw.

A raw food advocate Dr. McDougall is not.

The earliest humans were not growing tubers, beans, and grains. They found some in the wild sometimes, particularly the tubers, but any anthropologist worth their salt will tell you that agriculture was a long time coming in human history. And not until agriculture came along did people begin consuming starchy foods in large quantities.

A side issue here is the gluten factor. Let’s pretend that pre-agricultural humans did consume wheat. This wheat would have been a grain that is much lower in gluten than modern-day wheat that has been purposely hybrid to make flour that will make stickier bread dough.

More and more nutrition experts – including medical doctors – are condemning the consumption of hybrid wheat products. Watch the video below to hear one allergist’s opinion about gluten. (My BIL is an allergist, too, and shares the same opinion).

McDougall encourages people to eat flour-based foods such as pancakes and pasta.

Gluten is not good for you, PERIOD. The fact that McDougall ignores this fact should make you look twice at his so-called healthy eating diet.

All plant-based things in moderation

Is the starch solution diet good for you? Is the McDougall program healthy? Should we call it a “healthy vegan diet”, or “healthy vegan weight loss diet?” It depends on which starches, and your individual digestive abilities.

But is it the most natural diet for human beings? Even taking out the unnatural flour factor, my opinion is no. Moderation in all nutrient-dense, plant-based food. Lots of fresh (or fresh-frozen) fruits and vegetables, a handful or two of nuts and seeds, and some starchy foods mixed in.

If you have diabetes and want to be healthy, and/or feel the tug to become Vegan, better to try a no-flour, lowish-carb plant-based diet, such as what Dr. Joel Fuhrman recommends.

Happy plant-based eating. 🙂

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