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The McDougall plan endures

Thursday, December 29th, 2011 | Posted by

Dr. John McDougall of Santa Rosa is back in fashion again and this spring is publishing "Starch Solution," his first new book in 17 years.

By NINA LARAMORE / Santa Rosa Correspondent

Physician and nutrition expert Dr. John McDougall has one simple tip for anyone vowing to lose weight in 2012:

Don’t skimp on the potatoes, corn, beans, whole grains, squash and other forms of plant-based starch. As long as you eat at least 900 calories of starch every day, you can eat whatever else you want and as much as you want.

It’s the same diet he has been advocating for the past 30 years, but after watching the rise and fall of low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets, McDougall still swears by it. The plan works because starches are low in calories and fat, he explains. When consumed at the level he recommends, they replace high-calorie, high-fat meats, cheeses and oils.

“I challenge people to make that one change just to prove to themselves that it will work,” McDougall says.

“That means adding 3 to 4 cups of rice, 3 to 4 cups of corn, 3 to 4 potatoes, 3 to 4 sweet potatoes or 6 to 12 slices of bread to the foods they are currently eating. It will displace more fattening foods and, as a result, their calorie intake will be spontaneously reduced.”

It’s a mantra Santa Rosa-based McDougall has been repeating since 1983, when his first book brought him national fame. This spring it will be introduced to a new audience in “The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and lose the Weight for Good!”, his first book in 17 years.

McDougall was introduced to the concept while in medical school at Michigan State University. Researchers from the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department asked 16 overweight men to eat 12 slices of white bread a day (at 70 calories a slice) or high fiber bread (at 50 calories a slice). The subjects eating the white bread lost 16 pounds in eight weeks; those eating high fiber bread lost 23 pounds.

In 1983, he and his wife published “The McDougall Plan: 12 Days to Dynamic Health,” gathering that information with other suggestions for nutritional health into a book that made him famous. He went on to publish more than 10 best-selling books on health, nutrition and cooking, and is still convinced that humans were designed to be vegans, eating diets high in carbohydrates and without dairy, fat, animals or animal products.

But 15 years ago, he said his publishers told him he was going to have to change his message. The trend in diet books had shifted to low carbohydrate, high protein and high energy, the kind of diet promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins.

McDougall refused, saying the science was clear. He had been studying it for years and had seen the benefits to patients with heart conditions, arthritis, obesity and many other conditions.

While enduring the long-lasting low-carbohydrate trend, he continued teaching. He held three sold-out, 10-day programs each year at the FlamingoConferenceResort and Spa, offered advanced classes with internationally-recognized health experts, wrote a newsletter, kept up a website with free recipes and monitored the success of people who followed his advice.

This spring, RodaleBooks will publish McDougall’s first book in 17 years. It updates his core program with additional information gained over the years.

“My publishers are excited about the book,” he says. “They said it was a breath of fresh air.”

Comparisons continue to crop up between McDougall andAtkins, however. When asked about the Atkins diet he says bluntly, “We were about the same age. He’s dead. I am still here. Dr. Atkins diet killed him.”

McDougall remembers once meeting Atkins in a national debate. “On the way there, I told my wife, ‘I am going to say to Atkins, Stand up and take off your coat, Fatty. Let everyone see how good your diet is.’

“Mary talked me out of it. I’ve always regretted not saying it.”

McDougall admits to be horrified by the many Americans who shunned carbohydrates. Even worse, he said, was watching countries in Asia,Africa and the Mediterranean that traditionally had high carbohydrate diets convert to a harmful Western diet.

“About five years ago the pendulum started swinging back,” McDougall said. “There are three reasons for it: the amount of information that is accessible to all of us, the animal rights movement and global warming.”

Animals raised for their meat are responsible for an estimated 14 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, he said, a significant portion it methane that is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

TheFlamingo’s Terrace Grill features a McDougall menu, and the diet doctor is proud of all the people who have followed his diet.

“Former President Clinton is eating the McDougall diet,” McDougall said. “Mike Tyson is another. John Mackey of Whole Foods sells McDougall products and sends his people to my 10-day classes. Blue Cross saw a 44 percent reduction in claims among people on the McDougall diet.”

McDougall’s future plans include working with the American Medical Association on determine how to enforce a new law (SB 380) he was instrumental in passing. It requires all physicians to learn nutrition. He will continue to teach and to champion causes like reversing a California school lunch regulation that limits students to 1 cup of starch per week.

“People think they won’t be able to survive on a vegan diet and that it’s a diet of deprivation” McDougall says.

“They don’t realize the great pharaohs of Egypt ruled the world on corn, Genghis Khan conquered the world on a starch-based diet and, when the potato came to Ireland, the people doubled in population. Their health was phenomenally impacted for the better.”

More information about McDougall, his books and upcoming classes and retreats is available at www.drmcdougall.com.

  • Jason

    Fact: Americans have been eating an decreasing percentage of their calories from fat (and a correspondingly increasing percent from carbohydrates) over the last 20+ years.
    Fact: During those years, Americans have become more obese.
    Fact: Carbohydrates cause the body to release insulin, which can lead to a blood sugar crash and hunger pangs even when the body doesn’t need more fuel.
    Fact: Fat is satiating, as is protein.
    Personal Observation: decreasing carbohydrate intake (particularly starches) can improve insulin sensitivity, lower blood glucose levels, improve triglyceride levels, blunt hunger pangs and improve body composition. It takes more calories from carbohydrates to satiate over the course of a day/week, fewer calories are required from fat/protein.
    Opinion: McDougall’s diet fails people because they cannot maintain appropriate portion control without feeling hungry all the time. Atkins himself may have been fat (n=1 though) but one need not go to that extreme. Lower-carbohydrate diets can be beneficial without resorting to the extreme of Atkins and people can still reap the benefits.
    Final Comment: McDougall believes in the blood-lipid (Cholesterol) theory of coronary heart disease. Current research shows that inflammation is a better correlation of CHD and diets high in grains (like McDougall’s) are shown to increase systemic inflammation. If the lipid theory were accurate, there would be a strong correlation between CHD and LDL levels, but in a 2001 study at UCLA, researchers found that 50% of CHD patients admitted to hospitals had NORMAL LDL levels! We’ve been chasing the wrong cause…..

    • Rick

      your facts are not facts at all, simply summarizing the incorrect diet lies we’ve been told for the past 20-30 years.

      Feeling full or satieted is not just chemical, it is physical, by filling your gut with low calorie whole plant foods you feel very satisfied.

      Fact: americans have been eating a decreasing percentage of low calorie whole plant foods and replacing them with more meat, eggs & dairy, along with high calorie high fat processed foods for the past 50 or so years and been getting more obese as a result.

      Fact: too much protein in the diet causes insulin resistance, a leading cause of diabetes.

      Personal observation: been on Mcdougall plan for 8 months and lost 30 lbs and brought my BMI into the “normal” range from “obese”. I eat as much as i want withing the plan and feel full after meals no problem.

  • Jim

    One consideration is the type of carbohydrate. Read “Wheat Belly”, in which you will find out that eating the modern variety of highly modified wheat creates higher blood sugar levels than eating sugar. Rice does not do this, nor do ‘ancient’ varieties of wheat.

    • http://peacefulplanteater.com Lori

      Jim, I’ve read Wheat Belly and it’s a bunch of nonsense! The studies the author based his conclusions on regarding wheat and inflammation (and then extrapolating to all grains) was based on CELIAC’S response to wheat, which DOES cause inflammation. Also, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but look at the author. He is overweight and doesn’t look healthy. Dr. McDougall is trim, fit and looks healthy. Read the studies

  • Lisa

    Atkins did NOT die from his diet!! He slipped on ice and hit his head…he had brain bleeding and his organs started to shut down ultimately causing his death….get you facts straight McDougall…you and Ornish have been drinking the same Kool-Aid:(!!

  • Gyrobob

    It is absolutely incredible how much misinformation is in this article.

    Firstly, “‘When asked about the Atkins diet he says bluntly, “We were about the same age. He’s dead. I am still here. Dr. Atkins diet killed him.”’ I’m sure he knows this to be untrue, so this amount to a lie. Dr. Atkins was in quite good shape (6′ tall, 200 well-exercised pounds) when he fell and cracked his skull, eventually killing him. Yes, he weighed about 50 pounds more than he did two weeks before he died, not an uncommon thing for an unconscious body kept on life support for so long, retaining huge amounts of fluid. For McDougall to spew forth a falsehood like this is dishonorable, and blows any credibility he might have had for his “diet.”

    Secondly, Jason has his most of his facts straight,.. McDougall and Jim don’t. McDougal is just wrong in so many ways, there isn’t space here to explain it all. Jim has one good statement about modern wheat creating blood sugar spikes, but he is wrong about other grains not doing the same thing. Ancient wheat, and other grains (rice, oats, corn, etc.) are not as bad as modern wheat, but they ALL create rapid and high blood sugar levels. The Wheat Belly book points this out. The Wheat Belly system (for removing wheat bellies) is a four-pronged approach: no wheat, little or no other grains, no sugar, low-carb. McDougall needs some re-education, especially on ethics and veracity.

  • Jen

    What a pompous fool! Dr. Atkins died as a result of a head injury, you jerk.

  • pamela andrews

    I have been following the Wheat Belly diet (based on the book by cardiologist, William Davis) since September and have finally, after ten years of being diabetic, been able to discontinue all diabetes medication. To eat the way that Dr. McDougall suggests would just drive my blood sugar back up again (believe me, I have tried McDougall’s type of diet and my blood sugar went way way up especially with all that whole grain bread). On the wheat free diet, my arthritis has improved, I now sleep better too. I have known plenty of Vegans and they all seem to appear weak- eyed to me, kind of fragile looking and haggard. My college degree was from one of the campuses of University of North Carolina, and was in the School of Home Economics. I probably graduated from there about the same time that Dr. McDougall did his pre-med training. Our professors in Nutrition would never have supported McDougall’s theories due to the scarcity of complete proteins which are needed for support and repair of bodily functions.

  • http://Www.mackayrippey.com Mackay

    Another vegan fanatic. When will they go away and take their wonder bread with them. Sigh.

    • Dave

      What vegan would ever eat wonder bread? Being vegan is about being healthy.

  • http://www.soulveggie.com Mark

    Not 17 years:

    McDougall, Dr. John, Dr. McDougall’s Digestive Tune-Up (Book Publishing Company, 2006)

    FYI, Mark

    • http://www.facebook.com/pages/Santa-Rosa-Towns-Correspondent-Nina-Laramore/221941861178210?ref=tn_tn Nina Laramore

      Hello Mark,

      I appreciate your comment, and all the others.

      I had originally written that it was his first “program or plan” book in 17-years. He did in fact publish a cookbook just last year and the Digestive Tune-up book, as you mentioned in 2006. Dr. McDougall has had many books on the best seller list over the years and in talking to him we placed them in three subsections: Plan or Program books, Cookbooks and Medical books. He considers the Digestive Tune-up book to be in the medical category.

      Sincerely, Nina Laramore

  • Gyrobob

    I admire the way you included all the responses. Very ethical.

  • Ella

    The Mcdougall diet did not thing but make me tired, constantly hungry, and give me high blood sugar. Thank the dear Lord I got hold of myself, bought a book called Life Without Bread and went the low carb route. MY HEALTH IMPROVED. And yeah, Dr. Mcdougall, I followed your diet perfectly to a T.

    To slander Dr. Atkins that way when we all know he died of a fall on winter ice in NY as he was leaving his office is dreadful. I wouldn’t be surpirsed if Atkins’ widow sues him. But then again, maybe not. That would give Dr. McDougall the attention he wants.

    And Dr. Atkins wasn’t “fat.” He had a husky, big-boned build. God gave us all different shapes.

    Please print this response to give a more well-rounded view of your article. Thank you.

  • F. Laurel Scott

    Just an unscientific observation:

    All of the people I know (and have known for several years) that are on low-carb diets are obese. They have stayed that way the entire time.

    As to any misinformation in this article, I would challenge anyone who feels that way to first, become a doctor, then second’ spend 30 plus years researching and testing your hypotheses, and finally, publish your conclusions.

    Please do not mistake being an armchair critic of a short article as a credible peer review of this man’s work.

    (I do agree that the comment about Robert Atkins’s cause of death is absolutely incorrect and uncalled for.)

  • Rosemary

    Love Dr. McDougall and can’t wait to get the new book! For people that have issues with corn or wheat, there are tons of other options that don’t involve eating cow bodies or secretions.

    And of course the health reasons, world hunger, environmental and ethical reasons for cutting meat and dairy out of your diet are too multiple to list.

    • Vrienden

      It is a possibility to lose wgeiht rapidly but you should be realistic and understand that if you lose wgeiht fast then you will inevitably put it all back on again just as fast.

  • Nulik

    To Ella: you was hungry because you weren’t eating enough carbs. At first I was feeling hungry too, but this was solved eating more corn,rice, oats and wheat, and removing excess of vegetables.

    To All: McDougall’s diet is best understood with car analogy. You could fuel your car with crude oil, but you wouldn’t achieve high power (if you can start the engine at all, specially modern engines with fuel injection). This is because crude oil contains a lot of non burnable products, like fat. After refining crude oil we get gasoline which is pure hydrocarbons. These burn quickly so we achieve high power. With the human body it is the same. To produce energy, the cells make reaction of carbohydrates and oxygen. So what is going to happen if you fuel your body on fats? You won’t have much power.

  • Laura

    Dr. McDougall should be ashamed of himself. First of all, Dr. Atkins was born in 1930. Does Dr. McDougall want us to believe he’s 82 years old? I believe he is actually 17 years younger than Atkins – hardly “about the same age”. And second, as has been mentioned in the comments already, Dr. Atkins did NOT die from his diet.

    I’ve seen a couple of Dr. McDougall’s videos online, and he sounds filled with hate when he mentions Dr. Atkins or the lowcarb diet (which he insists on inaccurately calling the “high-protein diet”). He seems to have a very unhealthy obsession with Atkins.

  • Tim

    100% of all people on diets, will die.

    Eat what you like, not all diets will work for all people. Eat the Cow, Eat the Grass…just be healthy and exercise. Genetics have more do to with how your body processes the food it intakes.

  • John Mooter

    I am amazed at the ridiculous statements made here. If we look at the world populations, we see slim people in Asia, etc. eating mostly plant foods, not much fat. Atkins did not look healthy in the end. Neither does Barry Sears, who is also fat. McDoughal still looks lean and healthy, as do Drs. Esselstyn, Ornish, Barnard, Furhman, Klaper, and many other doctors advocating a plant based diet, low fat for the most part. ANybody who is alive and breathing has access to the many recent studies favoring whole plant based diet. It is called common sense. We are not designed to eat cows, pigs, eggs, and animal secretions. This absurd “diet” has caused great increases in so many diseases. Heart disease has been reversed through this diet. I cannot imagine anybody endorsing a diet that causes major illnesses, high blood pressure, strokes, cancer, and of course constipation…..not a pleasant thing!

  • Lory

    Atkins slipped and hit his head, because he had suffered a grand mal heart attack. It’s in the pathology report, in spite of several cover up attempts.

    And due to his poor conditioning and lack of muscle strength, he was unable to ‘lift’ his head during the fall, which is a natural reflect in humans when falling backwards.

    Atkins was also 62 pounds overweight, and had a very high body fat index.

  • Allison

    Before (or after in this case) condemning this article, I challenge you to fully read and understand McDougall’s plan and try it 100%. This plan is backed up by science and it actually works once you get rid of all processed foods (including white mocha’s and soda’s) and decide to cook whole foods instead. Other good sources backing up McDougall’s plan are, the China Study, Forks Over Knives, Dr Neal Barnard T. Colin Campbell, and the movie Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead. As a nation we need to be eating far more micronutrients and eliminating as much processed food as possible from our diets.

  • Sarah F.

    There is absolutely no diet I lost weight on better than Dr. John McDougall’s. If you want your kidneys to fail, even in your 20s, it’s a sure bet Dr. Atkins’ diet can do that for you. The human body was not designed to eat all that protein – pure and simple. Dr. McDougall’s diet is calming, satisfying, and wonderful. You don’t even miss the fat after the first 2 weeks. You feel so nourished, so at peace. You can tell those fruits and vegetables are really nourishing your cells. I’m sorry Dr. Atkins met with the fate he did, but so far as diets are concerned, Dr. McDougall’s is more healthful and satisfying by far.

  • Sidd

    Dr. Atkins did suffer cardiac arrest though.

  • Effie

    President Clinton has adopted this diet. Since most everyone here agrees that this diet is for idiots, then I am glad that my suspicions about Bill Clinton are now verified. Thank you all!

  • justin

    No, Americans have not lowered their fat intake. Fat is in everything. I always chuckle when people eat cookies, cake, fries, bread and then blame the carbohydrate for their weight gain. They seem to forget it’s the oils, dairy and eggs that were used to make that pastry. The butter that was spread on that bread. The meat that was mixed with the rice. Go look at the fat content next time you eat a “carb”. Don’t blame the carb.

    Fat = Fat

    Carbs = Lean healthy and energetic.

    80/10/10 diet, dr mcdougall, the china study, forks over knives, the gerson therapy. all HIGH CARB diets that cure disease.

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