Dr. McDougall and the Healthiest Diet on the Planet

Brown rice and Grains crop

Dr. John McDougall is a giant in the plant-based nutrition community, but his approach is surprisingly different from that of many of his colleagues.

Instead of focusing on micronutrient-rich whole foods, he looks to the humble starch as the key to a healthy diet. As Dr. McDougall says in our interview,

“All large, successful populations of civilized people have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch.”

For that reason, according to McDougall, it’s not leafy greens or fruits that should make up most of our meal, but potatoes, rice, and other starches.

In today’s episode, we chat with Dr. McDougall about his approach to nutrition, his new book, The Healthiest Diet on the Planet, and how in his opinion, the Paleo Diet got it wrong.

Here’s what we talk about in this episode:

  • What percentage of our calories should come form starch?
  • Why Dr. McDougall says eating micronutrient-rich food is akin to taking supplements
  • … and why (aside from B12) he doesn’t like supplements
  • Is the Paleo Diet sexist?
  • How athletes should adapt his diet

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Comments

  1. I’ve been a McDougall follower (though I don’t strictly adhere to his plan) for many years, and agree that his approach is satiating… but I do worry about micronutrients a bit. Perhaps a few less potatoes, a few more mangoes and berries? And, nuts and seeds have been proven to be so beneficial… I dunno, I like his approach but find myself tweaking it to meet my needs.

  2. I have never heard someone hate on broccoli & kale so hard! And did you know…Doug’s fondness of REBBL’s Matcha Latte has me curious to try it as well.

  3. His voice sounds exactly like I would have guessed!

  4. I love the idea that it is OK to eat a potato. They are just too good to cut out of your diet. Thanks for presenting different view points.

  5. Great interview! I’m familiar with his work but haven’t heard him address micronutrients as he did on the show. Interesting take on it. Food for thought. 🙂

  6. Interesting points of view, but I’m glad I listened to it away from my kids. He’s quite judgemental, goodness.

  7. Thanks! I’ve been following his plan for a few years and enjoy it very much.

  8. Scott Varney says:

    Really enjoying the show, Although it all makes sense, Felt a little extreme when talking about kale and Blueberries causing imbalances. I’m guessing he meant overdoing those as a goal to be healthy is probably not a good idea. I definitely feel best when there is a little more starch in my diet with beans and seeds.

  9. Thanks for this interview, Matt and Doug. McDougall is someone I’ve been curious about as well. I’m not trying to sound negative here, but I was surprised how close-minded he came off. I’m sure his diet has helped several people, and I’m not trying to criticize his patients and followers, but I found it hard to believe that a diet loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables would be any type of disadvantage. Yes, I don’t think that should be all you eat, but I think of starches as more complimentary to nutrient dense food. Just what’s worked best for me and I didn’t understand why he slammed the door on so many other approaches to good eating and health. Despite that, I enjoyed the interview and thought you asked some great questions.

  10. Really interesting take on healthy eating when we hear so much about “evil carbs”.

  11. I was rather disappointed in his history lesson. Homo sapiens evolved nearly 200,000 years ago. Saying we should eat “starches” because “that’s what people started eating 14,000 years ago” ignores 93% of the human existence. Corn (maize) didn’t even exist 10,000 years ago (though its wild ancestor, teosinte, did). Figs (FRUIT!!!) were domesticated before corn even evolved, and animals were domesticated before grains were as well. Potatoes (“starch”) and sunflowers (“fatty seeds”) were domesticated around the same time, about 5000 years ago.

    Ancient humans ate what they could. When they started to eat more grains and starches, they experienced higher incidents of dental caries. Most of those pre-10,000BCE cultures did NOT eat a lot of starches, and when scientists discovered one who did (at the Cave of the Pigeons in Morocco), they were shocked by the amount of tooth decay they found. Apparently, making starchy acorns their chief source of calories wasn’t good for their dental health.

  12. I really enjoyed the episode. Hard to listen to the gross generalities that aren’t really supported by any science, but his theory sounds plausible. Will definitely check out his website. Thanks for hosting this guest.

  13. I always enjoy the show, but this interview… I have read “The Starch Solution” and found a lot of his arguments unconvincing, and I can’t say that interview improved my opinion of him. He seems to be really, um, can’t really think of a nice way of saying “full of himself”. That episode about the family in the supermarket made me cringe. That’s not politically incorrect, that’s judgmental and conceited. I’m not blaming Matt here, he’s not a journalist and he usually does great interviews (loved the one with Robert Cheeke a few weeks ago), but this felt less like an interview and more like some guy rambling on about his oh so great opinions.
    What really gets on my nerves is this “people used to eat like this so this is the way to be healthy” argument. Not just in McDougall’s case, that always grates me.

  14. Michele S. says:

    It was refereshing to hear someone say that starch is not the enemy, and there’s more to diet than just tons of greens, but his approach was a little in-your-face, which was off-putting to me, and I think takes from the credibility of what he is trying to show. I felt like he was saying, “Greens and fruits are a waste of time. Eat mys way, every other way is WRONG.”

    So I’ll keep with my greens and other lovely fresh veggies, but won’t feel as bad when I throw them on top of a baked potato.

  15. Interesting interveiw, it is fascinating to hear different takes in the plant based world. He was for sure passionate although blunt at times. I chalk that up to continually being in the position of backing his stance. As far as being either historically or scientifically correct I am neither a historian nor scientist myself, although many of his points sounded reasonable. Reading some research backing this would be interesting if he has the particulars available. I did not take from this that he was against folks eating kale and the like, just that he surmises that starch should be a base with the other foods thrown in rather than being hyper focused on the particulars . Good job keeping the questions on track during the interveiw;always gracious letting listeners take what they can from the information 😉

  16. Mariah Dragolich says:

    I just listened to the interview and thank you it was quite interesting! I enjoy his abruptness…First I want to thank you for always being so open to diets because we don’t know everything and we can always learn and there is at least a little truth in all. I will say that I am grateful for this because I was needing something like this to help move my meat eaters to something healthier and if I can feel better about basing their diets more on starch then I may be successful. For me as well. I do not need to feel guilty if some of my days are more starch filled than others. I am definitely going to read his book. Thanks again Matt!

  17. Leonard Parsley says:

    Very interesting interview, I never expected him to be so wary of consuming to many leafy greens! He guesses a lot too.. Could do with more precise data.

    I always find it so weird to justify a diet with history. It seems like a very backward way of reasoning.
    when do you stop going back in time? What ancestor species are we supposed to follow? Shouldn’t we switch to an evidence based, up to date with scientific finding diet, rather than follow what 10,000 year old humans could do?

    The more I think about all these people trying to justify the best diet with history is that they make it sounds like modern humans suffer from amnesia, like we suddenly lost our bearings and have no clue what to eat. They always make it sound like old humans knew exactly what they were doing. I believe they acted out of necessity and tried to secure food sources that would achieve satiety more than anything. These developments evolved over thousands of years and it’s hard to believe that they have all been as conscious as people like Dr McDougall would like to think.

    I think it’s important to set up a base diet, his sounds reasonable, but after that, surely there must be benefits and advantages to get out of having a larger selection of food products offered by modern transportation (with reason).

    We evolved and are what we are today because populations of humans have tried new things, and bred new foods, etc, surely that process continues today and his starch diet could be improved further too. Is there such a thing as THE final ultimate optimal diet for humans forever to follow? As our understanding of micronutrition improves we ought to reflect this new knowledge with new diet habits without constantly looking back and see what people without knowledge of these facts did thousands of years ago.

    Just because earlier humans didn’t have access to the diversity of foods that we have today doesn’t mean there’s no benefits in consuming them now or that these people wouldn’t have had them.

  18. V interesting podcast. One things he suggested was that a low starch diet is unsustainable because people don’t feel full and satisfied. This is not my experience. For the last two months I’ve only eaten a lot of green leafy vegetables with low levels of carbs, fat and protein and yet my weight is staying constant,I never feel hungry, and I feel very energetic. So, in short, I’m not convinced that it’s an optimal diet despite doubtless being better than many mainstream alternatives.

  19. Kalyan Dasika says:

    Matt: Thank you so much for making the podcasts. I regularly listen during my daily runs. I listened to the interview during my run yesterday. I thought it was very interesting, and at times, as others pointed out, Dr. McDougall came out narrow in his views. I was disappointed that he did not elaborate on the point when he mentioned vegetable oils. I wish he talked about the benefits of coconut oil as an alternative. The big take away for me is that I’m not going to feel bad the next time when I binge on a potato salad 🙂

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