Craig Payton/ Book Report: The Starch Solution

by Craig Payton

The Starch Solution

Dr. John A. McDougall


This book is a logical follow up to my review of “The China Study”.  Dr McDougall’s research and clinical results as well as his interactions with the political system as it pertains to medicine and food are an important part of that book.

This book stands alone as a strong advocation for a plant based lifestyle.  McDougall does an excellent job pointing out some of the errors of those already pursuing a vegetarian or Vegan diet.  He also skews much “common sense” about nutrition, especially with regards to the importance of starch plant foods and their ability to provide complete nutrition all by themselves or with the minor addition of some green/yellow vegetables and/or fruits.  There are still organizations publishing information contrary to this assertion and McDougall takes them on with solid research which has already existed for decades.  He even takes on another nutritional fallacy about oils.  Basically he makes the point that ALL oils in “free” form (e.g. Olive oil, instead of Olives) are equally dangerous to your health, and he backs this assertion up with more solid science.

It is time to let go of your preconceptions about food which have been fed to you by the media and mass-marketing.  Protein, Calcium and Iron can be obtained readily and sufficiently with a starchy plant based diet.  Excess protein and excess fat are Killers!  Diet holds the key to our health care crisis and in large part to the ecological health of our planet.

Generally as a society we have the expectation that we will get fatter and/or sicker as we age.  Children are healthy and their parents less so and the elders suffer from severe and chronic disease.  At the beginning of his career McDougall observed that among the patient population on the big island of Hawaii that the opposite was true.  Elderly immigrants (from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines) remained trim, active and medication free into their 90s.  Their children were a little heavier and not as healthy.  The youngest generation suffered from the full range of health problems seen among the typical American population.  This deterioration could be directly correlated with the elders adherence to their traditional starch based diets and the progressive adoption by subsequent generations of the Standard American diet.

McDougall’s assertion is that a diet of potatoes, corn or whole grains leads to robust health, while meat & dairy lead to persistent life threatening disease.  This assertion had already been made and backed up with fifty years of research when in 1986 Dr. McDougall opened his first nutritional treatment center in St. Helena California.  He went on to show through research and clinical results that those already sickened could reverse this process and recover simply by no longer eating the food that made them sick and instead supporting their natural healing process with a starch based diet.

McDougall reports consistent results of reduced weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and relief from indigestion, constipation, arthritis and other ailments.  He was also able to achieve a 44% reduction in health care costs for Blue Cross/Blue Shield in a one year period for participants in his program in Minneapolis.

Humans are built to thrive on starch.  A majority of calories for most hunter gatherers came from starch.  A plant based diet is the key to good health, but you will never be satisfied unless you include sufficient starchy food.  This is a common error among those attempting to support themselves on a vegetarian diet.

Contrary to popular nutrition literature starch does NOT easily get converted to fat.  Fats from animal foods and fatty oils are primarily what your body stores as fat, and this process is very efficient.  McDougall likes to use the phrase, the fat you eat is the fat you wear!

Anthropologists found evidence for the processing of grain and other starchy food as far back as 30,000 years and even perhaps as far back as 105,000 years at one site in Mozambique.  There is good evidence to support the theory that the wealthiest ancient Egyptians may have suffered from similar diseases of affluence as modern westerners and for the same reasons.  The wealthiest part of Egyptian society were also those most likely to end up mummified.  Both direct study of human remains and cultural anthropological evidence point to a diet very high in animal protein and fat among the elite of Egyptian society, diverging starkly from the plant based fare of the balance of the population.  The results can be seen in the mummies; obesity, atherosclerosis, gallstones, dental disease.

Human beings are designed to eat starchy foods.  Compared to other primates, humans produce 6-8 times more of the starch digesting enzyme amylase.  This enabled early humans to expand their range far beyond other primates, adapting to other starchy food sources, eventually expanding their range to cover the whole planet.

Once again, contrary to accepted wisdom, which may well be food-industry propaganda from meat and dairy interests starches are COMPLETE foods.  You WILL meet your basic nutritional needs with these ALONE!  Grains and legumes are not as complete as potatoes and rice but simply by adding a little fruit or green & yellow vegetables you can get everything you need.

Common wisdom also implicates excess carbohydrate consumption in fat/weight gain.  This is simply untrue as the body burns off most carbohydrates as heat and energy rather than storing them as fat.  The commonly held idea in pop nutrition literature is that you must limit your Carbs because starch turns to sugar which turns to fat, making you gain weight.  If this is true why isn’t there an epidemic of obesity among 1.7Bn. Asians living on rice based diets.

Starches satisfy the appetite, supply on average:

1 Calorie per gram

Compared with

4 Calories per gram – Meat and Cheese

9 Calories per gram – Oils

Dispelling the Starch -> Fat myth:

Research shows that starch consumption leads to long term satiety where fats have little impact.

A study was conducted using adult women both normal weight and obese.   Even when fed 50% more calories than normal plus 3.5 oz. sugar they produced as a result a conversion to only 4 grams of fat daily.  At this rate it would take 4 months to gain 1lb fat.

Further support for this assertion appears on p.24 as “The Eat More Starch Challenge.”  The challenge derives from a study of moderately overweight college age men.  They were asked to change nothing intentionally in their diet, but to add 12

slices of bread, either white or high fiber, to their daily diet.  The result was that after 8 weeks there was a loss on average of 14lbs for the white bread group and 19lbs for the high fiber bread group.  It was observed that the provision of this extra starch displace higher caloric foods thus leading to weight loss.

The challenge simply state;  Add 600-900 calories starch to your daily consumption.  The assumption, proven in the study cited is that all the starch will lead you to eat less of other foods and feel fuller with plenty of energy.  It is the opposite of a diet of deprivation.

At home you can use the following equivalents to meet the 600-900 calories;

4 cups steamed rice

4 cups boiled corn

4 mashed potatoes (presumably without butter or milk!)

4 baked sweet potatoes

3 cups cooked beans, peas or lentils

4 cups spaghetti

12 slices whole grain bread

Fat consumed is absorbed directly from the intestine to the bloodstream in a very efficient process with only a 3% energy loss. Fat comes from eating fat.  The fat you eat is the fat you wear!

Common plant foods meet our calcium, iron and protein needs.  Contrary to marketing claims of animal foods industry you will not become deficient on a plant based diet.  In fact there is good evidence to support the assertion that a high protein diet actually causes calcium deficiency.  McDougall Identifies 5 toxins from the animal based diet; Protein overload. Excess Fat. Cholesterol. Methionine. Dietary Acid.

Protein overload; Overworks and weakens the kidneys and increases the amount of calcium in the urine, leading to kidney stones and osteoporosis.

Fat; Accumulation causes insulin resistance, contributes to heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes.  Excess weight strains the joints leading to hip and knee osteoarthritis.  Excess fat also entirely alters cellular metabolism stimulating certain cancers.

Cholesterol; Animals, including humans, make all the cholesterol they require and are not at all efficient at eliminating excess.  Excess accumulates in the skin, tendons and arteries, causing vascular disease of the heart and brain, heart attack and strokes.

Methionine; This is a sulfur containing amino acid found in flesh, eggs and cheese.  Minor related ailments include bad breath, body odor, and foul smelling gas and stool.  It metabolizes into Homocysteine, a known risk factor for stroke, heart attack, arterial diseases of the legs, blood clots, dementia Alzheimer’s & depression.  Sulfur feeds cancerous tumors and is toxic to intestinal tissue, causing severe colitis.  Eventually it is metabolized into sulfuric acid, one of the most potent acids known to nature which dissolves calcium from bones and causes kidney stones.Dietary Acid; Animal foods are loaded with dietary acids.  After eating them we release alkaline substances, carbonate, citrate and sodium to maintain our PH.  Over time this leaches material from the bones leading to osteoporosis.  Acids can also raise cortisol levels (the stress hormone) triggering bone loss and other problems.  Chronic consumption of dietary acids causes you to pee your bones into the toilet!

Reducing or eliminating animal foods immediately relieves the body burden of these 5 dietary poisons. This also greatly reduces your exposure to infectious bacteria, viruses and parasites.  Some further detail of the possible transmission of virus from Dairy, leukemia and others is detailed in his treatment of dairy food.  The lack of proper sanitation and other appalling problems of the dairy industry are discussed.  Some of this is scary stuff, but I prefer to look at the positive proof of how we have no need for the animal based foods rather than use scare tactics, however legitimate, to push people to adopt a starchy plant based diet.

Case studies of successful participants in the McDougall plan can be found at;

Chapter 5.  The USDA and the politics of starch.  This covers Dr McDougall’s well supported assertion that the USDA has long supported the consumption of meat, cheese and dairy with its food pyramid.  Further details of disinformation and conflicts of interest at the USDA and other institutions are covered in this chapter.

Chapter 6. Are we eating the Planet to Death?  This covers the environmental effects of our food choices.  These effects are likely greater than most are prepared to contemplate.  Food choice always has an environmental impact.  Your most important vote is not at the polls but your daily choices of where to use your purchasing power.

Chapter 7-8 When your friends ask; Where you get your Protein? & When your friends ask; Where you get your Calcium?

These chapters are a good summary of the science defending the starch based diet and its proven ability to deliver plenty of both protein and calcium.  Also it shows the fallacies of the animal based food industries”s propagandistic arguments for those foods.  What better way to market your product than to convince people their health DEPENDS upon them consuming your food (Dairy, Meat).

Chapter 9. Confessions of a fish Killer; Details McDougalls youth as an avid fisherman and fish eater, followed by discussion of the many problems with fish nowadays.  In addition to overfishing which has reduced worldwide fisheries by 90% compared to the middle of the last century there is discussion of the problems of mercury toxicity.  Fish farms are also discussed and exposed as another unsafe source of nutrition.  Fish, McDougall shows are just as problematic as any flesh food.  Also the marketing idea that people require fish to produce adequate Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids is also shown to be a fallacy.

Chapter 10. The Fat Vegan; McDougal points out that ALL oils have adverse effect on the heart and health generally and thus should be reduced or eliminated whenever possible.  Vegans making bad choices about vegetable fats are not protected from overweight or obesity, not the other negative health threatening effects of fat.

Because this assertion about ALL fats is such a game changer for my understandings and beliefs about nutrition I will cite p.136 in toto which sums up his case against all fat.

*Serial angiograms of human heart arteries over a year of study showed that all three types of fat -saturated(animal fat), monounsaturated(olive oil), and polyunsaturated(omega-3 and omega-6 oils)- were associated with significant increases in new atherosclerotic lesions.  Decreasing total fat intake was the only way to stop the lesions from growing.

*Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 polyunsaturated oils are found in human atherosclerotic plaques; thus they are involved in damaging the arteries and increasing the progression of atherosclerosis.

*One of the most important predictors of heart attack risk is an elevated level of factor VII, a substance that enables blood clotting.  The formation of blood clots inside the arteries causes most heart attacks and strokes.  Olive oil increases blood clotting activity by increasing clotting factor VII as much as animal fats do.

*Vegetable oils also impair circulation, resulting in a 20% reduction in blood oxygen.  Reduced circulation can lead to angina(chest pain), impaired brain function, high blood pressure, fatigue, and compromised lung function.  In short, it doesn’t matter what type of fat you eat; saturated animal fat and polyunsaturated vegetable oils have adverse effects on your heart and health.

The author also does an excellent job indicting the food industry in it’s efforts to provide soy based substitutes for many familiar animal based foods.  The bottom line on soy is; use soy minimally and only in it’s most natural traditional forms such as tofu, miso, natto and edamame (green soy beans).

Chapter 11.  Just To Be On The Safe Side Stay Away From Supplements.  Here he takes on the entire vitamin supplement industry.  Previous material in the book demonstrated the danger of excess protein and fat.  McDougall turns to research supporting his position that individual isolated supplements are dangerous, particularly because they are delivered in an isolated and unnatural manner.  Getting sufficient Vitamin A, C and E for example is always a good idea, as long as the source is a whole food.  The idea of putting concentrated vitamins, often synthetically manufactured, into the body fails to recognize that the body has evolved to take in these substances from whole foods.  He doesn’t go so far as to denigrate the entire nutriceutical industry and acknowledges the value of herbs and other substances such as glucosamine.  He also attempts to address the controversial subject of Vitamin D (which is actually a type of hormone), and sheds some light on what seems to be erroneously high recommended levels.

Vitamin B12 is the only supplement he recommends, and this only for those on long term strict vegetarian or vegan diets.  Even under those conditions such a deficiency  can take years to form

Chapter 12.  Salt and Sugar: The Scapegoat of the Western Diet.

In this section McDougall invites the reader to eat that which he craves.  He advises the use of salt and sugar, especially on top of foods as a condiment instead of as part of the recipe, but he encourages their use in a starch based diet, refuting the blame that has been placed on the two substances.

If one is avoiding processed foods and especially processed meats you will be consuming drastically less sodium already.  In another common sense shattering report from 2007 there was a strong indication that, “the association between systolic pressure and sodium excretion did not translate into less mortality or improved survival.  On the contrary, low sodium excretion predicted higher cardiovascular mortality.  Taken together our current findings…do not support the current recommendations of a generalized and indiscriminate reduction of salt intake at the population level.”

McDougall invites people following his dietary advice not to worry about adding a little sugar or sugary sauces (BBQ, Ketchup, Hoi sin sauce, Salsa, Blueberry sauce, etc) especially if they help you eat plenty of health promoting starches.  He proves sugar will not make you fat or diabetic.  He asserts that dietary sugar and fat tend to trade places, where one is consumed more the other is less.  Sugar is far less problematic than dietary fat.  To be clear one should emphasize complex carbohydrates as the primary source of carbohydrates with sugar (a simple carb) as a condiment similar to the use of salt, and not to fear it’s use.

Another popular nutrition marketing tool recently is the concept of the Glycemic Index (GI).  The GI is a measure of the rise in blood sugar levels in the 2-3 hours after consumption.  As an example of the false logic of using this system a serving of pizza filled with fatty cheese and chocolate cake piled with frosting both have a lower GI than raw carrots and plain boiled potatoes.  Starches with a high GI rating actually prevent weight gain in people who tend to be obese.  This false indictment of starches has led consumers and medical practitioners to assume that rice and potatoes, et al, are potentially harmful and to be avoided.  At the same time we know that “carbo loading” is practiced successfully by all winning endurance athletes.  Nevertheless the GI has been an excellent marketing too for many many prepared foods, food ingredients and diet plans.

Don’t Deny your natural cravings;

Our biological cravings for salt and sugar  have made limiting them an unachievable goal for must of us.  Focusing on an impossible target – eat little salt and no added sugar- ensures that our health will not improve, consumers will continue their same buying habits, food companies will remain highly profitable, people will remain sick and drug companies will enjoy record profits.  In contrast, a meaningful message like, “stop eating meat and cheese, and instead focus your diet on rice and potatoes”, would revolutionize the world – but those now in control of governments and “health” organizations representing profitable businesses don’t want to see that day come any time soon.  The status quo will indeed continue until the truth about salt and sugar becomes accepted.

The goals of a starch based diet are to improve your happiness and health ant to simultaneously help heal our troubled environment.  A diet only works to the extent that you stay on it.  The starch solution is not a religion based on perfection, but rather a practical means to solve many everyday problems.  These two highly pleasurable ingredients, salt and sugar, along with a variety of spices, will increase your enjoyment of your foods and help you to stick with the starch solution for a lifetime.

Part Three – Living the Solution – deals with the practical matters of applying the preceding advice.  This includes many recipes.  If I had any criticism of this book it would be that the recipes included are a bit on the complex side.  I had hoped to see some simple staple recipes.  But this is a minor matter and probably an editing decision to include the most tasty and interesting options.  McDougall has several other books in publication including the McDougall quick and easy cookbook which I imagine provides just the kinds of recipes I found missing here.

I value this book for its clear presentation of the case that humans are primarily “starchivores” who can survive on animal food, but at high risk.  I look forward to experimenting further with this information, although my options are currently quite limited.  I have tried before to adopt a more plant based diet and I know that my concern about starches steered me wrong and left me often in caloric deficit.  The information about the dangers of ALL fats was startling to me and is probably among the most difficult aspects of this diet plan for me to contemplate taking on board.  I recommend anyone to try this method.  I believe Dr McDougall has proven his case well here.

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