If you want to annoy anyone on the Whole30, Paleo, or ketogenic diets, all you really have to do is dangle a French fry right in front of them, because these are eaters who are not accepting of starchy foods. Fried potatoes, rice, and grains are public enemies number one, two, and three in many of the healthy eating plans that have cropped up in recent years. One doctor, however, has been advising people to take a completely different route—and he hasn’t wavered.
John McDougall, MD, started recommending a (wait for it) starch-based diet 40 years ago after observing how Asian immigrants’ health drastically started to decline when they traded their rice-heavy diets for more Americanized foods (read: a lot more meat and vegetable oils). He started digging deeper and formed his hypothesis: Cultures where starch was the main player at every meal had better health.
When he started treating his patients with a vegan, high-starch diet, he saw their health improved greatly and he published a scientific paper with the results. Then, he set forth an eating plan for the masses and the McDougall diet was born.
So what exactly does the starch diet look like? Dr. McDougall found that the healthiest breakdown was to have 80 percent of foods come from complex carbs, 12 percent protein, and 8 percent fat. Because of the vegan slant, meat and dairy are off-limits. So is refined flour and nuts, sugar, and salt are all kept to a minimum. Here’s a breakdown of the hero foods:
1. Rice: Inspired by how Asian cultures serve white rice at every meal, Dr. McDougall is a big advocate of getting it on your plate at most every meal.
2. Potatoes: Okay, so French fries dripping in vegetable oil aren’t exactly advised, but baked potatoes are a standard staple on Dr. McDougall’s ideal plate.
3. Fruits and vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables should ideally make up half of what you’re eating at every meal.
4. Legumes and beans: Because these are rich in B-vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, and magnesium, Dr. McDougall says to stock them up in your pantry.
5. Oats: The morning breakfast of choice? Oatmeal, which can be sweetened with fruit or a touch of natural sweeteners.
6. Tofu: Since meat is nixed, tofu is protein of choice, and of course, other soy items are also allowed.
The health benefits of following the starch diet
There are several benefits Dr. McDougall and other researchers have seen when people stick to the starch diet:
1. Weight loss: While many medical experts link carbs to weight gain, Dr. McDougall found that his patients actually lost weight on a starch-based diet. “All large populations of trim, healthy people, throughout verifiable human history, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch,” Dr. McDougall says.
2. More energy: The body uses carbs for fuel making this diet especially good for athletes.
3. Lower risk of diabetes: The fiber in starchy carbs helps keep blood sugar levels under control.
4. Better digestion: A key component to having healthy digestion, fiber strikes again as a major reason why this eating plan has positive results.
But before you start peeling potatoes just yet, it’s worth considering the other side of the coin. Despite evidence to the above, there is also scientific evidence pointing in the other direction as well, saying starchy foods are directly linked to obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
While the debate is still out when it comes to starches, there is one thing about the diet that is indisputable: Cutting out processed and sugar-laden foods is bound to do wonders for your health no matter what diet you’re doing it on. There is also vast evidence between limited meat consumption and longterm good health. And as for fiber—the crux of this eating plan—starchy foods are by no means the only way to get it. All these points are worth considering when mapping out your ideal eating plan.
But hey, if you were really looking forward to that loaded baked potato for dinner, you now know at least one doctor totally on your side.
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