Starches Are the Solution to Your Weight and Health Problems

For years, the best­seller lists have been dom­i­nat­ed by books urg­ing peo­ple to eat plen­ty of meat and fat but to shun car­bo­hy­drates. The Atkins Diet led the parade; but there have been many imi­ta­tors, such as the Zone, the South Beach Diet, the Paleo Diet, and the Dukan Diet. Even some of the veg­an-ori­ent­ed books encour­age peo­ple to avoid starch­es. Yet the sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence shows us that human beings are specif­i­cal­ly adapt­ed to thrive on a starchy diet. So I was delight­ed to see that the title of Dr. John McDougall’s lat­est book is The Starch Solu­tion. He explains some­thing that nutri­tion­al epi­demi­ol­o­gists and experts on clin­i­cal nutri­tion have known for many years, name­ly that human beings stay nat­u­ral­ly slim and healthy on a diet based on unre­fined starch­es and veg­eta­bles.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Starch­es Are the Solu­tion to Your Weight and Health Prob­lems”

Where Do Elephants Get Their Protein?

I chose the goril­la motif for this blog because goril­las are the biggest and most pow­er­ful pri­mates, along with being about as close as pos­si­ble to veg­an as you can get while eat­ing many pounds per day of veg­e­ta­tion in a rain for­est. I want­ed to point out that peo­ple sim­ply don’t have to wor­ry about get­ting enough pro­tein or cal­ci­um from a plant-based diet. In real­i­ty, the ani­mal-based foods that we have been urged to eat don’t pro­vide any nutri­ents that we can’t eas­i­ly get from plants or bac­te­ria. If you are still wor­ried about pro­tein, think about where ele­phants get their pro­tein. Ele­phants are even big­ger and even stronger than goril­las. A big ele­phant can eat up to 600 pounds of food a day.

Pho­to by mcough­lin

The Plate’s Not Much Better Than the Pyramid

The Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has ditched its creepy Food Pyra­mid, which for many peo­ple con­jured up gris­ly images of Aztec human sac­ri­fice.


Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the USDA’s new “plate and cup” graph­ic still pro­vides dead­ly nutri­tion­al advice. It still urges peo­ple to eat far more fat, cho­les­terol, cal­ci­um, and ani­mal pro­tein than is good for them. Thus, it will con­tribute to our major caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty in the Unit­ed States, with­out doing much to solve any of our real pub­lic health prob­lems.

myplateThe new “plate and cup” graph­ic is sim­ply a way to com­mu­ni­cate the lessons from the most recent edi­tion of Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans. Fed­er­al law requires these guide­lines to be reviewed, and updat­ed if nec­es­sary, every five years. The guide­lines are cre­at­ed by a joint com­mit­tee of the USDA and the US Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices, with input from oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies and the pub­lic. The 2010 edi­tion was issued in Jan­u­ary 2011.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the guide­lines are designed to address two nonex­is­tent prob­lems, while fail­ing to help peo­ple avoid or recov­er from our biggest caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty. The guide­lines are designed to ensure that Amer­i­cans con­sume “enough” pro­tein and cal­ci­um, even though it’s prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to find any real human beings who have a true defi­cien­cy of either one. Mean­while, the guide­lines actu­al­ly encour­age peo­ple to eat foods that increase the risk of heart dis­ease, can­cer, type 2 dia­betes, low back pain, osteo­poro­sis, and autoim­mune dis­eases such as arthri­tis and type 1 dia­betes.

Nutri­tion sci­en­tists have known for more than 100 years that human pro­tein needs are eas­i­ly met by any prac­ti­cal plant-based diet, as long as peo­ple are eat­ing enough food to get enough calo­ries. For more than 50 years, they’ve known that all of our com­mon sta­ple plant foods pro­vide enough of all of the essen­tial amino acids. Peo­ple would get plen­ty of pro­tein even if they ate noth­ing but pota­toes; thus, there’s no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for urg­ing peo­ple to eat ani­mal-based “pro­tein foods.”

The “pro­tein foods” that come from ani­mals pose seri­ous health risks. They are devoid of fiber and digestible car­bo­hy­drates. Instead, their calo­ries come in the form of fat and pro­tein. Any over­load of pro­tein stress­es the liv­er and kid­neys. Worse yet, ani­mal pro­teins also tend to pro­mote can­cer, osteo­poro­sis, and autoim­mune dis­ease. The heavy dose of cal­ci­um from dairy foods actu­al­ly seems to increase, rather than decrease, the risk of osteo­poro­sis.

The cur­rent guide­lines also encour­age peo­ple to eat far more fat than is good for them. The cur­rent guide­lines do encour­age peo­ple to eat less sat­u­rat­ed fat, but to replace it with polyun­sat­u­rat­ed fats. The result would be only a slight­ly low­er risk of heart dis­ease, off­set by a high­er risk of can­cer. Most peo­ple should keep their fat intake to 10% or less of calo­ries.

The Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans do encour­age peo­ple to eat more fruits and veg­eta­bles and to replace refined grain prod­ucts with whole-grain prod­ucts. How­ev­er, they fall far short of telling peo­ple how they can achieve opti­mal health. That’s a scan­dalous fail­ure, con­sid­er­ing how many Amer­i­cans lack health insur­ance and thus have lim­it­ed access to pro­fes­sion­al guid­ance, includ­ing advice from a reg­is­tered dietit­ian.

Like our government’s fail­ure to pro­vide an effi­cient, pub­licly-financed uni­ver­sal health­care sys­tem, the short­com­ings of the Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent our government’s fail­ure to “pro­mote the gen­er­al wel­fare.” Instead, our food and health­care poli­cies pro­mote the wel­fare of the pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions that finance our elec­tions and whose lob­by­ists stalk the halls of Con­gress.

These prob­lems have per­sist­ed for decades. They are not going to solve them­selves. These prob­lems will be solved only if health activists work to elect Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Sen­a­tors and a Pres­i­dent who care far more about human beings than about cor­po­ra­tions and if health activists pro­vide such pres­sure dur­ing the “pub­lic com­ment” phase for the next edi­tion of the guide­lines that USDA will have no choice but to serve the Amer­i­can peo­ple instead of the food indus­try.

What’s Next, an Atherosclerosis Acceptance Movement?

The Hidden Danger of the “Fat Acceptance” Movement

You know the old say­ing, “If some­thing is too good to be true….” Well, the “fat accep­tance” move­ment is telling peo­ple some­thing that sounds too good to be true. They are insist­ing that peo­ple can be “healthy at any size” and some­times even that being over­weight is health­i­er than being slim. They’re wrong, and the smarter and more edu­cat­ed peo­ple among the “fat accep­tance” move­ment should know bet­ter. They “cher­ry pick” mis­lead­ing find­ings from a few stud­ies and ignore a vast sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture on the effects of diet on health. Such behav­ior is sick­en­ing, and the advice they give is dan­ger­ous.

Here’s the sim­ple truth: excess body fat is only one of the pos­si­ble bad effects of eat­ing the wrong kind of food. Eat­ing too much fat and too much ani­mal pro­tein can send you to an ear­ly grave even if you are thin and exer­cise a lot. The clas­sic exam­ple is Jim Fixx, author of The Com­plete Book of Run­ning, a 1977 best­seller that launched the run­ning boom. Fixx had claimed that his gru­el­ing exer­cise reg­i­men, which had enabled him to lose 60 pounds, allowed him to eat as much as he want­ed of what­ev­er he want­ed. When I read that in his book, I thought, “But what about cho­les­terol?” So I was sad­dened, but not sur­prised, when Fixx dropped dead at age 52 of a heart attack while run­ning. To my dis­gust, the media react­ed to his death by ask­ing whether run­ning was good or bad for you, ignor­ing the obvi­ous dietary angle to the sto­ry.

The sim­ple truth is that eat­ing the wrong kind of food can kill you, even if it doesn’t make you fat. Anoth­er sim­ple truth is that you can’t out­run cho­les­terol. As a mem­ber of the high-IQ club Men­sa, Fixx should have been smart enough to fig­ure that out before it was too late. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, he believed what he want­ed to believe, and ate what­ev­er he want­ed to eat, and in the end it killed him.

As I men­tioned, obe­si­ty is only one of the bad effects that is like­ly to result from eat­ing the stan­dard Amer­i­can diet–not just the heav­i­ly processed “junk food” that every­one knows is bad for you, but the meat and dairy prod­ucts and eggs and fish that the US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has been encour­ag­ing us to eat.

Col­lec­tive­ly, the bad effects of eat­ing the stan­dard Amer­i­can diet are called “West­ern dis­eases.” This is because med­ical doc­tors who had been trained in Europe and the Unit­ed States were stunned to find that these health prob­lems, which were com­mon back home, were rare to nonex­is­tent in Asia and Africa. Besides over­weight and obe­si­ty, they include heart dis­ease, dia­betes, var­i­ous can­cers, arthri­tis, vari­cose veins, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, etc. etc. etc. West­ern dis­eases were (and still are) the major caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty in the Unit­ed States and Europe because peo­ple there eat too much ani­mal pro­tein and too much fat. These dis­eases were rare in Asia and Africa because the pop­u­la­tions were eat­ing a low-fat, large­ly plant-based diet. A mon­u­men­tal study of nutri­tion­al epi­demi­ol­o­gy in Chi­na ( showed in detail how close­ly the con­sump­tion of ani­mal pro­tein and fat were linked to many of these dis­eases. The less ani­mal-based food and fat peo­ple ate, the health­i­er they could be.

The good news is that if you eat the diet that will pro­tect you against the oth­er “West­ern dis­eases,” your weight prob­lem will solve itself. Peo­ple who eat a low-fat (<10% of calo­ries) diet based on unre­fined plant foods rapid­ly become heart-attack-proof (total cho­les­terol, <150 mg/dL) and can pre­vent and even reverse many of the oth­er West­ern dis­eases. It’s hard to stay fat when you are eat­ing a tru­ly healthy diet. When over­weight Amer­i­cans switch to a low-fat, pure­ly plant-based diet, they lose weight eas­i­ly with­out hav­ing to count calo­ries or lim­it their por­tions. They can eat to their hearts’ con­tent and still stay slim. The “fat accep­tance” advo­cates over­look that obvi­ous fact.

The “fat accep­tance” advo­cates are right that thin does not equal healthy. But they are wrong when they say that you can be healthy at any size. Rather than wast­ing their time try­ing to make peo­ple feel bet­ter about being fat, they should work toward edu­cat­ing peo­ple about a tru­ly healthy diet, which will enable peo­ple to improve their own health and main­tain a desir­able weight with­out feel­ing hun­gry. The activists should also use their polit­i­cal clout to improve the nutri­tion cur­ricu­lum at med­ical schools, which has been shown repeat­ed­ly over the past 40 years to be inad­e­quate.

On one point, I do agree with the fat accep­tance advo­cates. I think that peo­ple should be treat­ed with respect regard­less of their size and state of health. How­ev­er, I feel that over­weight peo­ple deserve to be told the truth about how their weight affects their health and about how their food choic­es affect both their health and their weight.

Scleroderma: Is Food the Cause?

An acquain­tance of mine has scle­ro­der­ma, and she asked me whether scle­ro­der­ma has any­thing to do with diet. The answer to that ques­tion seems to depend on whom you ask.

Peo­ple who haven’t both­ered to study the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture on nutri­tion insist that food has noth­ing to do with scle­ro­der­ma. Such idiots deserve to be swat­ted on the snout with a rolled-up med­ical jour­nal, because they are spread­ing dan­ger­ous non­sense. On the oth­er hand, the sci­en­tists who have ded­i­cat­ed their sci­en­tif­ic careers to study­ing the rela­tion­ship between food and diet say that the autoim­mune dis­eases, includ­ing scle­ro­der­ma, are strong­ly relat­ed to diet.

The rules for avoid­ing autoim­mune dis­ease are sim­ple: don’t eat your rel­a­tives, don’t eat too much fat, and make sure you get plen­ty of vit­a­min D. If you get an autoim­mune dis­ease any­way, get test­ed for celi­ac dis­ease and ask a reg­is­tered dietit­ian to help you plan an exclu­sion diet to see if some­thing you are eat­ing is trig­ger­ing your prob­lem.

Like oth­er autoim­mune dis­eases, scle­ro­der­ma is com­mon in the same pop­u­la­tions that eat a lot of ani­mal-based foods, which means a lot of ani­mal pro­tein and a lot of fat. On the oth­er hand, autoim­mune dis­eases are rare in pop­u­la­tions that eat a low-fat, plant-based diet. Autoim­mune dis­eases are also less com­mon in sun­ny cli­mates, which sug­gests that vit­a­min D (the “sun­shine vit­a­min”) plays a role in pre­vent­ing them. A diet-relat­ed ill­ness called celi­ac dis­ease seems to increase the risk of oth­er autoim­mune dis­eases, prob­a­bly because it caus­es “leaky gut.”

Why do I say “don’t eat your rel­a­tives”? Why does eat­ing ani­mal pro­tein pose such a risk of autoim­mune dis­ease? It all has to do with a sim­ple fact about DNA. The more close­ly relat­ed two species are, the more alike their DNA is, and the more alike their pro­teins are. The more alike two pro­teins are, the more eas­i­ly they can be mis­tak­en for each oth­er by the immune sys­tem.

Let’s imag­ine that you eat some meat and some pota­toes. Ordi­nar­i­ly, the pro­teins from the meat and the pro­teins from the pota­toes would get bro­ken apart into indi­vid­ual amino acids in your diges­tive sys­tem, and from there the indi­vid­ual amino acids get absorbed into your blood­stream. But let’s imag­ine that you have a prob­lem with your intes­tine. It leaks a lit­tle, so some frag­ments of pro­tein from the meat and from the pota­toes make their way into your blood­stream before they are com­plete­ly bro­ken down. The immune sys­tem may mis­take these pro­teins for a for­eign invad­er and make anti­bod­ies against them. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the pro­teins from the meat look a lot like your body’s own pro­teins, so the anti­bod­ies against them end up attack­ing some of your own tis­sue. The pro­teins from the pota­to have no “fam­i­ly resem­blance” to any­thing in your body, so any anti­bod­ies that you pro­duce against them will prob­a­bly not attack your own body. So don’t eat your rel­a­tives! Eat plants, instead. How­ev­er, you may have to be a lit­tle picky about which plants you eat.

In peo­ple with celi­ac dis­ease, a pro­tein from wheat (or from rye or bar­ley, both of which are close­ly relat­ed to wheat) trig­gers the immune sys­tem to attack the intes­tine. Celi­ac dis­ease can cause a wide range of prob­lems, rang­ing from mal­ab­sorp­tion to “leaky gut.” So you’d expect peo­ple with celi­ac dis­ease to be at par­tic­u­lar­ly high risk for an autoim­mune dis­ease like scle­ro­der­ma. As a mat­ter of fact, they are!

Fat in the diet can also be a prob­lem in autoim­mune dis­ease. Roy Swank was warn­ing peo­ple about this prob­lem this start­ing in the late 1940s, but he was large­ly ignored, even though he pub­lished his results the world’s most pres­ti­gious med­ical jour­nals. The role of a high-fat diet in caus­ing mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis has recent­ly been “dis­cov­ered” again. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, no one can make a for­tune from this dis­cov­ery, so I’m afraid that it will fall back through the “mem­o­ry hole” yet again.

If you want to put out a fire, the first thing to do is to stop pour­ing gaso­line on it. Like­wise, when you get a diag­no­sis of a dis­ease that is known to be relat­ed to diet, stop eat­ing the foods that are known to pro­voke that dis­ease! In gen­er­al, a low-fat, plant-based diet has been asso­ci­at­ed with a low risk of autoim­mune dis­ease. How­ev­er, a few peo­ple may have trou­ble with wheat or some oth­er plant-based food. Con­se­quent­ly, they should con­sult a reg­is­tered dietit­ian for advice about an exclu­sion diet. Peo­ple with autoim­mune dis­ease should also ask their doc­tor, physi­cian assis­tant, or nurse prac­ti­tion­er to mon­i­tor their vit­a­min D lev­els and test them for celi­ac dis­ease.