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.
Most of the people I talk to seem to think that they’d be healthier if they ate less carbohydrate. Most of them seem convinced that a high-carbohydrate diet makes people fat. They know that if you eat starch, it gets broken down into sugar. They know that when sugar flows into your bloodstream, your pancreas is supposed to release insulin to enable the sugar to enter your cells, where it can be burned for energy. That part’s true. However, they think that if you eat a lot of sugar or starch, you’ll somehow wear out your body’s ability to make or respond to insulin and thus you’ll end up diabetic. They couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, a high-carb, low-fat diet cures the most common type of diabetes.
If eating a starchy, low-fat diet made people fat and caused diabetes, then we’d see lots of fat, diabetic people in populations that eat a starchy, low-fat diet. We don’t. Instead, we see that the people of China and Japan, whose diet is based heavily on rice and vegetables, tend to be slim and remarkably free of diabetes and heart disease. We see the same thing in other populations that base their diets on other starchy staples. For example, the indigenous people of Peru eat a diet based heavily on potatoes. The Tarahumara of Mexico eat mainly corn and beans. The people in the New Guinea Highlands eat practically nothing but sweet potatoes. The story is the same wherever we look. In reality, the populations that eat low-fat, starchy, high-fiber diets are thin and healthy. The people who eat lots of fatty animal-based foods are the ones at risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
If eating a lot of sugar caused diabetes, then the people who eat the most sugar would be more likely than the average person to develop diabetes. On the contrary, a study of nearly 40,000 women age 45 and older in the United States found that the women who were eating the most sugar were no more likely to get diabetes than the ones who were eating the least sugar . The women who were most likely to get diabetes were the ones who were eating the most meat! 
- Janket SJ, Manson JE, Sesso H, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of sugar intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care 2003;26:1008-1015. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/1008.long
- Song Y, Manson JE, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women: the women’s health study. Diabetes Care 2004;27:2108-2115. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/27/9/2108.long
For more information about diabetes, see my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.
Back when I was in high school, a friend of mine from an observant Jewish family told me that her family often ate in vegetarian restaurants. She explained that most of the Jewish dietary laws related to meat. If you ate in a restaurant that never served any meat products, you would automatically be observing most of the rules.
The exception, of course, is Passover. During Passover, Jews aren’t supposed to eat yeast-raised bread. This rule doesn’t just apply to wheat. It applies to four other grains as well: barley, rye, spelt, and oats. If any of these grains is allowed to sit in water for longer than 18 minutes, it becomes chometz. It’s against Jewish dietary law to eat, own, or benefit from chometz at any time during Passover.
Of course, people with celiac disease can’t eat wheat, barley, rye, or spelt—even if they haven’t become chometz—at any time of year. In other words, products that are gluten-free and don’t contain oats are automatically never chometz.
Ashkenazi Jews are also supposed to refrain from eating kitniyot during Passover. Kitniyot consists of grains and pulses (such as corn, rice, beans, lentils, peas, and possibly peanuts) that could be confused with chometz. Still, a gluten-free vegan cookbook would be a good place to look for good recipes to use during Passover. Lots of those recipes are accidentally Kosher for Passover!
Photo by Center for Jewish History, NYC