The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good!

The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good!

by John McDougall, Mary McDougall
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The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! by John McDougall, Mary McDougall

Pick up that bread! This doctor-approved method lets you keep the carbs and lose the pounds!

Fear of the almighty carb has taken over the diet industry for the past few decades—from Atkins to Dukan—even the mere mention of a starch-heavy food is enough to trigger an avalanche of shame and longing. But the truth is, carbs are not the enemy!

Bestselling author John A. McDougall and his kitchen-savvy wife, Mary, prove that a starch-rich diet can actually help you lose weight, prevent a variety of ills, and even cure common diseases. By fueling your body primarily with carbohydrates rather than proteins and fats, you will feel satisfied, boost energy, and look and feel your best.

Including a 7-Day Sure-Start Plan, helpful weekly menu planner, and nearly 100 delicious, affordable recipes, The Starch Solution is a groundbreaking program that will help you shed pounds, improve your health, save money, and change your life.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623360276
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 06/04/2013
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 45,159
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

JOHN A. McDOUGALL, MD, has co-authored many bestselling books with his wife, Mary, and is featured in the documentary and book Forks Over Knives. He cares for patients and teaches medical doctors and students at the McDougall Live-In Program in Santa Rosa, CA.

Read an Excerpt




Starch: The Traditional Diet of People

Have you had your rice today?

This Chinese greeting—the equivalent of our how are you?—reminds us that, for the Chinese, whether you've eaten rice is the ultimate measure of well-being. Rice is that essential to the Chinese diet. Throughout most of Asia, the average person eats rice two to three times daily. Rice is also an important food in the Middle East, Latin America, Italy, and the West Indies. After corn it is the second most produced food worldwide, and the world's single most important source of energy, providing more than 20 percent of calories consumed by humans around the globe.

In China, the word for rice and food are one and the same. Likewise, in Japan the word for cooked rice also means "meal." Buddhists refer to grains of rice as "little Buddhas," while in Thailand the call that brings the family to the table is "Eat rice." In India, the first food a new bride offers her husband is not cake but rice. It is also the first solid food that will be offered to her baby.

The story is the same the world over. Whether rice in Asia, potatoes in South America, corn in Central America, wheat in Europe, or beans, millet, sweet potatoes, and barley around the globe, starch has been at the center of food and nutrition throughout human history.

What Is Starch?

Plants use water, carbon dioxide, and energy from the sun to form simple sugars through a process called photosynthesis. The most basic carbohydrate is the simple sugar glucose. Inside the plant's cells, simple sugars are linked into chains, some of them arranged in a straight line (amylose) and others in many branches (amylopectin). When these sugar chains gather in large quantities inside a plant's cells, they form starch grains, also called starch granules (amyloplasts).

Plants store in their roots, stems, leaves, flowers, seeds, and fruits the starch they produce. The stored starch provides them with a source of energy when they need it later, keeping them alive through the winter and fueling their reproduction the following spring. It's what makes starchy vegetables, legumes, and grains so healthy to eat: Their high concentration of carbohydrates not only sustains the plants but also provides the energy needed to sustain human life.

Starch should be our primary source of digestible carbohydrate. The enzyme amylase in our saliva and intestine breaks down the long carbohydrate chains, turning them back into simple sugars. Digestion is a slow process that gradually releases these simple sugars from the small intestine into the bloodstream, providing our cells with a ready supply of energy.

Fruits offer quick-burning energy mostly in the form of simple sugars, but little of that slow-burning, sustaining starch. As a result, fruits alone won't satisfy our appetites for very long. Green, yellow, and orange nonstarchy perishable vegetables contain only small quantities of starch. Their most important role is to contribute flavor, texture, color, and aroma to your starch-based meals. They offer a bonus in the additional nutrients (such as vitamin A and C) that come along for the ride.

Why then, here in the states and increasingly around the world, as all populations undergo economic development, have we become so afraid and ashamed of this most elemental food? And what price are we paying for shunning the most basic dietary staple known to humankind?


Diet and nutrition advice is often focused on how much we ought to eat, and misses the point: More important than how much, how often, and when we eat is what we eat. Different kinds of animals require different types of diets. We humans are built to thrive on starch. The more rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beans we eat, the trimmer, more energetic, and healthier we become.

Starch? Really? Isn't that for laundry? Yes, but it's also the key to optimum health and satiety. We hear a lot about carbohydrates and whether or not we should eat them, but we don't hear enough about the most valuable type of carbohydrate, starch.

There are three basic types of carbohydrates—sugar, cellulose, and starch—each made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in specific configurations. The simplest of these—sugar—includes sucrose (the granulated sugar you bake into cookies), fructose (which makes fruit taste sweet), lactose (found in milk), and glucose (the simple sugar that comes together in chains to make cellulose and starch). Sugar provides quick and powerful energy because it is so efficiently broken down in the body. (You'll learn more about sugar in Chapter 12.)

The second type of carbohydrate, cellulose, is made up of chains of glucose bonded together by indigestible linkages. It is found in the cell walls of plants and in wood and other organic matter. Our digestive system doesn't have the enzymes to break down cellulose to use it for fuel, but termites do, which is why they can eat through the wood beams of your home. Although we get no energy from them, indigestible carbohydrates like cellulose are valuable to us for their dietary fiber.

The gold medal for the carbohydrate most beneficial to humans goes to starch. Like cellulose, starches are made up of long-branching chains of glucose molecules. Starch is valuable to us because we can break it down into simple sugars that provide us with sustained energy and keep us feeling full and satisfied. Starchy foods are plants that are high in long-chain digestible carbohydrates—commonly referred to as complex carbohydrates. Examples include grains like wheat, barley, rye, corn, and oats; starchy vegetables like winter squash, potatoes, and sweet potatoes; and legumes like brown lentils, green peas, and red kidney beans. Starch is so important that an international scientific journal—Starch—is dedicated to its study. Starch is at the core of my health-enhancing diet. If you take away just one message from this book, it should be: Eat more starch. Basic to our human nature is the scientific fact that we are, and have always been, primarily starch eaters. According to the world-renowned anthropologist from Dartmouth College, Nathaniel Dominy, PhD, "A majority of calories for most hunter-gatherer societies came from plant-foods, not animal-foods, thus humans might be more appropriately described as 'starchivores.'" Think of yourself as a starchivore, like a cat is a carnivore and a horse is an herbivore.

You've probably heard about the benefits of a plant-based diet—one that reduces or eliminates animal foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. This concept does not go far enough. Without the addition of starch, a diet of low- calorie leafy greens like lettuce and kale, crucifers like broccoli and cauliflower, and fruits like apples and oranges will leave you feeling hungry and fatigued. Nonstarchy green, yellow, and orange vegetables are good for you to eat, but on their own do not give you enough calories to sustain your daily activities and keep you feeling satisfied. Your natural hunger drive may lead you to fill up on something else at the expense of your weight and health.

McDougall's Classification of Common Foods


Grains: Barley, buckwheat, corn, millet, oats, rice, rye, sorghum, wheat, wild rice

Legumes: Beans, lentils, peas

Starchy Vegetables: Carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, potatoes, salsify, sweet potatoes, winter squashes (acorn, banana, butternut, Hubbard), yams

Green, Yellow, and Orange (Nonstarchy) Vegetables: Bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chives, collard greens, eggplant, garlic, green beans, kale, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, onions, peppers, radishes, rhubarb, scallions, spinach, summer squashes, turnips, zucchini

Fruits: Apples, apricots, bananas, berries, cherries, figs, grapefruit, grapes, loquats, mangoes, melons, nectarines, oranges, papayas, peaches, persimmons, pineapples, plums, tangerines, watermelons


Look at a globe—any region with a large population of trim, healthy people reveals the same truth: Healthy populations get most of their calories from starch. Eat a traditional meal in Japan, China, or most any Asian country and you will find your bowl filled with rice, possibly alongside sweet potatoes and buckwheat. The same truth dates back throughout recorded human history. The Incas of South America centered their diet on potatoes. The Incan warriors switched to quinoa for strength prior to battle. The Mayans and Aztecs of Central America were known as "the people of the corn." The ancient Egyptians' starch of choice was wheat. Throughout civilization and around the world, six foods have provided our primary fuel: barley, corn, millet, potatoes, rice, and wheat.

If the map hasn't convinced you, science documents it well: Over at least the past 13,000 years, starch has been central to the diets of all healthy, large, successful populations. In fact, new discoveries show evidence of starch-based diets even earlier.

Starch Eaters throughout History

At Ohalo II, an Israeli site dating back 23,000 years, archeologists found wheat, barley, acorns, almonds, pistachios, berries, figs, and grapes among the huts, hearths, and a human grave.1 Other documentation shows that bulbs and corms (an underground plant stem similar to a bulb; taro is an example) were a major food source for Africans almost 30,000 years ago.2

Countering the widely held belief that the European Paleolithic diet consisted predominantly of animal foods, starch grains from wild plants recently were found on grinding tools at archeological sites dating back to the Paleolithic period in Italy, Russia, and the Czech Republic. These findings suggest that processing vegetables and starches, and possibly grinding them into flour, was a widespread practice in Europe as far back as 30,000 years ago, or even earlier.3 Other recent evidence suggests that those living in what is now Mozambique, along the eastern coast of Africa, may have followed a diet based on the cereal grass sorghum as long as 105,000 years ago.4

Recent studies show that even the Neanderthals ate a variety of plant foods; starch grains have been found on the teeth of their skeletons everywhere from the warm eastern Mediterranean to chilly northwestern Europe.5 It appears they even cooked or otherwise prepared plant foods to make them more digestible.


Proponents of a high-protein diet have suggested that reports showing heart disease in Egyptian mummies prove that their largely vegetarian diet was responsible for putting them in their graves.6 Is this true?

CT technology uses multiple x-rays to give scientists a three-dimensional view of the body that's almost as good as peering inside. An April 2011 report in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging used CT scans to show that 20 out of 44 Egyptian mummies whose cardiovascular systems could be viewed had evidence of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.7 The same kinds of calcification from atherosclerosis can frequently be seen in the CT scans of modern Americans and Europeans.

You would think that people in such early times, around 3,500 years ago, would have been reasonably healthy, with no fast food or tobacco and plenty of exercise. Yet the evidence shows that those selected to be embalmed as mummies ate a diet far richer than that of their less wealthy contemporaries.8 In addition to atherosclerosis, these wealthy ancient Egyptians showed signs of other diseases we associate with modern diets, such as obesity, dental disease, and gallstones.9-11 Spina bifida was found in a mummified child.12 Since the spinal abnormalities typical of spina bifida result from insufficient folate in the womb, the child's mother likely ate a diet heavy in animal foods and lacking in folate-rich starches, fruits, and vegetables.

The gallstones are an interesting case: Stones typically form when there is too much cholesterol in the bile, owing to a diet rich in animal foods. Scientists who analyzed a mummy buried 3,500 years ago found bile acids that looked like those we see today.11 Those aristocrats were indulging in the same rich foods.

The evidence indicates that only the wealthiest citizens—typically royalty and priests—became mummies. These privileged few were entitled to the most indulgent foods and, predictably, those foods produced diseases in the elite that were absent among the mainly vegetarian common folk. Hieroglyphics on Egyptian temple walls reinforce this finding with images of royalty feasting on beef, sheep, goats, wild fowl, rich breads, and cake. These foods have been excavated from the Egyptian pyramids, where they were buried alongside the deceased in hopes of providing for them in the afterlife. The diet of the elite has been conservatively estimated at more than 50 percent fat, much of it saturated, not unlike our typical modern Western diet.8 Hair analysis of mummies (one of the most reliable indicators of diet, even long in the past) likewise shows their diet to be similar in composition to that of modern Westerners.13

The meticulously preserved Egyptian mummies provide unequivocal evidence that these highly placed individuals who ate the richest diet available suffered from heart and artery disease, obesity, and other illnesses, just as we do today. And for the same reason: a diet based on animal foods and deficient in starches. Fortunately for most ancient Egyptians, extravagant feasting was available only occasionally. If only we were so fortunate. Now, as then, a life of excess comes at great cost.


Throughout history, men and women who ate diets based on grains, vegetables, and fruits have accomplished history's greatest feats. The ancient conquerors of Europe and Asia, including the armies of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) and Genghis Khan (ad 1162-1227), who conquered the known Western worlds during their respective times, consumed diets based on starches. Caesar's legions complained when they had too much meat in their diet and preferred to do their fighting on grains.14

The remains of 60 Roman gladiators who fought and died more than 1,800 years ago in Ephesus, in western Turkey, were recently found in a 200-square-foot plot along the road that led from the city center to the Temple of Artemis.15 Analysis of their bones for calcium, strontium, and zinc showed that the world's fiercest fighters followed an essentially vegan diet. In contemporary accounts, the gladiators are sometimes referred to as hordearii, or barley men, since barley provided the bulk of the nutrients that gave their remarkably strong muscles and bones the strength and endurance to compete in the ultimate sport of life and death.


Experts have long concluded that primates—humans included—are designed to eat a diet based on plant foods. Our anatomy and physiology require it. The natural diet of our closest relative, the chimpanzee, is almost purely vegetarian, made up mostly of fruits, leaves, and perishable vegetable matter. In the dry seasons, when fruit is scarce, chimps eat nuts, seeds, flowers, and bark.

Genetic testing has demonstrated that humans thrive best on starch.16 Human and chimpanzee DNA is roughly identical; one of the minor differences is that our genes help us to digest more starch, a crucial evolutionary adjustment.

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The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
MtnMikeCA More than 1 year ago
Want to lose a few pounds in a couple weeks? Read a diet book, ANY diet book. Want to become healthy, lose weight and feel great for life? Read The Starch Solution. When a friend or patient asks "where do I begin" This book will be at the top of my recommended reading list. I will tell them to begin their journey with The Starch Solution. On a chance mountain bike ride, I met a physician that said he could only cure one condition, bacterial infections. The diseases that are so common to our world are only managed. However, he shared, that through nutritional counseling, he is beginning to help people heal themselves. Rather than preach throughout our ride, he said, "Watch Forks over Knives and read The China Study." I began there. Then I discovered Dr. McDougall and his wife, Mary. Soon the value of the words I was digesting became crystal clear. My mother was diagnosed with uterine cancer and patients, friends and family began sharing recent medical afflictions. In the four months that I have been on my journey, I have seen one friend die of bladder cancer, another has grade 4 pancreatic cancer. I am committed to a Starch Solution lifestyle.My cholesterol has dropped 60 points, BMI is 24 and I feel great. The hills I climb on my bike seem shorter. This month I turn 55 and I am loving life. I believe The Starch Solution is the book Dr. McDougall has always wanted to write. He pulls no punches, is direct, and presents a plain and simple argument for making changes that will promote health. He challenges you but includes enough footnotes and quoted research to satisfy the skeptics providing ammunition for those scientifically inclined. The personal tales of the "Stars" will make it real for those that want to let their heart guide them to an answer. Rather than skirting the issue by saying we should eat a "plant strong," or "whole foods" diet that has a "Spectrum" of choices, this book is clear when it states: "The diet that best prevents disease, best supports the body's innate healing mechanisms, and best promotes sustained weight loss is a low-fat diet based on starches, with added vegetables and fruits, and with no animal products or free oils. A giant step toward health and spontaneous healing is yours for the taking." Thank you Dr. John and Mary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book - well written, well-researched, and well-documented with the research articles he refers to. Do not think he is referring to processed carbs. By the term "Starch" Dr McDougall refers to fiber-rich, whole, unprocessed (or very minimally processed) potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains (such as, brown rice, barley, whole wheat, oats, corn), and beans and lentils. This is NOT a diet based on whole wheat bread, cold cereals (even "whole grain" ones), white rice, pasta, etc., as those foods are processed. I eat a LOT of food and I am never hungry. I fill my plate with 1/2 whole starches and 1/2 raw or cooked green and yellow veggies (particularly greens like kale, spinach, swiss chard). I include one or two fruits with each meal. I eat half my veggies raw and half my veggies cooked. I've been to Dr. mcDougall's 5-day program; I follow his advice and it is working. I am losing weight (down 45 lbs so far), reversing my diabetes, and my arthritis pain is nearly all gone. My seasonal allergies are gone! This spring, while others around me are congested and sneezing, I can finally breathe freely! No more anti-histamines! No more sinus headaches. My rosacea has nearly completely cleared up. My family physician is very happy with my progress and enthusiastically supports this way of eating. He is satisfied that I am getting substantial nutrition, as long as I take a B-12 vitamin regularly. I take no other vitamins or supplements. I also recommend Dr. Joel Fuhrman's books called "Super Immunity" and "Eat to Live." 95% similar advice, also similar excellent results.
Sannejon More than 1 year ago
I devoured this book this week. I asked to get it for Mother's Day and I finished reading it today! Not only is this bood packed FULL of wonderful medical nutrition information and life changing advice it is a lot of FUN to read! Interesting, personable and very real for today. I enjoy the personal Star McDougallar stories about people like me. I especially like chapter 10 - The Fat Vegan because that's me! Now I know what I've been doing wrong. I also like the research info on Salt and Sugar. You'll be suprised at what the medial world know and the USDA knows because its not what they show us on TV. I have already started practicing Dr. McDougall's advice and I know I'm on the road to better health!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book to have on the shelf for reference in pursuing a healthful diet. Excellent information thoughtfully presented. Lots of appealing recipes. Glad I bought it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you for walking the walk doc! I love the recipes and how easy a read this was, although i do not agree with everything 100% I do agree about eating a low fat high carb diet for true health and longevity. I think it would be helpful to discuss gluten allergy and avoiding gmos with more tips on how to substitute.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Get this book. Its the truth. Its time to embrace our herbivorous ancestory.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book because I do follow the Whole Plant Food Way of Eating. It did confirm my thoughts about starches, and it also states that fruits/vegetables are also necessary AND sugar. Found the title misleading. Dr. McDougall is very informed, especially about losing weight.
Sally1313 More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended! Eat almost everything you always wanted and love weight and stay healthy. One of the most informative books on the market about eating healthfully!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome book! Goes right along with Forks Over Knives. Love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The truth is simple and therefore easy to understand. Eat more plants and eat less (or better yet, no) animal and processed foods for optimal health, fitness and longevity. I had already been eating plant-based for years before reading The Starch Solution but learned a lot from this book, in particular the importance of keeping starch as the centerpiece of meal planning, something I'd never really thought about before. Needless to say, any irrational fears one may have about the supposed 'fattening' effects of eating bread and pasta will be put to rest after reading this book.
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This book is basically vegan propaganda. The only "science" it contains is based around drawing strange conclusions from epidemiology.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
God gave us dominion over animals in otherwords we can eat them.