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The Starch Solution (Dr John McDougall) diet - any views?

Discussion in 'Lifestyle Management' started by Sasha, May 25, 2013.

  1. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    In my never-ending quest to improve my health through diet I'm making a slow transition to this diet to test it out. I've previously tried the Wahls Diet (no effect) and a vegan diet (rapid crash). I've recently discovered I'm gluten intolerant and wonder if I may have problems with milk, which might have been a co-factor in my not getting on very well on my attempt at a vegan diet.

    A lot of people on the forums have emphasised that PWME need animal protein and I'd welcome views on this starch diet.

    Dr McDougall's view is that large populations eating traditionally (rice, corn, potatoes etc.) demonstrably thrive on high-starch (whole, not refined) diets. He's one of many people pointing out that the paleo diet doesn't take into account advances in archaeology that show that starch was a common component in human diet.

    The diet is basically:
    • Primarily whole starch (complex carbs - grains, tubers, pulses, legumes)
    • Some vegetables and fruits
    • No animal products (meat, milk, eggs, fish)
    • No 'free' oils separated from their plant source by pressing etc. (e.g. olive oil, corn oil)
    • No fruit juices or dried fruits (too high in sugar)

    You just eat until you're not hungry, have many small meals rather than three big ones a day. You don't count anything - the nutrients take care of themselves.

    I've read his very interesting book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Starch-Soluti...id=1369482481&sr=1-1&keywords=starch solution

    But you can get the gist from this very interesting and entertaining YouTube lecture which lasts about an hour (he is an excellent speaker):



    He has a website with what looks like an active and well-run discussion board:

    http://www.drmcdougall.com/

    Incidentally, this time I've decided to document exactly what I eat so that if this diet goes badly, at least in six months' time if I get some new indications of food I should avoid I can look back and see if I included it and if that might have torpedoed me. It's also helping me make a slow transition - I eat about 15 servings of food a day so if I swap one out a day I'll have made a complete transition in two weeks. I'm a bit scared of sudden change - I would have thought your microbiome would need time to adjust.
     
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  2. Little Bluestem

    Little Bluestem Senescent on the Illinois prairie, USA

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    My view is that the no animal products part is too extreme. Gathering is easier than hunting, so the paleo diet would have had more gathered than hunted food, but they did get some animal protein. If you do eat meat, I think it should be grass-fed. That has the same omega-fat ratio as game.

    I don’t see nuts and seeds there. I thought they were important gathered food resources, since animal protein was difficult to come by.

    I’m not sure I would give up olive oil. Where else are you going to get omega-9 fatty acids? Paleo populations were constrained to eating what was available where they lived. Getting foods from other parts of the world is a modern advantage I would not want to give up.

    I think your idea of a gradual transition to the diet is a good one. We don’t make abrupt changes to our animals’ diets, so why would we do it to ourselves.
     
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  3. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    Good point about the animal protein, and about the grass-fed. But he's basing a lot of his approach not on the paleolithic diet (whatever version of it people believe in) but more on the traditional agrarian diets of modern populations who live healthily into old age until their traditional ways of eating are influenced by the Western diet. He claims that those traditional diets are heavily based on starch with meat more as an occasional condiment than a food source.

    Nuts and seeds are allowed - I forgot to mention them! But not the separated oil.

    I'd never heard of omega-9 until you just mentioned it! This Wikipedia thing on it says you can manufacture it in your body from unsaturated fats so could your body cobble it together from nuts and seeds?

    To be honest, I don't know what to think about diet at this point! When I read about the Wahls diet (basically 'paleo' - high in grass-fed meat and algae-fed fish, low in starch) I thought that sounded good and tried that. It didn't do anything for me. Then I tried vegan (but without much starch as I recall) and got so ill I had to stop). Then I read about the metabolic diet (where the ideal balance of meat and starch depends on your genetic heritage, with me coming out in the middle on the questionnaire). Then a couple of weeks later I came across this starch thing. So those four are basically from one extreme of the spectrum to the other, via the middle!

    I think all I can do is try them all, bring them in slowly so I don't crash, and see what happens. An experiment of one! :thumbdown: I'm looking for even a 1%-2% improvement in function. Anything would be great!
     
  4. Little Bluestem

    Little Bluestem Senescent on the Illinois prairie, USA

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    Probably. After all, a large part of the population of the planet has survived without olive oil up until now.
     
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  5. Orla

    Orla Senior Member

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    Hi Sasha, I am trying this at the moment(I started either late October or early November, I can't remember exactly). I am not doing it 100% all the time but fairly close. I don't eat animal products now, but occasionally let a bit of oil slip through (I don't use it in day to day cooking myself, but still have some dark chocolate left so eat a very small amount now and again and that sort of thing). I have become more strict about the oil though the last few months as I understood more about why to avoid it, and also to try to do the "experiment" properly. I started it thinking I would try this diet for 3 months and see, but now I want to stick with it and cannot see myself going back to how I ate before.

    I have improved a bit since Christmas, but had a dip in April (which I seem to be over now). I would say for me the improvement has been well above 1-2% but it is hard to quantify (maybe 10-15%?), especially when I don't keep a diary. I might start keeping one to help keep a better track. But mostly I have noticed a reduction weakness/dizziness during my period (I don't need to lie down half as much at this time now) and I have been able to get out of the house more.

    For me it has helped reduce the bad flare-ups I was getting before and during my periods. The dizziness at these times has lessened a lot. But for some reason my periods have gone a bit haywire frequency and duration-wise. But this is still an improved situation as my symptoms have lessened. This new problem might just be coincidental, or might be a result of the change in diet, and might even itself out over time. It could also be the sign of early menopause (the fact that my symptoms have improved, and I am not getting any hot flashes, is making me think this is not the problem). The doctor is going to run some tests to see.

    One advantage to this diet is that I find it quite easy to manage my weight now, without having to calorie count or restrict, which I had found quite difficult before (I was inclined to put up weight very easily).

    Edit: I do sometimes put ground flax or chia seeds on my porridge for Omega 3 fatty acids (not oil, but the ground-up seed. Apparently ground flax needs storing in the fridge as they go rancid very quickly otherwise).

    Some dried fruit is allowed, I am fairly sure, but small amounts and they are not recommended for people trying to lose weight.
     
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  6. Sushi

    Sushi Moderator and Senior Member Albuquerque

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    One thing a doc told me (no idea if it is true) is that your digestive enzymes were set or programmed according to what you ate in the first years of life and that trying to change radically as an adult (say becoming Vegan) didn't work.

    But a trial will tell you more than theory.

    Sushi
     
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  7. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    Hi Orla - I'm glad you're having such good results. I haven't got as close to the full diet as you - I started feeling worse about 10 days in but have come out of that now and am wondering if I'm a little better, but it's too early to say. My main change has been no longer eating meat, fish, eggs or cheese - I used to have a portion with each of my four daily meals - and replacing those portions with starch. My next change will be to reduce milk (I can't cut it out altogether because I take MAF 878, which is made using milk) and oil (which I'm still using to cook vegetables).

    Your story is encouraging, though!
     
  8. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    Interesting!

    A nutritionist told me some years ago that if you suddenly changed your diet radically, you'd feel like death by about day five because your digestive enzymes hadn't yet adjusted but then they would and you'd feel better. I also don't know if that's true!
     
  9. helen1

    helen1 Senior Member

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    Hi Sasha,
    Thanks for posting something so different & thought-provoking regarding diet and I really hope it continues to help you. I've been forced onto more carbs also due to high phosphorus and sulfur levels. I'm eating a lot of squashes, something I never imagined doing on my previously high low-glycemic veggies and grassfed meat diet. I haven't noticed feeling any different although my phosphorus levels are down and am waiting for sulfur strips to see about sulfur.

    However, from what I've read, agrarian populations health decreased compared to pre-agricultural peoples. Part of it was due to working longer hours and having much reduced variety in their diet but I think too having less animal foods which have a lot of various nutrients. Agrarian folks seemed to eat little besides their staple grain which was often either wheat, rice or corn in many parts of the world. It's hard to tease out which factors contributed to their ill health and low mortality, as there was such a difference in social structure and also quite an increase in population overall as well as density, which wiped out many more people via infections. Hunter-gatherers also died of infection, but they weren't epidemics, they were individual cases due to insect bites, etc.

    If you're interested in how modern hunter gatherer's lived (1930s to now) and their health compared to other societies, check out Jared Diamond's newest book on this very topic, called The world until yesterday. The photos alone are worth a check-out of the library!

    I wonder on what info Dr McDougall is basing his theory that a starch based diet is healthiest. Who is he looking at?

    I did some quick research that finds that cross-culturally today, human diets average out at about 50-80% carbs, with up to 80% or more carbs in the poorer nations and less in the richer.

    Our bodies evolved to be suited for a hunting-gathering life since that's been what? 95% of our history as a species? It's no surprise there are so many physical and mental health problems considering we're living at such odds with our genes. How can we live in a way that is better suited to our genes and thus be happier and healthier? It's actually a personal issue which is why I'm so interested, having been plagued by health problems for years... Like many of us.
     
  10. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    Hi Helen - interesting post! I'll order that book from the library.
     
  11. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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    Hi Sasha

    I have been eating raw vegan in the past but it did not suit me - too much folate and until recently, high animal protein and fat but my diet is now high whole grain and nearly off meat - twice a week. Its mac robotic which is similar only without nightshade veggies and potatoes.

    I think it is better for me due to my CBS and l am certainly doing better on it. My weight is reducing and oedema reducing too. Energy is up and dry skin better. I also feel my thyroid is happier. I have cut oils out and have chia seeds for omegas. BP is up though. Keep us up to date how you are doing.
     
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  12. Orla

    Orla Senior Member

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    Hi all,

    It seems that many hunter-gatherer societies would have been primarily gatherers. There are some exceptions in marginal areas where they did not have access to as much plant based foods, and in some of these cases there is evidence that the higher meat/fat consumption in these societies caused problems.

    There are some arguments now that human brain development (in evolution) was spurred on by the adaption to eating starch, as it opened up a new source of relatively reliable food and calories (and this adaption also helped with migration over the world). Some of this has come to light since I studied archaeology so I am unfortunately only aware of the general gist of the arguments.

    I still think there might be an argument that meat eating contributed to evolution (I don't know if that theory has been debunked now, or if it is that now the role of starch might be considered to be much more important than previously thought). But it wouldn't necessarily follow that we would have to eat meat now, or much meat.

    I think Dr McDougall's argument is that most successful societies had starched based diets (not 100% vegetarian though, just primarily plant based). In some of these societies the rich people had much richer diets, higher in fat and meat, and they were inclined to get diseases we consider to be primarily the result of diet (heart-disease, gout etc.).

    One interesting thing is that when people migrate from one area of the world to another if they change their diet, or their descendants do (so same genes, different diet), they end up getting more diet based diseases like heart disease. Or if a diet changes in a country the statistics for certain diseases can change in that country. A lot of "poorer" countries have traditionally had very low rates of diet related diseases, but much higher of infectious diseases and the like. But as their diet changes their health stats do too and diet related diseases go up. I saw a film Globesity that was very worrying about negative changes to traditional diets (e.g. more refined oils, more junk like soda pop).

    There is a guy who made up a lot of video presentations available for free on the internet and I found them very interesting http://www.youtube.com/user/PrimitiveNutrition They are divided into 3 main sections. I have dipped in and out of them, as some of them are quite heavy going, but I intend to listen to them a few times over. Some of them are on fairly argumentative topics. There are some other talks on the internet from people like Dr Caldwell Esselstyn (heart-disease specialist) and Dr Colin Campbell (I think he co-discovered dioxin was toxic to humans) that argue similar ideas to McDougall.

    There was some work done years ago by a few people on low fat diets for people with MS that apparently showed some promise. I think I saw one doctor (in an old filmed talk) say that he thought people with MS might be over-sensitive to negative effects of saturated fat, so they tried to keep that very low in the diet. It would be interesting to know if some of us might be over sensitive to saturated fat or something like that.

    Anyway it will be interesting to see how we get on with our little experiment.

    Brenda I was talking to someone recently who did the macrobiotic diet years ago and felt really good on it (it was not someone with ME/CFS) but they found it hard to stick with long-term. They were not sick though, so they had less of an incentive than we do. You mentioned avoiding the nightshade plants. Apparently a lot of people can have problems with some, or all, of those foods. I had meant to try an elimination diet (including elimination all nightshade plants), just to see, but couldn't face doing it right now.
     
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  13. WillowJ

    WillowJ Senior Member

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    hi Sasha, my personal philosophy is to not follow any specific prescribed diet plan (I have tried a few and none worked) but to eat:
    * what makes me feel better
    * stuff I know to be nutritious (in and of itself), for the most part

    I think we and our microbiota are more adaptable than some of these diet plans give us credit for. (though yes I agree some weeks of transition is good)

    The varieties (of whatever) we have available today are typically not the same varieties they had previously, so it's kind of difficult to 'eat what they ate' (regardless of what it is we think they ate) and think it will work out the same.

    If you want to try that specific diet, this is my thoughts on it.

    People say it's possible to go vegetarian/vegan successfully (I've not tried) but it can be a lot of work to make sure you get complete protein and the right oils, if it's something you're not familiar with. It can be very damaging to be lacking in protein and essential fatty acids (EFAs are a major component of cell membranes, for instance, and hormones, as well as impacting myelin), and you're already not well. Just be sure you are up to doing the work before you decide to try it.

    Also be careful with the 'limited fruits and vegetables' thing. I didn't watch the video (it's too long) so I don't know what this means.

    I'm someone who benefits from eating starches so I understand why this is appealing. I'd say if you can't do it all the way, go ahead and add more good starches, if that's something that makes you feel good/healthy.

    If you think you can do it successfully and you want to try:

    http://www.acaloriecounter.com/diet/best-foods-for-your-diet-and-preferences/
     
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  14. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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    Hi Orala

    I did the diet about 12 years ago when l was sick and had the same problem - l could not stick to it during a stressful time when someone close to me died as it takes a good bit of planning and it is not easy to do it whilst travelling. I also felt much better on it, clean inside and loads calmer, very grounded. After a few weeks on it, when l was very strict, l had what they call a discharge which was a herx l guess, which lasted for three days, and an amazing amount of gunge poured out from under my armpits. I had never known anything like it and afterwards l felt so much better.

    Apparently people who have been hairdressers will get loads of chemicals pour from their hands like hair dye. I eased into the diet and as l said still have some meat and milled whole grain which is usually advised against in the healing level of the diet but l don't want to stress myself too much at first or get bored with the diet whilst my taste buds are still changing to much more subtle flavours.

    A lot of people lost confidence in the diet when some leaders got cancer, but l think the problem for them could have been genetic with b12 and with my genes l will always take it and folate. They also smoked, some of them.
     
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  15. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    Hi all - thanks for all these interesting replies! I'm sorry I don't have the energy to write much in response at the moment.

    Can anyone point me at some good info about what's wrong with free oils (not saturated ones but olive oil)? I'm going to re-read Dr McDougall's book but I thought the main issue was that they're empty calories and are directly stored as fat because your body will burn starch first, for preference. Does even olive oil lard up your arteries or something?
     
  16. WillowJ

    WillowJ Senior Member

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    if you want to know about oil, alex3619 is a good person to ask.
     
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  17. brenda

    brenda Senior Member

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    Hi Sasha

    I don`t have any information at hand, but I understand that oils are not a whole food, and once the oil has been removed from the plant, it starts to degenerate, obviously some faster than others. If one is sick then they are not able to deal with rancid fats without damaging the system. I do use a tiny amount of ghee which is quite stable being saturated and without milk proteins and sugars. I get my omegas from whole chia seeds and pumpkin seeds.
     
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  18. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

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    Whole foods with a high fat content, and a variety of them, are indeed good sources of fats. There are many reasons for this. The best source of omega-6 fat is from Brazil nuts. Its almost pure omega-6, and high in selenium (don't eat too many!) but every now and again you will get a rancid one ... bite once before you chew, if it tastes bad then spit it out. Sometimes you can see this by cutting, breaking or biting the nut in half - if it looks funny (not creamy white) its probably bad.

    We often dismiss monounsaturated fats, but I think they are important too. Good sources include macadamia nuts, almonds and cashews. Olives are another, and contain powerful antioxidants. Extra virgin olive oil is good too, but too many commercial varieties are of poor quality, and sometimes even rancid before you open the bottle. Do make sure that any monounsaturated oil you buy, and I like macadamia oil, is cold pressed.

    However there are three fats that can be important that you wont get from vegetables, seeds, nuts etc. The two usually recommended for us are EPA and DHA. These are best obtained from cold water seafood, though if the seafood is likely to be from a contaminated region then this makes a good case for using purified suppliments, preferably at least 60% DHA and EPA, or over 600mg per gram if you read the label.

    One very important fat is omega-6 arachidonic acid. Its important in many ways, but while there are good reasons to consume it, there are even better reasons to keep consumption low. This fat typically promotes inflammatory hormone synthesis (series 2 eicosanoids). In fact one reason to consume EPA is to lower the production of such inflammatory hormones.

    Where do you find arachidonic acid? Meat fat is high, dairy contains some, and tropical fish contain it too. Egg yolks, organ meats etc. are other sources.

    Now I am not saying avoid all arachidonic acid. Its an essential nutrient, and in many of us the capacity to synthesize it from short chain omega-6 fats found in seeds and nuts is highly compromised. I am just saying avoid meat fat, eat these things in small portions, and watch your symptoms. Flu-like symptoms, headaches and pain can be signs of over-consuming omega-6 fats, including arachidonic acid.

    To give an example of people who do OK with higher doses of arachidonic acid, many of us do better on high protein diets. These people typically consume less short chain omega-6 though, so in part this is compensation. Even then I recommend avoiding meat fat as much as possible.

    Saturated fats are also important, but the amount we need is very very low as we can make them if we need them. While I was on a super low saturated fat diet I got lots of headaches. Raising this to over 2g per day, a minute amount, eliminated the headaches. Saturated fat also makes hormones, so avoiding it completely is a bad idea. Moderation is best with all meat fats.

    The big nasty is trans fats which are toxic. These are heat or chemical damaged fats, where there molecular shape is twisted from the normal form (cis fats). These are mostly polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and omega-6) and it is why old, rancid or heat treated oil is a bad idea. Partially hydrogenated fats are also bad.

    Thanks for pointing me here WillowJ.
     
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  19. Sasha

    Sasha Fine, thank you

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    Thanks, Alex. I'm going to study what you said!

    I've been feeling very sleepy the last few days and spent the last couple of afternoons in bed asleep. I don't know if that's just coincidence - I don't even know if it's a bad thing or a good thing.
     
  20. alex3619

    alex3619 Senior Member

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    Olive oil will not induce artery problems from what we know, and may help extend your life (extra virgin olive oil anyway, if its of good quality). If you want to burn fat in a diet, then you need to eat fat too. Not only are some fats essential nutrients (essential means if you don't eat them for long enough you could die as your body can't make them), but if you are burning dietary fat then your cells will optimize more to burning fat as fuel. This is a trick used by arctic and antarctic explorers - they start eating a high fat diet several weeks before they go into the cold. (This is NOT a recommendation for a high fat diet, explorers in extreme cold face unusual challenges and have to eat high fat diets.)

    Most fats are indeed empty calories in modern diets, but then again so are most carbs. Look at what the whole food provides, not just the fat or carbs. Many good nutrients are found in high fat foods, including vitamin E. Refined fats are poor nutrition though, just as refined carbs are, as other nutrients are removed. What makes extra olive oil different is it has minimal processing and many of the good things are still present.

    Don't use thing like extra virgin olive oil at high heat though, it destroys its antioxidant nutritional properties.
     
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