The starch solution diet is a whole-food, plant-based diet that John A. Mcdougall, MD developed. He is a physician and founder of the McDougall programs. He has written some books, and the most famous is The Starch Solution from 2012.
The Starch Solution is not just a quick-fix diet. It is more of a lifestyle change or should be. Starches are the foundation in the diet of some of the most healthy people around the world. According to McDougall, starches are the ideal diet for us humans, and it supports health.
Most people are interested in the Starch Solution because they want to lose weight. Maybe this is why you googled this? This is why I got interested in the starch solution program in the first place. It is an easy and cheap way of eating, I think.
- What are starches?
- What do you eat on The Starch Solution diet?
- What do you not eat on The Starch Solution Diet?
- Do you need to count calories?
- What if you don't lose weight?
- How to boost your weight loss?
- Can you gain weight on The Starch Solution?
- What about eating out?
- Benefits of the diet
- Meal Plan:
- What supplements do you need to take?
- The Starch Solution book
What are starches?
Starch is a carbohydrate, and starches are often also called complex carbs. Starches, referred to as foods, mean grains such as rice, buckwheat, and quinoa. Potatoes, corn, and pasta are also starches. Some starchy legumes are beans, lentils, peas, and chickpeas.
Talking about starches in this blog post, I am referring to starchy foods, as mentioned above. This also does the doctor McDougall when he talks about The Starch Diet.
Starch is one of the main categories of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are divided into simple sugars, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides. Starch is a polysaccharide containing 10 or more sugar units. Fiber is also a polysaccharide.
Starches should be our primary source of carbohydrates. Why? - because starch is a long carbohydrate chain. Our enzymes break down the chain and then it turns to simple sugars. Because the carbohydrate chain is long, complex, digestion takes time and the sugars are released gradually. This way we get a nice steady supply of energy to our body.
In simple terms, the more starch, complex carbs, and fiber food have, the better for a good diet. If a food is high in simple sugars, it does not release energy for such a long time.
An example is candy, you get a quick spike of energy, and your body uses it fast. Compared to a sweet potato that is high in starch and fiber, you get a steady flow of energy because it takes time for your body to break down the sugars.
What do you eat on The Starch Solution diet?
The base of all meals is starchy foods. Starches keep you satiated and full. You can also eat all you want of vegetables. Non-starchy vegetables are low in calories but give you lots of added nutrients and add flavor, color, and texture to food. Eat fruit and berries as dessert.
As the base of your meal, you can eat
Whole Grains: such are Barley, oat grouts, steel-cut oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, corn, wild rice, millet, wheat berries, but also bulgur and couscous that are wheat also.
Root vegetables: Sweet potatoes, potatoes, celery root, tapioca, parsnips, yams. Other root vegetables are great for you, such as carrots, beets, daikon, and salsify, but they are lower in calories and will not keep you full as long.
Legumes: Kidney-, black-, mung-,garbanzo-,pinto-,lima-,cannelini-,aduki beans. Brown-,red-,green lentils. Green-,split-, black eyed peas.
Squashes: Butternut, acorn, hubbard, pumpkin squash. Some squashes are also quite low in calories.
Noodles: Bean, somen, buckwheat, udon, and rice noodles. It is recommended not to eat too many noodles since they are made from flour products.
Pasta: Choose bean pasta, lentil pasta, whole grain pasta, oat pasta, corn pasta, whole grain rice pasta. Pasta is also made from refined flours, so keep it to a minimum.
Flours: Choose unrefined flours, meaning whole grain. There are flours made of legumes and all grains also, cooking can be very versatile. If you want to lose weight, don't use too many flour products since they are higher in calories.
So you can eat starches and veggies until you feel full. Even take seconds. With this diet, you get to eat a lot of food! You could say this is a high carb diet. But remember, carbs are not bad for you. They are the main fuel our bodies like to run with. And there are different types of carbs, as you saw in the diagram.
How about nuts and seeds?
If your goal is to lose weight, you should keep nuts and seeds to a minimum. Nuts and seeds have a very high-fat content, so a small amount has many calories. A small handful has around 170 kcal! Not all calories get absorbed because they also have fiber, but don´t snack on nuts.
I have cleared my house from unhealthy stuff and candies, so nuts are a big temptation. They keep calling for me when I watch a movie, and suddenly I have eaten half a bag. I would recommend if you have cravings to keep nuts away from the house or store them high up on a shelf.
Nuts make though great sauces. I often do pestos, plant-based cheeses, or salad sauce with cashew nuts. So they are very versatile in cooking.
A handful a day is a good amount if you want to eat healthily and not lose weight. Para-nuts are high in selenium. Walnuts and linen seeds have omega-3 fatty acids, so small amounts can be a good addition to your diet if you don't eat supplements. For example, in Finland, the soil is poor in selenium, so it is important to eat an occasional para-nut.
A tablespoon of linen seeds or chia seeds are a good addition to your diet so you get the omega 3 you need.
Can you eat white rice and white bread?
You can eat white rice and white bread on the starch solution and still lose weight if you stay away from fats. White rice and white bread are nutritionally poor, so it is better to learn to eat the whole grain version. Limit bread consumption and stick to non-processed foods.
Comparing the nutritional values of plain white rice and whole-grain rice in one medium portion:
|White rice||Whole grain rice|
A whole-grain version has more fiber and some nutrients, but don't feel guilty if you sometimes want to eat white rice because it tastes better.
Comparing nutritional value of white wheat toast to a whole grain version:
|White bread||Whole grain bread|
As you see in bread choices, it makes much more difference to what sort you choose. Remember, though the grain is grinded and made to flour with bread, nutrient density is higher. It is easy to eat too many calories if you eat many flour products. Bread also has a lot of added salt. One piece of toast has 300 mg of sodium.
Nutrition values are from the health and welfare institute of Finland. They have a great nutrition calculator, also in English.
Can you eat sauces and condiments?
It is great to avoid bought sauces because they are often loaded with sugar, salt, and preservatives. If adding some ketchup, tamarind sauce, chipotle, or barbecue sauce gets you to eat your veggies, it is better to eat them with some sauce than if you would not eat them at all.
Remember to eat your sauces fat-free!
With time your taste buds get used to the new way of eating and you start to enjoy just the pure taste of food, this takes a couple of weeks if you have the patience to avoid added salt and sugar.
Sauces can make you eat too much, though, because sugar and salt have that effect. You can test this. Eat some oven potato slices without condiments and then with ketchup, at what time do you eat more?
Use plenty of spices to make your food taste great. Balsamic vinegar is great as a salad dressing. You can also make delicious dips and spreads without oil, sugar, or salt in 5 minutes in a food processor. Check out this green pesto, arrabbiata pesto, and Muhammara-red pepper spread. You can even make nice raw ketchup from dates, tomato paste, tomatoes, and spices.
What if you are gluten-sensitive?
If you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, that is not a problem; you can cut out grains that have gluten. For some people that have gluten sensitivity, it is caused by a leaking gut. A plant-based diet can help many with that, and they can eat gluten when the gut is healed.
Grains have gluten, so make the staple of your meals legumes, rice, potatoes, and other roots. Buckwheat is gluten-free and very nutrient-rich. Quinoa is packed with protein and with cornflour you can make delicious tortillas.
One great gluten-free salad recipe is this buckwheat tabbouleh.
If you are allergic to legumes, where to get proteins?
Legumes are a great source of protein on a plant-based diet. You can though eat vegan without legumes. You just need to eat versatile and make a list of other plant proteins.
You can get protein from Seitan, Nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, sprouted grains, wild rice, and potatoes.
If you would only eat potatoes for 2000 kcal, you would still get 38 grams of protein, so you would not become protein insufficient. If you are worried about your protein intake it is good to keep track of your eating with an app for some days.
If you would only eat oats for 2000 kcal you would get 71 grams of protein!
Eating only pasta for 2000 kcal gives you 93 grams of protein!
McDougall says in his book that the protein requirement for humans is 30-40 grams a day. Sure, you can eat more, but for the body to function properly you don´t need that much.
It is good to mix different protein sources so you get all the necessary amino acids. Generally, you don't need to worry about protein too much if you eat enough calories. Only if you work out really hard you might want to increase it a bit.
What do you not eat on The Starch Solution Diet?
In The Starch Solution diet you avoid all animal products, processed oils and refined flours. The starch solution diet is basically a plant-based vegan diet. If you make occasional slips, that is up to you, but you should keep meat and dairy to a minimum and not consume them every day. A Starch-based diet is also sustainable for the environment.
Why not eat animal products: Meat, dairy, and fish?
Agriculture produces greenhouse gas emissions more than all transportations. Much land area and forests are destroyed to make place for livestock. The livestock industry uses a lot of water and pollutes water sources with waste.
Meat consumption increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Animal products are high in cholesterol and can in some people cause the arteries to clog, especially if you have a certain type of gene.
Meat, poultry, seafood, and cheeses are high in dietary acid. Dietary acid drains calcium from bones to neutralize it, so high consumption may lead to increased osteoporosis risk. In the Starch Solution also eggs are on the no list, they are high in cholesterol.
Milk is meant for a baby calf, baby calves need to grow fast so milk has a lot of growth hormones in it. When people use dairy products it activates growth hormones (IGF1) leading to breast tissue growth in men, higher risk of ovarian, prostate, and colon cancer. Milk can also contain some antibiotic residues.
Dairy proteins cause many allergies and autoimmune diseases. People who stop consuming dairy often find release to their asthma. Milk contains Lactose and many people are allergic to it and get cramps, diarrhea, and gas. Milk also causes acne for many people.
Fish is toxic with mercury and environmental toxins; this is why the recommended amount of fish to eat is only twice a week. You don't need to eat fish to get EPA and DHA. Where do the fish get it originally?- from algae. You can also eat algae-based supplements. Or you can get it from foods like seeds and nuts; your body can make the necessary EPA and DHA from ALA that is a basic omega 3 fat.
I recommend you to read The Starch Solution book that goes in-depth on why not to eat animal products and has numerous more reasons not to. McDougall has many studies to support this in his book.
Why not eat oils?
Oils are empty calories. Fat has 9 calories per gram, but carbs and proteins only 4 calories in a gram. So if you add oil in your food, you get a lot of extra calories and can gain weight because of that.
McDougall says "The fat you eat is the fat you wear"
Olive oil causes blood vessels to constrict and can lead to clogging of arteries. It is though shown in studies that if you eat antioxidant-rich foods the effect is not as high. This might explain that the Mediterranean diet is seen to be good. It is not because of the oil, but because of the high consumption of vegetables.
McDougall writes that oils are associated with atherosclerotic lesions. Also, olive oil has a substance that enables clotting as much as animal fats. Vegetable oils also impair blood circulation somewhat, which results in less oxygen in blood circulation.
The conclusion is that if you are healthy, some oil won't kill you, but it is much better to get healthy fats directly from the plant source with the other nutrients and fiber. So, instead of oils, eat in moderation avocados, nuts, and olives. Even oats have fat, so usually, you don't need to worry about getting too little fats.
Other foods to limit and avoid
In The Starch Solution Diet, avoid also added salt, sugar, and refined carbs. This means no candy, cookies, pastries. Avoid processed foods. My fake vegan meats are not healthy and are often packed with coconut fat, salt, sugar, and preservatives. Many soy meat products are not healthy so stick to the soybean, tempeh, and tofu.
Do you need to count calories?
You don´t need to count calories. Eat the foods on the recommended list until you feel full. Eat again when you are hungry. If you follow this you should have success.
With the Starch solution your body should learn to count the right amount of calories that you need. If you have a lot of cravings and you make slips or indulge in nuts it can be a good idea to count calories. But notice, that you should not get cravings when you body adjusts to the new way of eating.
You might need to count calories if you are not losing weight. You can write down for three days what you eat so you see your total consumption. You might notice that you have consumed some higher fat products such as avocados, nuts, processed food, or flour products such as bread, cakes, tortillas. Make then the needed adjustments.
This is definitely not a diet that you have to weigh your food and write down all you eat, but this is a diet where you get to eat a lot of food and still lose weight.
What if you don't lose weight?
If you don't lose weight check the amount you are consuming these things:
- Flour products such as bread and pasta
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butter
- Processed foods
- Coffee might affect some people
- Dried fruit
- Coconut milk ( high in fat)
- Sugars like maple syrup, agave syrup, molasses, coconut sugar, honey
Especially Alcohol will keep you from losing weight. If you drink alcohol, your body processes it first and only then the food. It might keep you from losing weight for days.
Salt makes your body absorb fluids. Don´t get scared if you go up in weight the day after you have eaten something salty. Processed foods often have a lot of added salt.
How to boost your weight loss?
Increase the amount of vegetables that are non starchy. Avoid hidden sugar for example in juices and dried fruits. Change pasta to other starches such as potatoes. Potatoes will make you feel fuller for a longer time than pasta and are a bit less caloric dense.
Don't eat any nuts, seeds, and avocados for a time. Limit also soy-based foods like tofu and tempeh since soybeans are quite high in fat.
One tip is also to eat more simple and a little less versatile. You know the feeling when you are full but still have room for dessert? This is because our taste buds want to experience new tastes. So if you have many options to choose from at the same table, you end up eating more than if you have one type of food. It happens in buffets also, as you know...
By keeping your meals really simple you have more success in weight loss.
Exercise is important; it can boost weight loss. Muscle burns more energy than fat, so do exercise for your muscles to boost energy burning.
Starch solution 50/50 plate
A good way to boost your weight loss on the starch solution diet is to eat a 50/50 plate. This means half of the plate is starches, and half of it is veggies—snack on fruit and berries.
Read also my post on maximum weight loss on the McDougall diet if you are determined to lose weight fast.
Learn about calorie density
To achieve weight loss, you need to be in a calorie deficit. By eating just starches and veggies, it is quite easy to be in a calorie deficit. If you are not losing weight, you need to examine if you are eating foods on the higher end in calories and increasing the amount of food on the lower end of calories.
Our body craves foods on the higher end of calories, so it can sometimes be hard to eat a salad. Starches are, though, very satiating. You eat less if you start eating a salad or a sour or just an apple. This fills your stomach, and you cant eat so much of the higher calorie food.
How fast can you lose weight?
The average weight loss you can achieve is one pound a week(500 grams). It would be best if you did not lose weight too rapidly since it is harmful to your body.
Can you gain weight on The Starch Solution?
If you eat according to the recommendations, it is hard to gain weight. If you combine fats with starches, you easily gain weight because your body stores the fat. If you eat processed foods, you gain weight more easily.
If you eat starches, fruits and vegetables it is hard to get fat. Those foods have fiber, so it regulates your blood sugars. All calories are not absorbable either.
But if you bake a lot, eat nut butters and sandwiches, drink alcohol and juices it is easy to maintain your weight or even get more weight.
Some people might want to get more weight but still eat a healthy plant-based diet. The recipe is simple- Lower your intake of nonstarchy veggies and eat lots of starches, add avocados and nuts to your diet. And eat more refined products, pasta, bread, and soy.
What about eating out?
It can be hard to find something suitable for you at restaurants. Many side dishes are great for a plant-based diet. Usually, you can order from the list baked potato, salad, rice, and oven vegetables. Many lunch places have good salad buffets. At Indian and Thai restaurants, they have vegan options with tofu; you can ask if they can make the dish with less oil. Pizza is possible to order without the cheese.
We eat out so rarely that I don't stress it. Then I give myself permission to eat something with more fat.
When we go to a friend's place to eat we usually bring our own food, often it is a barbecue party and it is not an issue to have your own stuff for the grill. It is also nice to surprise people with some delicious plant foods.
Benefits of the diet
Studies of the blue zone populations, meaning people who eat simple starch-based diets have shown them to be very healthy. By following a starch-based diet you can also be healthy from many diseases.
By eating a starch-based diet with vegetables and fruit you minimize your risk for:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Kidney disease
- Autoimmune diseases
Is the Starch Solution Diet good for diabetes?
By eating a plant-based high starch vegan diet you cut your diabetes risk with 78%. Type 2 diabetes can be even reversed with a starch based diet.
Dr. Michael Greger explains in his book How Not To Die what causes diabetes. -Type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance in muscles. Insulin enables blood sugar to enter cells, but when the cells become resistant, they don't respond to insulin-like they should. Cells become resistant because of fat in the cells. The fat creates toxic breakdown products and free radicals that block the insulin signaling process. (my wording from the book in chapter 6)
The problem with type 2 diabetes is not having too little insulin, but it can't do its job, taking the glucose to cells. Just simple weight loss can help with diabetes because the fat levels drop in your body. But also all fat circulating in your bloodstream is a problem. It can come from your own body, from the excess fat you bear, or from your diet.
You can even see skinny people have type 2 diabetes. Often this is a result of a too fatty diet that impairs the body's ability to handle sugar.
Keto diets are popular because you see the results in blood sugar, if you don't eat carbs your body does not have to handle glucose. This does not mean that your cells are healed, they still can not process glucose. If you stop ketose and start eating carbs you can notice this.
Reversing type 2 diabetes is only done when your cells work properly with the insulin so that glucose can enter your cells.
This is for a person that does not need to lose weight and wants to have something sweet. Total of 2020kcal.
- Breakfast: Oat porridge (100grams oats) with a drizzle of nut butter and seeds and some berries.
- Snack: Banana with dark chocolate
- Lunch: Pasta in creamy mushroom sauce, a slice of bread with hummus
- Afternoon coffee: Date-coconut balls
- Dinner: 1 big tortilla with kidney bean-veggie filling, guacamole, salsa, salad, and cashew sour cream.
- Evening snack: popcorn and fruits.
What would similar meals look like if you cut out some calories? This is a total of 1520 kcal.
- Porridge, 80grams oats, berries, cinnamon, plant milk.
- Snack: Banana
- Lunch: Pasta in tomato sauce and black beans
- Coffee snack: 3 dates or a fruit
- Dinner: 1 big tortilla, bean-veggie filling, salsa, salad
- Snack: 3 carrots or fruit, air-popped popcorn
In the lower version calorie deficit is accomplished by not eating nuts, avocado and chocolate.
What supplements do you need to take?
You need to take vitamin B12. You can not get B12 from plant sources. Some preparations with lower dosages are taken daily. Some with higher dosages are enough if you take 1-2 times a week.
Vitamin D. If you live in a country with no sun all year round, you need to eat vitamin D in wintertime. Also, if you don't spend any time in the sun. In my country, the recommended dosage is 10-20 micrograms a day.
Other vitamins you can become insufficient of when vegan and is good to check you get enough of.
Iron. Especially women get easily Iron deficient. You get iron in leafy green vegetables, pulses, nuts, and wholegrain
Calcium. Calcium is found, for example, in sesame seeds, kale, almonds, pulses. Tofu is high in calcium. Some plant milk is fortified with calcium
Omega-3. Find it it in chia seeds, walnuts, linen seeds and hemp seeds.
Iodine. Mainly found in fortified salt and seaweed.
The Starch Solution book
I found the book to be very easy to read. It explains well why you should and should not eat certain things, but is not too scientific so thet it would be hard to understand. This book has nice before and after experiences of people who managed to change their lives with the starch solution diet. Buy it at bookshop.org
Most visible change is the weightloss, but they also got help to diseases.
Some highlights of the success stories in the book:
- Cloudy lost 92 pounds
- Jeff lost 120 pounds and reduced his cholesterol from 271 to 1(27 mg/dl)
- Robert could stop his diabetes medication
- Juliea found help to her juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- Donna lost 77 pounds
- Elisabeth lost 70 pounds and has a BMI under 20
The book also has over 100 recipes. All simple and created by John's wife Mary. Many plant-based recipes you find online and on youtube are variations of Marys's recipes.