John McDougall, MD, The Healthiest Diet on the Planet


john-mcdougall_photocredit_robert-stewartJohn McDougall, M.D., is a board certified physician and nutrition expert who teaches better health through vegetarian cuisine, John A. McDougall, MD has been studying, writing, and speaking out about the effects of nutrition on disease for over 30 years. Dr. John and Mary McDougall believe that people should look and feel great for a lifetime. Unfortunately, many people unknowingly compromise their health through poor dietary habits. Dr. McDougall is the founder and director of the nationally renowned McDougall Program: a ten-day residential program that he and Mary McDougall host at a luxury resort in Santa Rosa, CA where medical miracles occur through diet and lifestyle changes. In addition to her formal training as a nurse, Mary McDougall provides many of the delicious recipes that make the McDougall Program not only possible, but also a pleasure. Dr. McDougall has cared for thousands of patients for almost 3 decades. His program not only promotes a broad range of dramatic and lasting health benefits but, most importantly, can also reverse serious illnesses including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and others, all without the use of drugs. A graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, Dr. McDougall performed his internship at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, and his medical residency at the University of Hawaii. He is certified as an internist by the Board of Internal Medicine and the National Board of Medical Examiners. He and Mary are also the authors of several nationally best-selling books as well as the co-founders of Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods, which produces high quality vegetarian cuisine to make it easier for people to eat well on the go.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody! I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me. Thank you for joining me on this very beautiful mid-October day. Thanks to climate change and global warming, we’re experiencing great weather here in New York. It’s like summer time. There’s always a bright side to look at everything that’s going on, and even though the planet is warming up, we should take advantage of the beautiful weather that we have, when we have it. I’m especially enjoying breathing today. You know I like to talk about breathing, and I woke up this morning and the air was just so incredibly sweet. And I hope it is where you are. Okay, I’m very excited about this. I’m going to bring on my guest for the day, Dr. John McDougall. He is a board certified physician and nutrition expert who teaches better health through vegetarian cuisine. Dr. McDougall has been studying writing and speaking out about the effects of nutrition on disease for over 30 years. Dr. John and Mary McDougall believe that people should look and feel great for a lifetime. Welcome to It’s All About Food Dr. McDougall.

Dr. McDougall: Well, thank you. I might as well just continue your discussion. There’s one card to play if we’re going to save planet earth, and it has to be played now. And that’s the food card, because unless we play the food card, we can’t play the other cards, which are transportation and energy. We just don’t have time to do it. The food card for your listeners may be new to you. The food card would be changing our source of calories from livestock: pigs, cows, chickens, fishes, to a source of calories of starch, which is potatoes, corn, rice, beans, peas, and lentils. With that change, overnight we can reduce greenhouse gas production by over 50%. There are estimates that food related greenhouse gas productions could be dropped 70% overnight. So what am I talking about? I’m talking about changing the diet that we eat in New York City, and Atlantic City, and Shanghai, and have it based on cows, and pigs, and chickens, and dairy products, and so on, back to the traditional diet people ate 35 years ago in China, or 35 years ago in South America. And that’s a diet based on rice. 90% of the calories in China came from rice before 1980, or potatoes before 1980 in South America. Probably 90% of the food came from potatoes. So that’s what we have to do if you want to fix the planet, if you want to save what we have for our children and grandchildren, which is my primary motivation these days in life, we have to play the food card.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m right there with you, and I’ve committed my life to this mission. I just wanted to say before we dig in a little deeper, how you and Mary want to help people look and feel great. I have the promotional picture of you.

Dr. McDougall: I’m almost 70.

Caryn Hartglass: You are looking so great.

Dr. McDougall: The next cover of the book will have Mary’s picture on it too. She’s 70 years old. She’s more beautiful everyday. We’ve been together for 45 years. And I really do mean that. I used to hear that when I was a kid. People talked about their spouses, 20, 30, 40, 50 years older than me, and they would say things like, “She’s more beautiful everyday”, and I’d say, “You’ve got to be crazy”, and now here Mary and I are 70, and I look across the table at her, and I go, “You know, she’s more beautiful everyday”.

Caryn Hartglass: Aw. You’re bringing tears to my eyes.

Dr. McDougall: Well, it’s true you know. There’s something about getting older. You find out some things you try to share with younger people. It works out sometimes.

Caryn Hartglass: It works out sometimes. Now, I’ve heard you speak many many times back in the 90s, and what I always loved was that you had this fire in your belly.

Dr. McDougall: Yeah, it’s still there.

Caryn Hartglass: And it’s still there. I just read The Healthiest Diet on the Planet, and I’m like, “Nothing has changed”. So what keeps it burning? The telling of your stories has been the same pretty much for decades.

Dr. McDougall: 40 years.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah. How do you feed that fire?

Dr. McDougall: Well, it’s of course my basic personality and makeup and the fact that I was given a great lean life by having an amazing father and a very nice mother too, but all that gave me the background, the inborn personality, and the guidance of very honest parents. It gave me a background for when I discovered something that I thought was extremely important, which is why 80% of the people in this country are sick, and how to cure them. I discovered that back in my medical residency, which was between 1976 and 1978. It gave me a passion in life, because I’m a doctor. I want to help people, and that’s really all I want to do. I just want to cure type 2 diabetes and reverse heart disease, and slow and stop and reverse cancers. And all things that I knew were true based on the scientific research, I wanted to help my patients. That’s why I became a doctor. That’s why the other people in your audience who are dietitians and physicians have other healthcare positions in life. That’s why they went into the business too, to help their customer, because it makes you feel good in return. Well, that was all my motivation back 40 years ago, and I’ve been very successful at what I do as a doctor. But I also became interested later on. It wasn’t an issue. I’ll tell you the truth. I had no sympathy at all for animal rights and the cruelty of the animals. As I grew, as my eyes were opened, I realized that, and then about 20 years ago, I realized that the only chance we have of saving the planet is to fix the food. So I’ve been kind of focused on that now, and when people ask me how I still get out of bed in the morning and have a big smile and enthusiasm is because I have seven grandchildren. They have no future, and wherever I go, I try and tell that story. Yeah, I can cure your diabetes. That’s no problem. I can cure your heart disease and give you a good [?] movement. That’s no problem, but what we’ve got to do is so much more important than that, and everybody knows that we have people like Elon Musk talking about sending everybody to Mars. There are all kinds of highflying ideas out there about what we’re going to do, but they’re not practical from my viewpoint like it is to take and tell people to start eating potatoes and rice again. You can build a spaceship and go to Mars, but excuse me; I’d rather just stay here. I’m in California, kind of like it. I don’t want to go to Mars.

Caryn Hartglass: We don’t know how the wind surfing is going to be on Mars, right?

Dr. McDougall: Yeah, well, I don’t know. I hear all these stories, but maybe they’ll have some good wind.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. The unfortunate thing, and there’s many unfortunate things, but as you were learning and your eyes were opening about what really creates health and what creates disease, countries outside of the United States as you mentioned, were starting to adopt the standard American diet, and over the next few generations, started to have diabetes that didn’t exist before and heart disease that didn’t exist before as they were adopting our diets. And it’s very frustrating to see as some of us have this knowledge; we’re still sharing the wrong information.

Dr. McDougall: Yeah, I think China is a great example. Before 1980, they had no obesity, no type 2 diabetes, virtually didn’t exist. You can find all this published in the Journal of American Medical Association in the year 2013. They did the evaluation of the health of the Chinese population, and before 1980, when 90% of their diet was rice. It was white rice, but they still did well on white rice. Before 1980, people were really healthy, and then China became an economic giant. And now, they brag, and they do brag, that 12% of their population is frankly diabetic, and half are prediabetic, and obesity is rampant. A same thing has happened in India at the same time. It used to be only the high classed, the high tiered people on the continent of India that were fat and diabetic and sick, and now, it came out last year, that the middle class in the continent of India, they also retained the same poor health as the high class. So it’s just spreading worldwide as people have access, because of fossil fuel, and because of technologies that we’ve developed. As people have access to all this rich food, everybody can eat like a king and a queen, and they get fat and sick like kings and queens. They’re dying, their families are dying, the planet is dying, and I don’t know you fix it. There’s got to be some way to make it profitable to do the right thing, and so far, very few people have figured out how to make money doing the right thing.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, let’s talk about that, because there are some businesses now that are promoting a plant based diet, but they’re creating highly processed foods made from plants, and that’s where the investments are.

Dr. McDougall: Yeah, that’s of course a growing business to make a veggie burger look like a bloody beef burger. You know there are companies that do that.

Caryn Hartglass: It doesn’t even taste good.

Dr. McDougall: It’s the wrong message. You’ve got to listen to my words carefully, because I don’t really mean exactly what I’m saying. Our focus of attention shouldn’t be eating a vegan or vegetarian diet, because vegan diets can be oil, and fake meats, and fake cheeses, and there are too many fat sick vegans out there. Our focus of attention needs to be to obtain the bulk of our calories from starch, like traditionally I told you just a minute ago that people did. You obtain most of your food, 90%, 70%, probably 90% of your calorie intake from traditional foods, like potatoes and corn like the Mayans and the Aztecs are the people of the corn.

Caryn Hartglass: I like potatoes. I like corn.

Dr. McDougall: The reason that people like potatoes is because that’s the food for human beings. If you ask the question, “What does a cat eat?”, well cats kind of eat meat. I have a little cat on the side of porch right now, and he brings me little birds, and little moles, and little rodents everyday with a big smile on his face, and he thinks that I’m going to be happy, but I keep telling him, I keep saying, “Einstein, that’s not my food”, and I turn around and offer him a baked potato, and he looks up at me, and he thinks, “Hey dad, that’s not my food”.

Caryn Hartglass: Your cat’s name is Einstein?

Dr. McDougall: This cat’s name is Einstein. He’s our last pet. Yeah, okay, you can go vegan, vegetarian, whatever you want to call it. Whole food, plant based nutrition is a great word used, but it doesn’t really tell people what they need to eat. You need to eat starch. You are a starchivore, a starchitarian. You’re a starch eater, and you live in New York, and so you have all kinds of ethnic populations. And they can stop right now on this radio show, right now when they’re listening; they can stop and say, “Huh, that’s what my grandma and grandpa ate. My parents are from Thailand, and that’s what they ate. They were never overweight, never had diabetes” or “My parents, they’re from Mexico or Central America. They lived on corn and beans, and nobody was sick or fat”. So all of your listeners out there, if they just stop for a minute and think back about their childhood, their grandmother, grandpa, what they ate, and what’s happened in these 35, 50, 70 years time, they go, “Uh huh. This is no mystery why people are sick. This is no mystery why we’re destroying the planet and things aren’t going right, and why the biggest shiniest buildings in your town are hospitals”. It’s the food, and I think that’s the name of your show, isn’t it?

Both: It’s All About Food!

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I want to ask you about oil. Many people when I talk about not consuming oil are quite surprised. In fact, I have a very dear friend with me in the studio right now. She just arrived from the south of France, and I told her what we’re going to be talking about, and one of the things is oil. Can you talk about oil?

Dr. McDougall: Sure. Oil is essential for human health. It’s delivered and packages like oranges, and potatoes, and rice, and corn. And what people have been doing for quite a while. Oil doesn’t exist in a free form in nature. You have to process the food to get the oil out, so what people have been doing for a long time is they’ve been taking corn, and olives, and nuts, and so on, and they’ve been processing them, and squeezing the oil out, and now they have isolated oil. This is not food. This is isolated fat. There’s no protein, no sugar, no vitamins, no minerals. It’s just isolated fat.

Caryn Hartglass: No fiber.

Dr. McDougall: No nothing. It’s just oil. So they process it out of the food, and now it becomes at best a medication, and at worse, a serious toxin, poison. And your friend, I don’t know what she looks like, but if she’s right there in the street, I would tell her that one of the–

Caryn Hartglass: She’s slim and lovely.

Dr. McDougall: Oh good. Well, if she wasn’t, then maybe it would be more meaningful, but one of the mantras I teach my patients is, “The fats you eat, is the fats you wear”, and the most efficient thing the body can do with oil is just move it from the fork and spoon to your body fat. And it does it so efficiently, it doesn’t even changed the chemical structure of the fat, so if I biopsy your butter, your thigh, or your abdomen, and analyze that fat in your body, I can tell what you like to eat. If I analyze it, and it’s full of omega-3 fats, I know you’re a big fish eater. If it’s full of monounsaturated fats and olive oils, your preference is full of margarine, or full of trans fats, and I know you’re eating margarine.

Caryn Hartglass: So you can tell the difference between a coconut butt or a fish butt?

Dr. McDougall: Yeah, it is not that simple, but for example, people who eat dairy, there’s a particular chemical structure where the double bonds are placed at the carbon-15 and 17 position. So if I biopsied somebody’s butt fat, and took it to a lab and analyzed it, and I saw a lot of C-15s, C-17s fats in their body fat, I know they’re really into cheese, and milk, and things like that. So yeah, the fats you eat are the fats you wear. And the other thing you should know is that good fats, they’re called omega-3 fats; they’re very powerful drugs. They send the blood caused bleeding problems; they suppress the immune system, increase your risk of infection, and dramatically promote cancer growth. And then the omega-6 fats, which were like sunflower oil and corn oil, they’re a highly [?] 3, 4 years ago to prevent heart disease. We took out animal fat and replaced it with polyunsaturated fats. Well, at least we’re omega-6 fats. And now these days, analyzing the data from the studies done 40 years ago, we see that those who went to the good omega-6 fats have more heart disease; more damaged arteries than those who stayed on the butter. So these oils are dangerous. They make you fat; they cause type 2 diabetes; they damaged the arteries; they change the immune system, when they’re isolated. Now, when they’re in the food, in the orange, the banana, etc. they’re not only perfectly fine, they’re necessary.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, two quick questions. You said those studies showed that butter was better than omega-6 oils.

Dr. McDougall: Yeah, omega-6 right? There were studies done like the [?] health study, and a whole bunch of randomized, well controlled trials that they did in the 1970s, when they believed that the answer was to switch from saturated fats. Saturated fat means meat, dairy, and eggs. That’s synonymous. So they could see based upon all kinds of epidemiologic data and thousands of animal experiments that eating saturated fat or animal fat plugged the arteries, and so they cause disease and strokes. So the researches back then — 40 years ago — decided they’ll set up these control trials, and they’ll take the animal fat out and replace it with sunflower oil or corn oil, with oils. And they saw more cancer, more gallbladder disease in the oil consuming groups, and over the last couple of years — several journals including the British medical journal — I have published follow-up results of those experiments, where they used these omega-6 oils and showing that the damage to the arteries was horrible, and worsened heart disease and so on, and later an amount in animal fat. So the point being is you want to eat oil, but you want to eat it in the form of a bowl of rice, or a bowl of beans. Don’t eat it as an isolated, concentrated ingredient. It’s toxic.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I got you. Thank you. I really like the way you pointed out a number of things in the book that I just wanted to mention. One, which I never realized I talk about on the show, and with many people over the decades about protein, calcium, and omega-3 oils. I never made the connection on kind of how they’ve been marketed. We think of animal food as protein, we think of milk as calcium, and we think of fish as omega-3 oils, and it’s a very limited and not a very good way to think of those nutrients, and we forget about all the other nutrients that are so important.

Dr. McDougall: Well, this is just business at its worst. What these industries, the meat industry, the dairy industry, and so on, they’re just doing the same thing as the car industry, and your lipstick manufacturer, or whatever. They’re doing something called unique positioning. What you do, is you find something unique about your product, or you advertise it big time to the death of your customers in this case. So when I mention protein, people automatically say meat, dairy, and eggs. Well, that concept that was created by those industries, because there has never, ever, in all of human history or scientific research, ever been a case of protein deficiency ever reported. It’s nonexistent, unless your starving to death, and then everything’s deficient. Likewise, if I mention calcium, the dairy industry has worked for 80 years to try and make the connection of their product, which is high in calcium, to good health. But there’s never been a case of calcium deficiency ever reported on any natural diet in all of human history. They uniquely position an ingredient in their food, however there’s no disease related for not eating that food. It’s just so bizarre, it’s hard to believe, unless you study it, but it’s just business. They’re not trying to hurt you. This is not a conspiracy. They just want you to buy their beef, or their pig, or chicken. That’s all they’re trying to do. They’re just acting like all human beings too. And then the third point is omega-3 fats and fish. No animal can desaturate it at the carbon-3 position. No animal can create omega-3 fats. Only plants do that. If a fish has omega-3 fats, because it ate algae, or some other seaweeds, because only plants can make that particular chemical change, which is to make a double bond at the 3 position. But anyway, that’s what they do. They just do business, and the result is your children are fat, and constipated, and sick, and your female spouses are dying of breast and uterine cancer, and your male spouses are dying of heart attacks, and everybody in the family’s fat and sick. And you’re paying four times as much for your food as you should be, because you’re eating all their expensive garbage, whereas you could be living on rice, which you can get for about 25 bucks for 50 pounds, and beans you can get 20 pounds for 14 dollars, and potatoes you can get 20 pounds for 9 dollar at Costco. So they’re ripping you off. They’re killing you. They’re stealing your money. Basically, they’re criminals. They’re basically criminals who are getting away with it, and nobody can stop because they have all the money.

Caryn Hartglass: And there’s a lot of medical malpractice that’s going on just either from ignorance or —

Dr. McDougall: We could 10 more shows on that.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, I know. Okay, I want to ask you about supplements. So you promote using B-12, but you don’t recommend taking vitamin D?

Dr. McDougall: Well, B-12 is the only nutrient that I recommend people add back, and it’s a long story. If you don’t B-12, and you’re a strict vegan, your chance of having a disease related B-12 deficiency is probably less than one in a million. But just to avoid the subject, I’ve always recommended B-12. But the whole D story I’d like to spend my time on, is that vitamin D as all of you old enough to remember, comes from the sun, and it always did, always will. The action of sunlight on various [?] in your skin makes vitamin D through a whole bunch of processes in the kidney, and the liver, and so on. Well, that’s where it’s supposed to come from, is to get sun. Well, things happen. Maybe 30 years ago, researchers noticed that as people moved away from the equator, they had lower vitamin D levels in their blood, and they also had more heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, obesity, etc. So what they said is, “Well, it must be a lack of vitamin D that’s causing these disease”, because as you go away from the equator, you have less ultraviolet radiation exposed to you. That’s true, but also as you move away from the equator, populations eat more meat and dairy, and less starch. And that’s really the true factor. But anyways, to get to the bottom end of the story, what happened is this became one of biggest cases of disease maundering in all of medical history. Disease maundering is turning people into patients. So what the doctors in the laboratories in the supplement industry did as they went out and encouraged everybody to check their D levels, well 9 out of 10 people flunked the vitamin D test for a couple of reasons. One, they don’t get enough sun. The other is they’re chronically ill, and one of the results of chronic illness and chronic inflammation is it suppresses D levels. But anyways, the bottom line is that everybody’s taking vitamin D. When I say everybody, I would say half of my patients. So they’re taking vitamin D. It raises their vitamin D levels. However, the outcomes, which you’re looking for, the positive outcomes are not there. In fact, it’s negative. Three major studies have been published in the last five years that show when you supplement people with vitamin D either by pills of injections, all three major studies, and there aren’t any other ones, so you can go look for them if you want. But these are randomized control trials. They all show that those who take supplements have an increased risk of falls and fractures, because the vitamin D is unnatural. You’re supposed to get it from the sun, and it causes nutritional imbalances that lead to nerve and muscle problems, and more falls. It’s just a bad deal, but it’s a big business.

Caryn Hartglass: Wow. I need to read those studies, and I’m kind of fascinated about this, because you’re the only one I’ve heard this from.

Dr. McDougall: Well, go to my March 2015 newsletter at, and you’ll see two studies discussed. Since I wrote that March 2015 newsletter, JAMA Internal Medicine came out with a third, so you can find the three studies. There are no other large, well done studies that show otherwise. Researchers, scientists, people who take the trouble to read the science know what the truth is. And unfortunately, it’s not profitable, so the truth gets told through the eyes of the financial accountants.

Caryn Hartglass: So what if you’re eating the healthiest diet on earth, and you get a reasonable amount of sun, and you have low levels of vitamin D.

Dr. McDougall: Well, first of all, reasonable amounts of sun. A very white person like I am, you can make all your vitamin D at a latitude of Boston by exposing my hands and cheeks to five minutes of sunshine at noon, three times a week. That’s all you need. Now, if you’re a darker person, you need more. You should get sun. It’s extremely important, but you don’t need a lot. More is better to a point, to the point where you start damaging your skin. You don’t want to do that. And the other thing you can do is you can stop your diseases of chronic inflammation, which is you become chronically inflamed by consuming animal foods and not consuming vegetable foods and grains, which is contrary to what you’re told, but if you want to see the major studies, I’ve put those studies in The Healthiest Diet on the Planet. I have a whole two pages of the studies that clearly show that eating animal foods cause tremendous inflammation in the body, and eating plant foods does exactly the opposite, and those who say otherwise, don’t have any research on their side to prove it, except for some convoluted interpretation of some extremely weak evidence. They’re lying. They’re plain and simple lying. So just go out, get some sun, go for a walk, and eat a starch based diet, and likely most of your problems will go away, you’ll get off your blood pressure pills, diabetic pills, and your bowels will work, and your indigestion will stop, and you can play with your grand kids, and whatever. It’s really that simple.

Caryn Hartglass: And life is good.

Dr. McDougall: Life is good.

Caryn Hartglass: I have one last question. The title of your book, The Healthiest Diet on the Planet. Now, I know a lot of books are growing with sensational titles today to get people’s attention. Is this indeed the healthiest diet on the planet?

Dr. McDougall: That title was brought to me by my editor, and yes, it is the healthiest diet on the planet. It’s the diet that 99.999% of people who walked planet earth have consumed as we’ve talked about. People are starch eaters, so it is the healthiest diet on the planet without a question. It’s the diet that almost everybody who’s lived on planet earth has eaten, and I think it’s a very catchy title. I think it’s absolutely true. I know other people who make certain claims, but if you just open your eyes and look at the things you and I’ve talked about for the last few minutes, you can see that. You can see that the grandma and grandpa who came from Africa. They had no hemorrhoids, they had no gallbladder disease, they had no heart disease, no breast cancer, yet African Americans today are horribly diseased with cancer, and obesity, and heart disease. It has nothing to do with your genetics. It has to do with the change of a diet from a starch based diet — which they ate in rural Africa, a diet of corn, and beans, and brewed vegetables and so on — to moving to New York city and eating a diet high in meat and oil, animal foods and oil. This is not rocket science. Every single one of your listeners, if they just stopped for a minute, and they just looked around, and open their eyes, and think about their experience, they’d go, “Oh my goodness. This is so stupid. Where do you make money teaching people this”? That’s the problem.

Caryn Hartglass: Well, Dr. McDougall, I want to thank you very much for joining me, and I also want to take a moment to thank your wife, Mary. The recipes in the back look great, and you talk about eating potatoes, and rice, and corn. You can eat them plain, and they’re great, but she’s put together many wonderful recipes that make those foods even more delicious, and fascinating, and fun.

Dr. McDougall: Well, I will tell her that, and I will give her a big hug too.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay. Yeah, please give her a hug for me, and I’m giving you a hug too.

Dr. McDougall: My pleasure.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you again, Dr. McDougall, the Healthiest Diet on the Planet.

Transcribed by Kevin Zhao and Doreen Morton, 12/24/2016

  3 comments for “John McDougall, MD, The Healthiest Diet on the Planet

  1. Thank you for your information of the highest quality vegetarian cuisine, i’ll appreciate any information you send me, I do have one question why is it that Pescatarians from Loma Linda have the longest lifespan in United States?

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