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Eat Starch, Lose Weight

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by guest blogger John McDougall, MD, author, internist, and TV host

Most people have been ingrained with the false notion that starch and carbs make you gain weight. If this were true, there would be an epidemic of obesity among the 1.73 billion Asians living on rice-based diets. After moving to the West and replacing their starch-based diet with animal foods, people from Japan and the Philippines would become trimmer and healthier looking. But that's not so. In fact, the opposite happens.

Consider the populations around the world that look the youngest, healthiest, and trimmest. Many are in Japan, China, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, eating mostly rice with some vegetables. In places like Peru where potatoes are the staple food, people are trim and strong. In rural Mexico, we find people eating corn, beans, and squash. No one is overweight or on a diet there. They have no need for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig. Worldwide, populations with the highest dietary consumption of starch are the most trim and fit. Delving deeper, they have extremely low rates of diabetes, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. Their diets are centered around copious quantities of starch, and they're healthy.

The body's metabolism is genetically encoded to run most efficiently on starch. No amount of willpower, dieting, or wishful thinking will change that fundamental fact. The hunger drive keeps us alive. You cannot fool hunger by pushing yourself away from the table, putting down your fork between bites, eating from a small plate, or counting calories. You will never train yourself not to experience the discomfort associated with hunger.

Meat, dairy, animal fats, and vegetable oils lead to excess weight gain and illness. Starches, vegetables, and fruits support a trim, fit body and a lifetime of excellent health.

You may have heard that all calories are the same when it comes to body weight. That's not true, especially when it comes to satisfying the appetite and accumulating fat. Three components of food provide the fuel we know as calories: protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Starches like corn, beans, potatoes, and rice offer abundant carbohydrates and dietary fiber and are very low in fat.

Satisfying the appetite begins with filling the stomach. Compared to cheese (4 calories per gram), meat (4 calories per gram), and oils (9 calories per gram), starches contribute only about 1 calorie per gram. They help you to feel full for just a quarter of the calories in cheese and meat, and one-ninth of those in oil. Plus, they offer a great deal of satisfaction. Research comparing the way carbohydrates and fats appease the appetite shows that carbohydrates lead to hours of satiety, whereas fats have little impact. In other words, when you fill up on starch you stay full for a long time, whereas when you fill up on fats and oils you still want to eat more.

Before I understood the importance of a starch-centered diet, my meals consisted of red meat (no carbohydrates), chicken (no carbohydrates), fish (no carbohydrates), cheese (2 percent carbohydrates), and animal fats and vegetable oils (no carbohydrates). After finishing a full plate of these foods, I still found myself ravenous. My second plate left my belly feeling a sense of physical fullness, yet I was still yearning for more. After my third plate of carbohydrate-deficient foods I finally received the signals that it was time to stop eating: I felt overstuffed and in pain. Still, because I remained unsatisfied, I remember thinking, "If I had room, I would stuff in one more pork chop, I'm still so hungry." At times I wondered whether I might have emotional issues with food. After all, I had just downed large quantities and I was still starving. It wasn't until I began eating sufficient amounts of appetite-satisfying carbohydrates that I realized my "mental illness," commonly known as obsessive-compulsive overeating, was completely cured by this simple shift in my diet.

You can learn more about my diet by visiting

John McDougall, MD is a board-certified internist, author of 11 national best-selling books, the international on-line "McDougall Newsletter," host of the nationally syndicated television show "McDougall M.D.," and medical director of the 10-day, live-in McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, CA. He is an Associate Professor at the Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine, Mare Island,Vallejo, California.

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