John A. McDougall
John A. McDougall; (born May 17, 1947) is an American physician and author. He has written a number of diet and medical books advocating the consumption of a low-fat vegan diet based on starchy foods and fruits and vegetables. His eponymous diet, published in the The McDougall Plan, was a New York Times bestseller, as well as other of his books. The diet rejects all animal products as well as cooking oils, processed food, and alcoholic beverages. He is a frequent lecturer on health topics and is a prolific presenter on internet sources such as YouTube.
He was born in Detroit, Michigan. Raised in Midwest America, in a lower-middle class family, McDougall grew up with the rich western diet at every meal. At 18, while a student at Michigan State University, he suffered a massive stroke which paralyzed one side of his body temporarily. As he was recovering, he developed an interest in the medical profession.
McDougall is a graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. He performed his internship at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1972 and his medical residency at the University of Hawaii. McDougall contributed to Vegetarian Times magazine and has appeared on radio and television talk shows.
McDougall is also a member of the advisory board of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). In 2016, he was one of four named plaintiffs in a lawsuit by the PCRM alleging improper influence by the egg industry on establishing cholesterol recommendations in the United States. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2016.
As of 2022, he’s been married to Mary McDougall for over 50 years. They have three children and seven grandchildren and live in Portland, Oregon.
McDougall began his medical practice on a sugarcane plantation in Hawaii in the early 1970s. There he began to formulate his theories about nutrition and health by observing hundreds of multigenerational patients over a period of several years. These people were all immigrants to Hawaii from various Pacific Islands, such as the Philippines and Japan. He noticed that the first-generation immigrants that continued the traditional diet of rice and vegetables stayed healthy even into their old age. The newer generations that adopted the Western diet appeared to quickly develop degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and other common problems. When he began to realize that the traditional starch diet, in this case rice-based diet, was much healthier, he began to look up supporting evidence in the medical literature and was surprised to find that it was abundant.
His exploration of the research of scientists and doctors such as Nathan Pritikin, Walter Kempner, and Denis Burkitt cemented his ideas on diet’s profound effect on health. While these ideas were strongly based on medical research, they were often outside the realm of mainstream medical practice and nutrition. However, since about 2010 there has been a growing movement within the medical and nutrition professional communities that bolsters the validity of the basic tenets of the McDougall diet.
Dr. McDougall ran a clinic at St. Helena Adventist Hospital in Santa Rosa, California, from 1986 until 2002. At one time, this hospital was the number two rated cardiac care center in the state of California, during the tenure of Dr. McDougall.
In 2002, McDougall began the McDougall Program at the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, California. The McDougall Program in Santa Rosa, was a 10-day residential treatment program which featured a low-fat, starch-based, vegan diet. As of 2021 the program is now completely online, but still offers live, personalized medical advice.
He was also licensed at one time in five states to practice medicine and as of 2022 retains licenses in four states, including California and Oregon. He is a board-certified internist.
Since about 2018, McDougall has made his main focus using the power of diet to prevent catastrophic climate change. He continues his work from a Portland, Oregon, base.
Diet programs and products
The diet is high in fiber and contains no cholesterol, and is based on a variety of starches such as rice, potatoes, corn, breads, and pasta and fruits and vegetables. For example, a meal might be made of a baked potato with steamed broccoli, or brown rice with steamed vegetables, perhaps with a piece of fruit for dessert. McDougall is known for being a staunch advocate of eating potatoes for nutrition and environmental reasons.
McDougall is the co-founder of California-based Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods Inc., which produces dried and packaged soups, a company that he has now sold, under license.
McDougall has promoted his diet as primary prevention or even treatment of chronic disorders, including arthritis, atherosclerosis, many cancers, diabetes, hypertension, and osteoporosis.
Other medical views
He argues that starch-based diets are the traditional diet of the human animal and have been for many thousands of years. He has provided peer-reviewed anthropological evidence to support this thesis.
McDougall has been an outspoken advocate of conservative medical care, especially in regards to treating breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. He has helped pass legislation in various states, such as California, mandating that physicians inform patients of their options when they are diagnosed with breast cancer.
The reception of McDougall's work has varied. His work in his earlier career was perhaps considered controversial, but in the 21st century seems to be gaining wider acceptance. He and colleagues have published a number of peer-reviewed journal articles showing the validity of his work.
Over his career, McDougall has been criticized by some for making unsubstantiated health claims. Some of his dietary recommendations are in line with mainstream nutritional advice, such as an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but others have been considered extreme by some observers. McDougall’s diet plan has been called a low-fat, fad diet that may lead to flatulence, possibly poor mineral absorption from excess fiber and limited food choices that sometimes may lead to nutrient deprivation. Some commentators allege that the diet places patients at risk of being deprived of zinc, vitamin D, calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12 when followed strictly.
McDougall has dismissed these criticisms and maintains that his nutritional advice is based on a large body of peer-reviewed scientific evidence going back a century. He in effect makes a counterclaim that the fad diet is the high-meat and dairy, vegetable oil, and processed foods diet of the current day and that it is what is now causing so many health problems. He cites population studies that show that those that consume traditional starch-based diets, such as the Tarahumara Indians of northern Mexico, suffer very little from modern maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders. He does recommend vitamin B12 supplements for those on a vegan diet long-term.
McDougall has built professional associations with a wide range of respected lifestyle medicine researchers and physicians including Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Dean Ornish, Caldwell Esselstyn, and Alan Goldhamer. He gave a TEDx Fremont lecture titled “The food we were born to eat”, with several million views on YouTube [as of Dec. 1, 2022]. In 2018, he received the distinguished lifetime service award from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
A 2014 observational study found that patients who undertook the McDougall diet saw improved predictors of cardiovascular and metabolic health after 1 week on the diet plan. McDougall’s dieting advice has been studied for its efficacy in patients with relapsing–remitting multiple sclerosis; a 2016 randomized controlled trial did not find significant evidence that the diet affects the severity or progression a patient’s multiple sclerosis, but it did find that people on the diet showed lowered cholesterol, improved their insulin levels, experienced weight loss, and experienced reductions in fatigue. Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders 9:80–90 (2016), https://www.msard-journal.com/article/S2211-0348(16)30100-6/pdf
An independent study using the protocols of the McDougall diet to treat diabetes, obesity, and ischemic heart disease. N. Wright, L. Wilson, M. Smith, B. Duncan, and P. McHugh, “The BROAD study: A randomised controlled trial using a whole food plant-based diet in the community for obesity, ischaemic heart disease or diabetes”. Nutrition & Diabetes 7:e256 (2017), https://www.nature.com/articles/nutd20173
Selected list of books
McDougall has written books, with his wife Mary contributing recipes, that have sold more than 1.5 million copies.
Previous National Best-Selling McDougall Books
- The McDougall Plan
- McDougall’s Medicine: A Challenging Second Opinion
- The McDougall Health Supporting Cookbook, Volume 1
- The McDougall Health Supporting Cookbook, Volume 2
- The McDougall Plan: 12 Days to Dynamic Health (1990), ISBN 978-0453006590
- The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss (1994), ISBN 978-0525936787
- The New McDougall Cookbook (1993), ISBN 978-0525936107
- The McDougall Program for Women
- The McDougall Program for a Healthy Heart
- The McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook (1997), ISBN 978-0525942085
- Dr. McDougall’s Digestive Tune-up
- The Starch Solution (2013), ISBN 978-1609613938
- The Healthiest Diet on the Planet
- Some content on this page may previously have appeared on Wikipedia.