McDougall Diet

McDougall Diet
McDougall Diet

The McDougall diet provides the structure of a low-fat, starch-based diet to promote a broad range of such health benefits as weight loss and the reversal of such serious health conditions as heart disease , without the use of drugs.


The McDougall diet began as a challenge to Dr. John McDougall by one of his patients. The patient simply asked him if he believed that diet is connected to the health problems he saw in his patients.

At that time, McDougall believed the answer to this question was a definite no. The patient challenged him to ask his patients what they were eating, in order to see if there might be any relationship between their eating habits and their diseases. McDougall agreed, and the McDougall diet was born.

McDougall was a plantation physician based in the village of Honokaa, Hawaii. In his practice, he handled a variety of medical problems from delivering babies to performing brain surgery on accident victims.

Although he felt a lot of satisfaction in saving people’s lives, McDougall was bothered by his inability to help patients with such disease conditions as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and strokes. He decided to further his education and took up another residency in internal medicine.

During his internal medicine residency, McDougall did countless hours of research on the effects of diet and lifestyle on chronic illnesses. Unfortunately, the literature he read seemed to conflict with the approaches he was being taught in his residency.

McDougall began to change his own diet as he studied the literature. Over a period of a year, he began to cut out meat and dairy products and began to focus on eating more green and yellow vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

He noticed many improvements in his own health, such as lower weight, lower blood cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure. The St. Helena Hospital and Health Center in Deer Park, California offered him an opportunity to present his diet program at their facilities in 1986.

Healthier burger
Healthier burger


Many patients who have undertaken the McDougall diet have found an improvement in such conditions as:
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • headaches
  • constipation
  • mild arthritis
  • fatigue
  • body odor
  • oily skin
  • allergies

Another possible benefit of the McDougall program is that patients may find themselves spending less for food. In addition, McDougall points to the possibility of saving considerable amounts of money by avoiding serious and costly health problems.


The McDougall diet focuses on adopting a dietary regimen and lifestyle that encourages human beings’ natural tendencies to be healthy. The program is based on proper foods, moderate exercise, adequate sunshine, clean air and water, and surroundings that promote psychological well-being.

Specifically, the McDougall diet is a very low-fat, starch-based program. Grains, fruits and such starchy plant foods as beans, corn, pastas, potatoes, and rice provide the major components of this diet. There are some fruits and vegetables used in this program that may be quite unfamiliar to the average person.

Some of these include carambola, guava, persimmon, passion fruit, daikon, endive, fava beans, bok choy, kale, kohlrabi, taro root and watercress, to name a few. In addition, some of these foods are more easily obtained and less expensive in Hawaii than they might be in the upper Midwest or Canada.

Dairy products are not used in the McDougall diet. McDougall believes that many allergies and such conditions as post-nasal drip are related to people’s use of dairy products.


More green
More green

Patients should check with their physician before they begin this or any other diet and exercise program if they have any health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or arthritis.

People who have a major health problem, or who are on medication, should request a doctor’s examination before starting this program. This examination should include a complete history and thorough medical workup to use as a baseline evaluation for performance on this program.

McDougall recommends that patients spend sometime evaluating their reasons for undertaking this program. Patients should determine how well they think they will be able to stick to the program for the initial 12 days as well as whether they can stay with the program for life.

Examining any aspects of their lifestyle that are harmful to their health is also important. For example, smoking tobacco, drinking coffee, drinking alcohol, and the use of recreational drugs are all very damaging to anyone’s health.

Since few people can leave their normal environment for 12 days (as people do at the live-in McDougall diet program at the St. Helena Hospital and Health Center), they may find it stressful to work on these lifestyle problems at the same time they are making radical changes in their diet.

Those undertaking this program should also prepare family and friends for the changes this program will cause in their diet. They may find their families unwilling to change, and this fact will require a different approach to the program. On the other hand, McDougall points out that family members often decide to undertake the program themselves when they see the positive changes that result from the diet.

Before undertaking the program, patients will need to stock their pantry with new foods. They will also need to check the availability of the acceptable products in their local grocery and health food stores.


Patients should not undertake this diet program without the advice of a physician if they have any health condition or are currently on medication.

Side effects

The primary negative side effect of the McDougall diet usually comes from caffeine withdrawal. Many people find they suffer from headaches while abstaining from caffeine. Although giving up caffeine is not required by the program, it is strongly recommended.

Research and general acceptance

There is extensive research about the effect of lifestyle and diet on various health conditions, although research on the McDougall diet specifically has not yet been released. Anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that significant improvement in some health problems can be achieved in a relatively short period of time.