In each issue Vegetarians in Paradise presents the 24 Carrot Award to an outstanding person or organization that endeavors to practice or promote education, natural health, wholesome nutrition, and ecology techniques for the mutual benefit of humans, animals, and the earth.
Vegetarians in Paradise proudly presents its 24 Carrot Award to John McDougall, M.D. , renowned physician and researcher, lecturer, television personality and author of numerous best selling health books. Through his website at http://www.drmcdougall.com and his work at his clinic, he has been an inspiration and health resource to people around the world. Dr. McDougall clearly exemplifies the positive aspects of a compassionate lifestyle by devoting his life to helping others.
What follows are the questions asked by Vegetarians in Paradise (VIP) and the answers by John McDougall (JM).
VIP: What circumstances in your medical career led you to focus on diet and nutrition as a means for combating disease? What personal experiences led you to vegetarianism? How long have you been vegan?
JM: I was trained as a regular medical doctor in the state of Michigan, and then I went to Hawaii when I started practicing medicine as a plantation doctor back between 1973 and 1976. I was confronted with some interesting observations. First thing was that when I tried to treat my patients with the means that were given me, in other words, drugs and surgery, they did not get better. As a matter of fact, I caused a lot of harm in my patients by administering the kinds of remedies that had been taught during my very expensive and thorough medical education. This led me to become a very frustrated physician.
The second thing that happened which was unique to where I was living on a sugar plantation on Honoka'a on the Big Island was that I met first, second, third, and fourth generation Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans. These people taught me very important lessons about nutrition and disease.
My patients who ate the "worst diet" as I had been taught, my first generation patients who moved to Hawaii from Japan, Korea, China or the Philippines actually were my healthiest patients. These people skipped the first two food groups, the dairy group and the meat group, and yet, they were always trim. They avoided heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and arthritis, by and large, and they also lived to work and function fully into their eighties and sometimes nineties on a diet primarily of rice and vegetables.
As the second, third, and fourth generation became more Westernized and learned to eat more rich foods, in other words, a "well-balanced diet," they became fatter and sicker. And so this caused me to reevaluate everything I was taught previously about "good nutrition."
After my days on the Big Island of Hawaii I went back into residency training at the University of Hawaii Medical Residency Program, and I started studying the scientific literature found in the medical libraries. What I discovered is other researchers had also observed that rich foods could make people sick, in other words, the typical American diet. But more importantly, I discovered when you stop feeding people all this rich food and, instead, feed them a diet similar to my first generation patients that I had taken care of on the plantation, people become thin and free of their diseases. Once I discovered the power of good nutrition and the fact that it was much more effective in treating common problems than was any surgery or medication that I had available, I decided that this was the way I was going to practice medicine.
Because of this decision to practice medicine based on a healthy vegetarian diet, I myself had to change my personal diet. After all, you cannot teach something that you don't practice yourself. And, therefore, back in 1973 we started changing our diet and completed our dietary change by 1978. By this time we were essentially vegan.
Fortunately, I was married to a person who was willing to become creative in the kitchen, and she designed recipes that became major parts of our books over the next several years. We eat this kind of diet. We enjoy these foods, so we have no problem recommending them to other people. This approach has led me to state, "I am the luckiest doctor in the world." The reason I'm so fortunate is because my patients get well, and the greatest gift in life is the opportunity to help other people.
VIP: Over the years people have been talking about either the McDougall Plan or the McDougall Program. What's involved in both of these?
JM: I would consider both of them essentially the same. I don't distinguish between the two. Probably the most important distinction is that this is not a diet that you go on for a period of time to lose some weight, and then you go back to your "regular routine." What I try and teach people is a "lifestyle," and this lifestyle, I believe, is to follow a diet that is intended for human beings. I believe the diet based on starches with the addition of fruits and vegetables that we encourage people to eat is what people were designed to eat. And as a result, they look, feel, and function their best.
I believe people can eat rich foods if they choose, but rich foods are best kept for special occasions for trim, healthy people who are willing to take the risk. In other words, you may decide that you're going to have turkey for Thanksgiving, ham for Christmas, candy for Halloween, and eggs for Easter, but that kind of decision is not a decision for good health. That's a decision you may make for more hedonistic reasons. The people who decide to eat these rich foods intended for holidays, everyday, end up looking like kings and queens of the past. In other words, they're fat; they have the gout, diabetes, and arthritis. These effects from rich foods have been occurring throughout all of human history. The only difference now is that almost everybody who lives in a Western society can afford to eat like a king and queen, and as a consequence, they look like the aristocrats of the past.
VIP: You have a website at http://www.drmcdougall.com/ What will people expect to find when they click on it?
JM: On my website http://www.drmcdougall.com I provided all the information people would need to follow the program. If people explore the newsletter archives, they'll find a book that is very complete and talks about gastrointestinal diseases. In my more recent articles they'll find a thorough discussion of nutrition including our real calcium and protein needs, and the effects of serious malnutrition, in other words, the American diet, on people's health. Furthermore, we have a section called the Star McDougallers that gives examples of interesting people who changed their lives through simple dietary, cost-free changes. We also have a discussion board where people can support each other. It's a very active, warm and friendly discussion board.
Sometimes people will tell me it's too expensive to follow the McDougall program and come to your clinic that you run in Santa Rosa, California. My response to that is that everything you need to know is up on the website. All you have to do is put a little work into it. As a matter of fact, there are over 120 recipes freely available for you on that website as well as all the medical nutritional information that you need. Therefore, there is no excuse for someone not following our program. Furthermore, following the kind of diet we recommend cuts the food bill by 40%. Anybody who wants the books can go to the library to get the books for free also.
VIP: Are Star McDougallers your fan club? How does a person become a Star McDougaller?
JM: Star McDougallers are examples of people who have changed their lives through simple dietary lifestyle changes. I pick people who will provide inspiration as well as a lesson about dietary changes and their benefits. I don't necessarily pick people that had been 100% successful, but rather people who could demonstrate the benefits of putting efforts into their lives. The people that are shared in the Star McDougaller section are examples of success that every doctor would be proud to claim.
These are absolute medical miracles that would never have occurred through any use of surgery or pharmaceuticals available. They do occur for a very simple reason, and that is that the therapy that these people decided to choose is to correct the underlying cause of their problems. In other words, they're fat and sick because they eat too much rich food and don't exercise enough, and they have remedied those to underlying causes. People who want to be Star McDougallers initiate opportunity by sending me an e-mail. My e-mail address is on my website.
VIP: How does your program differ from others that may be similar?
JM: I'd like to say that the McDougall program is similar to many other programs that are equally beneficial, such as the Pritikin Program, the natural hygiene philosophy, macrobiotics, the Dean Ornish program, and the Walter Kempner program from Duke University.
Ours differs primarily in the fact that I teach a very strict philosophy. The reason I teach that strict philosophy is that it's easier to follow. In other words, most of these other programs offer compromises. It's like you can have a little meat, a little dairy, and so on. And people have a hard time following recommendations that give that kind of leeway. In other words, it's much easier to change if you're 100%. For example, the people who decide to quit smoking, they must quit completely. They don't just cut down. I've never seen an alcoholic give up their addiction by switching to beer.
Therefore, we teach the diet that best supports health. It's a diet that's based on starches with the addition of vegetables and fruits. And if you are to consume any delicacies, these are for special occasions that are not part of your health-supporting diet. The other great advantage I have is that Mary McDougall has designed and provided recipes that are easy to make, very tasty, and always turn out excellent in people's kitchens. Therefore, we've made an extremely practical, livable program, and nobody has an excuse for not following it.
VIP: You have written some best-selling books on health. Could you give us a few of the titles? Which would be a good starting point for someone unfamiliar with your work?
JM: We have 10 national best selling books. Some of them have been on the New York Times and other book lists for best sellers. I would suggest people start out with the McDougall Quick and Easy Cookbook. This provides practical recipes that can be prepared in less than 15 minutes. The McDougall Program: 12 Days to Dynamic Health is a very basic book that tells you the principles. The McDougall Program for Women goes into all kinds of very important women's issues. McDougall Program for a Healthy Heart is essential for someone who is dealing with heart disease or would like to simply prevent heart disease. The McDougall Program for Maximum Weight Loss deals with the issues of weight loss and how to focus on this particular part of people's health and appearance. We have The New McDougall Cookbook that has further recipes.
Probably one of the best things we've done for people over the last three years is to provide over 21 hours of high-quality professional DVDs. The easiest way for people to learn is to see and hear the experts lecture on these subjects. These DVDs are inexpensive and can be purchased on our website. Therefore, when someone asks me what we should start with, my suggestion is to pick one of our DVDs and start with the Quick and Easy Cookbook. They should also subscribe to the newsletter that is free, and you get on that newsletter list by going to http://www.drmcdougall.com
VIP: We understand you are on television. Could you give us the details and tell us a bit about the program? You were also featured on a talk radio show. Can we look forward to you returning to radio in the future?
JM: I also have a weekly television show. At the present time it's on TBN, Trinity Broadcasting Network and that is on Tuesday mornings. You'll find it at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time, and 8:30 a.m. Pacific time. It plays all over the world in 95% of the households.
VIP: What are the goals and principal activities of the McDougall Research and Education Foundation? How is it funded? What are some of the research projects authorized by the foundation?
JM: We have a tax deductible 501c3 corporation that allows people to donate and take a tax deduction. The goal of this foundation is to provide education on our dietary philosophy as well as to launch some legal efforts to challenge people who are teaching incorrect information, including the U.S. government. We also have research projects going. For example, we've done research on our basic program and have published it. We've also done research on rheumatoid arthritis. I plan to do further research on rheumatoid arthritis, and to do a study on multiple sclerosis. We may soon publish a study that we've started on halitosis (bad breath) caused by animal foods.
VIP: If a person resolves to improve his/her health and lose weight at the same time, what initial dietary measures would you recommend?
JM: What I'd recommend is that you sit down and decide what are the starches, fruits and vegetables you particularly enjoy. Make yourself a meal plan. I would recommend that you don't get too diverse in your selection. In other words, you should just find one thing you like for breakfast, one or two things you like for lunch, two or three things for dinner. Find a few restaurants in your neighborhood that you can order foods from that fit your starch-based meal plan, such as Mexican restaurants where you can get beans and rice, Thai restaurants where you can get rice and vegetable dishes, Chinese restaurants -- the same kind of order.
I also suggest you start an exercise program. The most important things to focus on are to get all the animal products, oils and the simple sugars out of your diet--and the whole plant foods back into it. To accentuate weight loss you may want to focus more on green and yellow vegetables.
VIP: Many people feel that anyone on a vegan diet should take a multivitamin and B12. What is your view of vitamins and supplements and especially supplements for vegetarians and vegans?
JM: In each and every one of our books and DVDs we recommend that if you're going to be on our program for more than 3 years, or if you're pregnant and are nursing a baby, that you add a non-animal source of vitamin B12 to your diet. You can buy this in the form of pills or sublingual tablets. I make this recommendation because there is this extremely rare possibility that you could develop B12 deficiency on a pure vegan diet. The risk is less than one in a million that you could develop a disease related to B12 deficiency.
However, I would hate to hurt anybody. Furthermore, people like to hear good news about their bad habits, so that if anybody did develop a problem based on my dietary recommendations, it would hit front-page national headline news. I don't want to give anybody that opportunity, so, therefore, I've covered all bases and make that recommendation for a B12 supplement.
VIP: We understand you lead groups of people on trips to exotic foreign locales in your McDougall Adventures. What places have you visited and how do these travel experiences compare to commercial tours?
JM: People have complained for a long time that every time they go on vacation they have trouble getting foods, and if they do go back to the American diet, they get fat and sick on their vacation. We have felt this is unfair; therefore, we've run vacations for the last 10 years that provide our diet and also attract some very interesting and friendly people. We've taken people to the Galapagos, Peru, down the Amazon River, Brazil, Belize, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, and Alaska.
We plan on taking people to Mexico this year, and other trips may be as far away as Africa and the Middle East, if that part of the world ever settles down. The real advantage of these kinds of trips is that you don't have to think about the food. It's all low-fat high-quality natural ingredients--it's vegan food. Furthermore, in every case it's extremely delicious food. Plus we attract the most interesting people to vacation with us.
VIP: Anyone going into a health food store might find your name on some food products. Could you tell us how this enterprise began and what products are involved?
JM: Over the years I've started several food companies, the idea being that people do not follow the diet because they find it difficult to obtain the foods. Therefore, I tried to make it as convenient as possible. The latest effort is Dr. McDougall's Right Foods. These vegan, low-fat foods in a cup are in most of your supermarkets and natural food stores. They're high-quality ingredients, vegan, and low-fat. You can also order the foods by going to the website at http://www.rightfoods.com
VIP: How do your friends, relatives, and medical associates react to your emphasis on a plant-based diet?
JM: I receive no criticism from the medical establishment. I would say the biggest criticism I get is that people ask, "Why are you so strict." The fact is that I'm a doctor, and I have to make the best recommendations I know to my patients. For example, if you come to me and say I'm tired of coughing and don't want to get lung cancer, how many cigarettes should I smoke? My answer is always the same. "You should quit." If you come to me and say, "I don't want to be fat, how much fat should I eat?" The answer is, basically, none added. If you come to me and say, "I don't want to get breast cancer, how much of these unhealthy foods should I eat? The answer is again none. If you come to me and say, "I want to keep my husband well and he has heart disease, how much cholesterol should I feed him?" You know the answer. So I will be happy to live with that criticism of being too strict.
I do find many of the people in the medical business are interested in dietary issues these days. I think in part because the medical business is so frustrating because the tools we have, especially in the general practice of medicine, are so ineffective. The drugs basically do little good, cause an awful lot of harm, and are extremely expensive. Of course, there are exceptions to that statement.
VIP: What role does your family play in your career activities?
JM: My wife is an equal partner in what we do. We both receive the same amount of enjoyment and work just as hard to help people. We teach at the clinic, we write together, both the newsletters and the books. Our daughter has become the administrator of our program and our weekends. We have what we call Advanced Study Weekends and also 100% McDougall Weekends. Here we invite people for the weekend, feed them healthy food at our clinic, and also invite in fabulous guest speakers, such as Dean Ornish, Henry Heimlich, and Howard Lyman to share their knowledge.
VIP: Of all of your personal accomplishments, which ones give you the most pride and satisfaction?
JM: When I was a young man, my father told me that the greatest enjoyment in life is from helping other people. He also told me that being a doctor affords you the greatest opportunity to help others. I would have to say that everyday the enjoyment I get out of my life is knowing that I made a difference in people's lives. Sometimes people come up to me when I lecture and they'll say, "You're probably tired of hearing this"? They want to tell me about the success they've had. My response to them is, "No, I'm never tired of hearing it." I can't tell you how much enjoyment I get from knowing that I and the rest of our staff have made a real difference in people's lives.
VIP: What personal goals have you set for yourself in the coming years?
JM: I take things less personal these days and get less upset about the fact that people won't listen to this very simple message. My goal is to help as many individuals as I can. I no longer think that I'm going to have the opportunity to change the world. I get a great satisfaction in helping a single person. We're also going to be doing more research than we have in the past, and that's why we have the non-profit foundation to raise money to help do that research.
VIP: What leisure activities and hobbies do you enjoy?
JM: I'm an airplane pilot. I have sailed large sailboats in the past, but at the present time I spend most of my free time windsurfing on the Pacific Ocean. This is something that I sometimes do 21 out of 30 days a month. I also enjoy walking, particularly taking long walks with my grandson. The rest of my spare time is spent reading the scientific literature. I have a passion for the scientific literature, and I often spend two to four hours a day reading research from medical libraries.
VIP: Can you give our readers the main features of the diet and exercise regimen at your clinic?
JM: The diet is based on starches, with the addition of fruits and vegetables. These turn into foods like oatmeal for breakfast, hash browns, waffles and pancakes made of the right ingredients. For lunch. I have all kinds of soups that are vegetable-based: pea soup, bean soup, onion soup, tomato soup, and lentil soup. We do serve whole grain breads to people, particularly if you have foods that you can think of in terms of ethnic origin such as bean burritos, Chinese moo shu vegetables, or Thai curry dishes.
Regarding the exercise program, I usually encourage people to do what they enjoy so that they will continue doing it every day. For example, as I told you I windsurf as often I get a chance to. Pick something that you really like so that you'll stick with it. Even if you don't exercise, you'll still regain a tremendous amount of health by just changing your diet. Exercise puts the finishing touches on a health program and makes you trim, active, more agile, and alert.
VIP: What person or persons have had the most influence on your life?
JM: I'd have to say that my father and mother had the greatest influences on me. One of the things they raised me with is the idea is that I had to be honest. I had to tell the truth. I have always tried to live my life telling people what the truth is as I know it. When I found out the medical business, by and large, had taught people dishonest information based primarily on profits, I rebelled, naturally, and wanted to tell people the truth.
There have been many scientists from the past who have had an influence on me, such as Dr. Roy Swank who has treated multiple sclerosis over the years, Nathan Pritikin who brought to the public the idea of a low-fat, near vegetarian diet, and Walter Kempner from Duke University who taught the rice diet in the 1940s and 1950s. There are several other heroes whose shoulders I stand on.