The Starch Solution Diet Guide: Pros, Cons + What You Can Eat

Analyzing the High-Carb, Low-Fat Approach To Dieting And Weight Loss

The Starch Solution Diet prioritizes the consumption of starches alongside other plant-based foods.

The claim is that this low-fat, plant-based diet that emphasizes eating foods high in resistant starch will help you lose weight and resolve chronic inflammation, which underlies many lifestyle diseases.

But, is the Starch Solution Diet healthy? Is this starch-based diet good for weight loss?

In this guide, we will discuss what the Starch Solution Diet plan involves, the principles behind its meal plan, foods to eat and foods to avoid, and potential Starch Solution Diet benefits and drawbacks.

Let’s jump in!

Sliced yuca and starch.

What Is the Starch Solution Diet?

The Starch Solution is a whole food, plant-based diet plan that particularly emphasizes eating starches, which are complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber, such as legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and whole grains.

The Starch Solution Diet plan was developed by Dr. John A. McDougall, MD, the founder of the McDougall Programs1Join the Life-Changing McDougall Program. (n.d.). Dr. McDougall. https://www.drmcdougall.com/12-day-program/ and Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods.2Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods Plant-Based & Vegan Oil-Free Meals. (n.d.). Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from https://rightfoods.com/

‌Dr. John McDougall published a book on the Starch Solution Diet called The Starch Solution: Eat the Foods You Love, Regain Your Health, and Lose the Weight for Good! in 2013, which outlines how to follow the Starch Solution Diet for weight loss while also improving markers of health such as decreasing inflammation.

The book also covers John McDougall‘s research on the benefits of a vegan diet on various chronic diseases and health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, and cancer. 

He asserts that following a low-fat plant-based diet that emphasizes consuming foods high in resistant starch will help you lose weight and resolve chronic inflammation, which underlies many lifestyle diseases.

According to Dr. McDougall, the Starch Solution Diet plan is an ideal way of eating for humans because our bodies are designed to digest and metabolize the complex carbohydrates in starchy foods.

He claims that the Starch Solution Diet can support weight loss and improve overall health because the foods are nutritious, rich in antioxidants and fiber, and contain “resistant starch,“ which supports metabolism, controls appetite, and can help you lose weight.

The Starch Solution meal plan focuses on consuming low-fat meals that are made with primarily natural, unprocessed, plant-based foods such as vegetables, legumes such as beans, whole grains, and fruits.

Quinoa.

How Does the Starch Solution Diet Differ From a Traditional Vegan Diet?

As a plant-based diet, the Starch Solution meal plan removes all animal products like the vegan diet. This includes all meat, fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, and foods that contain animal products.

However, there are differences between the Starch Solution Diet and vegan diet plans.

The vegan diet eliminates all animal products but does not stipulate anything else you cannot eat.

In addition to animal products, the Starch Solution Diet also removes all vegetable oils, processed foods, sugar, and simple carbohydrates and puts limits on fatty foods such as avocados, nuts, and seeds.

This is primarily because the vegan diet is a lifestyle eating pattern not necessarily designed for weight loss, whereas Dr. McDougall designed the Starch Solution Diet plan for weight loss and health.

He believes consuming too much fat, even “healthy fats, “ will cause health problems and impede weight loss.

Chickpeas in a heart-shaped ramekin.

As such, the Starch Solution Diet meal plan is a low-fat vegan diet.

Although the Starch Solution Diet book emphasizes following the meal plan for weight loss, Dr. McDougall notes that you can follow the diet for general health and disease reduction.

Therefore, if weight loss is not your goal, you can still follow the Starch Solution Diet by adjusting your caloric intake.

Although not required, Dr. McDougall recommends kickstarting your Starch Solution Diet plan with what he calls the 7-Day Sure-Start Plan.

This is basically an all-you-can-eat high-starch diet to see how you feel when eating more starches.

The book provides Starch Solution Diet recipes for this kickstart phase for each meal for each day of the one-week diet plan.

Potatoes and starch.

What Foods Should You Eat on the Starch Solution Diet?

The Starch Solution Diet plan is a whole foods plant-based diet that restricts what you can eat and the relative percentage of each carbohydrate-based food you should be eating.

The Starch Solution Diet plan works out to approximately 70% starches such as whole grains and legumes, 20% vegetables, and 10% fruits.

Here is what you can eat on the Starch Solution Diet meal plan:

#1: Starches

This includes whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, whole oats, and barley. 

Starches also include starchy veggies such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, corn, carrots, beets, and turnips. 

Also included in the starches are all legumes such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans (including tofu and tempeh, though these soy protein foods should be limited compared to the other complex carbohydrate foods). 

You should consume whole grains rather than refined flour or starches, such as white pasta, white rice, crackers, cereal, etc. 

Again, 70% of your total daily calories should come from starches unless you primarily follow the diet for weight loss. For weight loss specifically, Dr. McDougall suggests decreasing your starch intake to 45% of your total caloric intake.

Cruciferous vegetables.

#2: Vegetables

The Starch Solution Diet recipes are heavy on vegetables as a plant-based diet. 

No vegetables are off-limits, meaning you can have starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens like spinach and kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, onions, asparagus, green beans, radishes, and parsnips.

About 20% of your total calories should come from vegetables. 

However, for the Starch Solution Diet weight loss version, you are supposed to increase the vegetable intake to 45% of your calories.

#3: Fruits

Any fruits are permitted on the Starch Solution Diet meal plan as long as they are whole, raw fruits rather than dried fruit, fruit juices, or canned fruit. 

Starchy fruits such as green bananas have resistant starch, which can also be considered part of your starch calories. Fruit should make up a total of 10% of your calories. 

Healthy fruits to include in your Starch Solution meals and snacks are fruits like berries, melon, apples, grapefruit, lemons, kiwi, pomegranates, grapes, and cherries.

A variety of vegetable soups.

#4: Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods

There is also a branded line of Starch Solution Diet-compliant foods called Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods.

You can purchase These convenience foods online or in certain grocery stores that are low fat, low sodium, and do not have any added sugar, so they are compatible with the vegan Starch Solution Diet meal plan. 

Examples include overnight oatmeal cups, vegan soups, and prepared whole-grain salad bowls.

In many ways, the Starch Solution Diet plan is similar to the Engine 2 diet because both are low-fat vegan diets that restrict processed foods.

However, one key difference between the Starch Solution and Engine 2 diets is that the Starch Solution is even more restrictive with healthy fats like nuts and seeds.

A person measuring their weight loss.

What are the Health Benefits of Following the Starch Solution Diet?

The Starch Solution Diet plan has some potential health benefits. 

Because it is a vegan diet, many of the vegan diet benefits will pertain to the Starch Solution Diet meal plan, such as the following:3Derbyshire, E. J. (2017). Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Frontiers in Nutrition3(55). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2016.00055

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease,4Tong, T. Y. N., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., & Key, T. J. (2019). Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ366(8212), l4897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897 diabetes,5Lee, Y., & Park, K. (2017). Adherence to a Vegetarian Diet and Diabetes Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients9(6), 603. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9060603 hypertension(which is high blood pressure),6Le, L., & Sabaté, J. (2014). Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients6(6), 2131–2147. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6062131 and dying from heart disease.7Tuso, P., Ismail, M., Ha, B., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. The Permanente Journal17(2), 61–66. https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/12-085
  • Improving markers of health, such as improving cholesterol, decreasing blood pressure, and reducing the risk of experiencing a stroke.8Tuso, P., Ismail, M., Ha, B., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. The Permanente Journal17(2), 61–66.
  • Decreasing HbA1c levels.9Yokoyama, Y., Barnard, N. D., Levin, S. M., & Watanabe, M. (2014). Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy4(5), 373–382. https://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2223-3652.2014.10.04
  • Reducing the risk of several types of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.10Orlich, M. J., Singh, P. N., Sabaté, J., Fan, J., Sveen, L., Bennett, H., Knutsen, S. F., Beeson, W. L., Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Butler, T. L., Herring, R. P., & Fraser, G. E. (2015). Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Colorectal Cancers. JAMA Internal Medicine175(5), 767. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.59 This may be because high-fiber diets help promote digestion and support the healthy gut bacteria.
  • Potentially aiding weight loss, as there have been several research studies that have found that people who follow a plant-based diet may lose more weight than those following an omnivorous diet.11Huang, R.-Y., Huang, C.-C., Hu, F. B., & Chavarro, J. E. (2016). Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of General Internal Medicine31(1), 109–116. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7

It also removes ultra processed foods and sugar, which are associated with weight gain and other adverse health conditions.12National Institutes of Health. (2019, June 4). Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/eating-highly-processed-foods-linked-weight-gain

A variety of fruits.

What are the Drawbacks of Following the Starch Solution Diet?

‌Despite the potential benefits of the Starch Solution Diet plan, there are also some risks and drawbacks to this diet

  • Risk of nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.13Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
  • Studies have found that vegans tend to have lower bone density, and this is likely attributable to the lack of foods with calcium and vitamin D.14Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
  • Because fats and oils are extremely restricted on the Starch Solution Diet, and fats are necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D, and K), it may still be difficult to absorb the nutrients you need and prevent all deficiencies.
  • The Starch Solution Diet meal plan is quite restrictive, both in terms of removing animal-based proteins, but also fats, which may decrease adherence.15Gibson, A., & Sainsbury, A. (2017). Strategies to Improve Adherence to Dietary Weight Loss Interventions in Research and Real-World Settings. Behavioral Sciences7(4), 44. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs7030044

Overall, the Starch Solution Diet foods are healthy, unprocessed, plant-based foods.

However, given the potential risk of developing nutritional deficiencies with a low-fat vegan diet plan, you should consider working with a registered dietician or nutritionist to develop the best healthy diet for your needs.

For more ideas about what to eat on a plant-based diet, check out our plant-based diet guide here.

A bowl of fruits and vegetables and a nutritionist writing a plan.

References

  • 1
    Join the Life-Changing McDougall Program. (n.d.). Dr. McDougall. https://www.drmcdougall.com/12-day-program/
  • 2
    Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods Plant-Based & Vegan Oil-Free Meals. (n.d.). Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods. Retrieved January 3, 2024, from https://rightfoods.com/
  • 3
    Derbyshire, E. J. (2017). Flexitarian Diets and Health: A Review of the Evidence-Based Literature. Frontiers in Nutrition3(55). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2016.00055
  • 4
    Tong, T. Y. N., Appleby, P. N., Bradbury, K. E., Perez-Cornago, A., Travis, R. C., Clarke, R., & Key, T. J. (2019). Risks of ischaemic heart disease and stroke in meat eaters, fish eaters, and vegetarians over 18 years of follow-up: results from the prospective EPIC-Oxford study. BMJ366(8212), l4897. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4897
  • 5
    Lee, Y., & Park, K. (2017). Adherence to a Vegetarian Diet and Diabetes Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients9(6), 603. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9060603
  • 6
    Le, L., & Sabaté, J. (2014). Beyond Meatless, the Health Effects of Vegan Diets: Findings from the Adventist Cohorts. Nutrients6(6), 2131–2147. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu6062131
  • 7
    Tuso, P., Ismail, M., Ha, B., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. The Permanente Journal17(2), 61–66. https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/12-085
  • 8
    Tuso, P., Ismail, M., Ha, B., & Bartolotto, C. (2013). Nutritional Update for Physicians: Plant-Based Diets. The Permanente Journal17(2), 61–66.
  • 9
    Yokoyama, Y., Barnard, N. D., Levin, S. M., & Watanabe, M. (2014). Vegetarian diets and glycemic control in diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Cardiovascular Diagnosis and Therapy4(5), 373–382. https://doi.org/10.3978/j.issn.2223-3652.2014.10.04
  • 10
    Orlich, M. J., Singh, P. N., Sabaté, J., Fan, J., Sveen, L., Bennett, H., Knutsen, S. F., Beeson, W. L., Jaceldo-Siegl, K., Butler, T. L., Herring, R. P., & Fraser, G. E. (2015). Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Colorectal Cancers. JAMA Internal Medicine175(5), 767. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.59
  • 11
    Huang, R.-Y., Huang, C.-C., Hu, F. B., & Chavarro, J. E. (2016). Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of General Internal Medicine31(1), 109–116. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-015-3390-7
  • 12
    National Institutes of Health. (2019, June 4). Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain. National Institutes of Health (NIH). https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/eating-highly-processed-foods-linked-weight-gain
  • 13
    Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
  • 14
    Fontana, L., Shew, J. L., Holloszy, J. O., & Villareal, D. T. (2005). Low Bone Mass in Subjects on a Long-term Raw Vegetarian Diet. Archives of Internal Medicine165(6), 684. https://doi.org/10.1001/archinte.165.6.684
  • 15
    Gibson, A., & Sainsbury, A. (2017). Strategies to Improve Adherence to Dietary Weight Loss Interventions in Research and Real-World Settings. Behavioral Sciences7(4), 44. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs7030044
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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