Below is the full transcript of John McDougall’s TED talk: The Food We Were Born To Eat at TEDxFremont.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The food we were born to eat by John McDougall at TEDxFremont
Starch. Yeah. It’s starch — rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes. It’s starch that has healed thousands of my patients. Like for example, a young lady from the Bay Area had deforming rheumatoid arthritis, to the point where she couldn’t catch her mom. And Juliea Baker decided at 17 years old, she was going to change her diet. She was going to give up the cheese and the meat and the oil, and switch to a diet based upon rice, corn and potatoes. And it took about seven days before she started getting better.
Or, from Sacramento, Robert Cross, he used to work in the attorney general’s office. He had terrible chest pains, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, overweight. He went to his doctor for a solution. Quickly ended up in front of the cardiologist, who recommended what? A heart surgery. He said, “No. I’ve got a better idea”. And he switched to a starch-based diet. He lost 60 pounds, dropped his cholesterol from 300 to 150, and cleaned out his arteries.
Or Deb Tasic, from Chicago, had had terrible multiple sclerosis. In fact, she fell down, stayed down for a month, couldn’t get up. Her doctor told her she’d be in a wheelchair in 5 years, and likely bedridden or dead in 10. She said, “I’m not going to do that!” So what she did is, she switched to starch. Yeah, Starch.
I’m Dr. John MacDougall. I’ve been in this business for 44 years. And I’m the luckiest doctor in the world because my patients get well. It started out — I have to tell you, it started out by a bit of an accident. I was in Michigan, and decided to go to Hawaii for my internship, back in 1972. I stayed in Oahu for a year, practiced just general internal medicine or internship type of program. And then after a year, I fell in love with Hawaii and I didn’t want to leave.
So, I took a job on the Big Island as a plantation doctor. And there I worked as a general doctor for 3 years. I caught babies, I pronounced people dead, I did brain surgery in middle of the night. But I’ve learned everything that I know today during those three years from my patients.
First thing I learned is that I wasn’t a very good doctor. I thought I was going to make all these miraculous cures. I mean, I watched Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby. I knew what a real doctor did. And I went into this general practice on the Big Island of Hawaii, and I started taking care of these 5000 sugar plantation patients. And I gave them the best pills I could find — sent them off to the best surgeons in Honolulu. And they wouldn’t get well. They just stayed fat and sick. Initially, I thought it was because I was a bad doctor. I realized my limitations as a physician during those three years. I was humbled.
The second thing that I learned from my patients, and it was a unique setting on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the sugar plantation, is I learned how to eat because I was taking care of 5,000 people who ate differently. I was taking care of first, second, third and fourth generation of Filipinos, Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans.
Now, my first generation, they learned about how to eat when they’re little kids in their native land: the Philippines, Japan, China, Korea. They learned a diet of rice and vegetables. And then, they had the fortune of moving to the Big Island, to start new families, a new life, but with them they took their original diet. And they continued to eat rice and vegetables.
The kids, who were influenced a little bit by the western diet, they started to change. And by the time you got to the grandkids, you’re looking at people who ate the traditional western diet. Now, realize these are people of the same genetics, same kind of work for over 100 years on the sugar plantation. Yet, before my eyes as a doctor, what I saw is – I saw people living on rice and vegetables, no dairy, just a little bit of meat at most — trim, healthy, hardy people. No MS, no arthritis, no diabetes, no heart disease in that first generation living on those traditional diets.
And then I watched the second generation get a little fatter and sicker as they abandoned starch. And then the third generation, which feared starch — rice, corn, potatoes — and took on meat and dairy in their diet, and oils. They get fat and sick just like every other American.
Well, after three years, I had to leave as a general practitioner. I went back to Oahu to become a board-certified internist. And I spent the next two years studying in the scientific library, in the Medical Library, next to Queen’s Medical Centre, to see whether anybody else had made this observation that people who live on starch — rice, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes — are thin, healthy, hardy, young-looking, not just in the world today, but throughout history. And when they switch to a well-balanced diet, the rich American diet, with lots of protein, calcium and other of these wonderful nutrients, do they get fat and sick? What I found out was that scientists over the previous 100 years had made this observation. In fact, it goes further back than that.
That was important, because that told me right there and then, that getting older didn’t mean getting fat and sick. It didn’t have to be that way. But as I read in the science, I discovered something that was really profound, and I’m sure it’s going to be easy for you to understand. When you stop doing things that make people sick, they get well. And so, if I had figured out that eating a well-balanced diet, lots of meat and dairy made people sick, then the only next clue I needed was the idea that I could be a miracle doctor. I could fulfill what I wanted to do as a physician, which is to help other people by applying this very simple principle. And that is, to feed people a diet for human beings.
You know, there is a diet for people. I know you might be surprised considering the variety that everybody eats. But there is a diet for human beings. And each and every one of you ought to be able to answer that question for yourself, for your spouses, for your children, for your friends. You should be able to have that answer. When somebody says, what do human beings eat? I mean after all you know what a cat eats, right? You know cats are carnivores. And horses, they have a diet, and parrots have a diet. You never take and feed your parrot meat or your cat nuts and seeds. So every animal must have a diet.
What is the diet for human beings? Well, history will tell us what that is. When you look back through history, you can go back 2.5 million years, and you see that the bulk of human beings have lived on starch-based diets. We have evidence from 44,000 years ago that said that the Neanderthals lived on starches. And from 30,000 years ago, we have population studies in Europe that talk about people living on starch-based diets. I mean, that’s pre-agriculture, so they say. That’s pre-civilization, so they say.
But how about over the last 10,000, 12,000, 14,000 years? We have really direct evidence, we have written evidence about what people ate. And if you’re a person of history, you know what people ate. Throughout human history, all large, successful populations of people, have obtained the bulk of their calories from starch. I’m sure lots of examples are popping in your mind. You’re thinking about the Aztecs and Mayans, the people of the corn. And if you go a little bit further South, and you look at the Incas. They lived on potatoes except when they went to battle, and then they’d switch to quinoa.
And if you go to the Middle East, these people are from the bread baskets of the world. In Asia, I think most people can relate to the rice-based diets. And think about these people. Trim, hardy, healthy, strong warriors. The diet of human beings has been traditionally and always will be a diet based on starch with the addition of fruits and vegetables.
What happened is people became more effective at gathering calories. And the richer people in every society, what happened to them is, they no longer had to eat the starches, they can instead eat the animals that were eating the starches. And as a result, there was a certain segment of population throughout all of human history that became wealthier than the rest of the people. And these people could eat meat, pheasant, or pigs, or other kinds of animals and put the starches as side dishes. We had the pharaohs, the kings, the priests and the priestesses of 3,500 years ago who were described as fat. The examination of their bodies, 3,500 years later, shows terrible atherosclerosis, gallbladder disease, and all kinds of other problems of Western civilization.
Well, we had few kings and queens back then. And then, as time went on, more and more people were able to eat like kings and queens. And you recall King Henry 8th and his court. What did they look like? Americans. That’s what they looked like. And then, as time went on, we became more efficient at gathering food. People became wealthier. We had the industrial revolution in the midst of 150 years ago. And we had the discovery of fossil fuel and as a consequence, almost everybody in western society can eat like kings and queens. And what’s the result? Can’t you see it? Can’t you see it? When people abandon their starch-based diets of rice and corn and potatoes, with the addition of fruits and vegetables. Instead, they eat the food of royalty, as people do in western society. What would you expect? That you’d have people that look like kings and queens and are sick with diabetes and heart disease and cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Anyway, that’s the state of the country today. The statistics are very familiar to you, I’m sure. We live in a society where people are fat and sick. Not just the adults, but the children too. 30% of the kids are overweight. Not only overweight but deep under the skin, there’s a lot of sickness. These kids have atherosclerosis; they have arthritis; they suffer precocious puberty. Little boys are going through puberty at the age of 9, little girls around age 8. That’s five, six years before intended.
We have a society of sick children. Now, come on! Civilized people don’t let children be hurt. But somehow we do in our society. Somehow it’s okay for the kids to be sick. Well, it’s not okay. People should rise up to the occasion and protect their children.
How about our soldiers? Our soldiers are sick. We send our men and women across the world to represent us, and to keep us safe. Yet, half of the soldiers are overweight. And underneath that obesity there’s a lot of sickness. What kind of society tolerates men and women who fight in our defense, tolerates them being ill? Because the rich Western diet feeds them a diet of kings and queens. Makes no sense at all.
How about our businesses? We are competing in a world market and our workers are fat and sick. How do we compete with people in Japan who live on a starch-based diet or China, or India? Oh, I know how we compete, we just wait till they switch to the American diet and get fat and sick. Right? I think there is a better way. We can work hard to get our employees healthy.
How about our health care system, where 20% of our gross national product is expected to be spent on illness? How can we ever get ahead? How can we solve the deficit? How could we fix this world? When we have a world where people look, feel and function like kings and queens? The solution is simple, but it doesn’t favor business. That’s the problem. We have a celebration here. George McGovern. Senator George McGovern died last month, October 21st, 2012. George McGovern was essentially the author of dietary goals of the United States, which were published in January of 1977. These goals were to be similar to the Surgeon General’s Report of 1964. The Surgeon General’s Report of 1964 changed America. It changed the Western world.
Back then, in the seventies, half of the population smoked. Today, fewer than 20% of the people smoke. Back in the seventies, obesity was half of what it is today; diabetes was half of what it is today. Industry has won. Americans have lost. But we have an option to change that. By becoming informed about what the human being eats. The human being is a starch eater. All of you out there that are suffering, your families are suffering and you’re looking to modern medicine for a solution. Stop looking! They’re not going to cure dietary diseases with a pill or a surgery. You’re going to fix dietary diseases by fixing the problem, which is – the food.
And when you fix the food, what happens is people get healthy. You as individuals, sick with various diseases, communities, countries, and the world, can get healthy by making a simple change: Back to a starch-based diet. And I believe it will make economic sense to help for a healthy country. I believe it’s worth doing. I know a lot of you who are new to this. You think about changing your diet. And somebody says to you, well, you have to give up meat, you have to give up dairy, your ice cream, your cheese, your chicken, your steaks. You say, I’m going to starve to death! It’s like asking me to give up breathing, or asking me to give up drinking water. You think it’s an impossible task. That’s because you’ve been faced with a serious untruth about starches.
You love starch. I know you do. When I mention rice and beans, you have a very positive reaction. If I mention pasta, you say, well, that’s comfort food. Potatoes, I was raised in the Midwest. If it wasn’t for mashed potatoes, I wouldn’t be here today. So when somebody says, you must give up meat and dairy. And they fail to finish the sentence: What you need to do instead is, you need to live on starch, on oatmeal for breakfast, hash brown potatoes; for lunch you need to have bean soup, pea soup, lentil soup; for dinner you have bean burritos, pasta marinara sauce, mushrooms, vegetables and rice. You say, I can do that. Of course you can. You love those foods. This is the kind of education that we need.
We need new dietary goals for the United States. We need a government that will stand up and tell the truth to the people. We need a society that will not tolerate uncivilized behavior, like letting our children be sick, and our military be sick, our poor people be sick, and our workers be sick because of the diet of kings and queens. And once we know that, we can change it, can’t we? We can make a difference.
Thank you very much.