John McDougall, MD: The Diet Wars

Dr. John McDougall crushes the Paleo and Atkin’s diet fads in this hour long lecture.  Presented at the September, 2012, Advanced Study Weekend, at the Flamingo Resort and Spa, Santa Rosa, California.

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  • Daniel Harley

    A vegan diet is probably healthier than the standard Western diet, but his attack on paleo is a poor hatchet job.

    1) Saturated fat – plenty of recent meta analyses show it is benign, if not protective/beneficial:

    2) Paleo is not low-carb. See Stephan Guyenet, perhaps the foremost ancestral diet science writer. There’s also Staffan Lindberg who studied the Kitavans, a high-carb hunter-gatherer society; Paul Jaminet; and Chris Kresser. These are scientists; the likes of Gary Taubes are not. Potatoes, tubers in general and other starchy, naturally occurring vegetables were staples of most palaeolithic diets. Lauren Cordain’s ‘The Paleo Diet TM’ is not representative of the ancestral health movement, nor is it the paleo bible.

    3) Why is he talking about cannibalism at 19:00? Nobody is advocating this.

    4) A meat-and-plants diet is inevitably more nutritious than a plants-only diet. See Mat Lalonde’s talk on nutrient density of animal foods:

    5) He says recent BMJ studies show that LCHF diets are dangerous but curiously he cites none. I suspect he is fibbing. The vast majority of studies show LCHF providing largest amount of weight loss and in most bio-markers of CVD improve.

    6) The Rice Diet incorporated some meat and we know that damaged kidneys cannot handle too much protein (from any source) but this does not apply to healthy kidneys, in much the same way that a diabetic cannot eat too much sugar but a non-diabetic can binge with no ill-effects.

    7) He says some diabetics were cured by low-carb diets because they got so sick eating LC that they lost weight, causing their diabetes to go away. Try a LC diet for a while and see if you get sick. You won’t. He’s scaremongering. Children with severe epilepsy often are put on ketogenic diets to stop their seizures – they don’t die.

    8) See his discussion at 29:00 about the Hadza tribe. He’s making the case for paleo himself! They didn’t exercise any more than we do now but they were free of disease because they ate meat, honey and plant foods: aka a paleo diet.

    9) If McDougall is legit, why is seafood forbidden on his diet? He never attacks it, and rightly so because it’s one of the most nutritious sources of food available and consistently shown to be good for you. So why not allow it?


      43 396 Swedish women, aged 30-49 years at baseline, completed an extensive dietary questionnaire and were followed-up for an average of 15.7 years.

      Results: A one tenth decrease in carbohydrate intake or increase in protein intake or a 2 unit increase in the low carbohydrate-high protein score were all statistically significantly associated with increasing incidence of cardiovascular disease overall (n=1270)—incidence rate ratio estimates 1.04 (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 1.08), 1.04 (1.02 to 1.06), and 1.05 (1.02 to 1.08). No heterogeneity existed in the association of any of these scores with the five studied cardiovascular outcomes: ischaemic heart disease (n=703), ischaemic stroke (n=294), haemorrhagic stroke (n=70), subarachnoid haemorrhage (n=121), and peripheral arterial disease (n=82).

      Conclusions: Low carbohydrate-high protein diets, used on a regular basis and without consideration of the nature of carbohydrates or the source of proteins, are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

      • LogicalReason

        Again, your take is correct. Take it one step further, the #1 source of protein in terms of amino acid profiles and bio-availability has long been Whey, followed by eggs. Although not vegan, there is no reason nutritionally people need to consume mammals for nutrition.

        • I’d argue you can take it one step further than that. It has been established that humans only need 10% of their diet to be protein. The body can’t use any more than that in a given meal, so it’s just a waste product. The vast majority of starches meet this need. Top level endurance athletes consume no animal protein at all.

    • LogicalReason

      “9) If McDougall is legit, why is seafood forbidden on his diet? He never attacks it, and rightly so because it’s one of the most nutritious sources of food available and consistently shown to be good for you. So why not allow it?”

      I’m pescatarian, but am also anti-paleo. I presume it’s because of the inane fad of murdering cows and slurping up a pigs behind