Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: The McDougall Plan
Author: John and Mary McDougall
Date: 1983
Publisher: New Win Publishing
ISBN: 0-8329-0289-6
Length: 330 pages, plus index and introduction by Nathan Pritikin
Quote: “This is not an all or nothing health plan—the more you do, the more you gain.”
This book is delicious. Don't be deceived by the dry beginning: most of this book consists of explanations of how a vegan diet works and why and how it may be healthier to be a vegan. Most of the time, anyway.
The McDougall Plan is based on the scientific idea that vegans do not, in fact, need as much protein and calcium as carnivores, because carrnivores use a lot of protein and calcium digesting animal fat. The Plan allows occasional “feasts” (up to once a month) at which animal products may be used.
There are different opinions about the optimal way to balance the diet for weight loss. Drastic weight loss diets tend to be unbalanced and unsatisfying; after losing weight people crave the foods that put the weight on, and nearly always regain the weight within six months. Weight maintenance  diets tend to become a bore. And any weight loss produced by reducing food intake, alone, tends to burn muscle before fat, producing a skinny flabby body rather than a healthy one, and lower metabolism, making it easier for that flabby body to become even fatter whenever an extra calorie sneaks in. If you want to look like Jack LaLanne or Sophia Loren, even below the neck, you need to exercise for strength, flexibility, balance, bone mass, and cardiovascular health as well as weight control...and of course it wouldn’t hurt to have inherited their genes, either.
Speaking of genes, what research seems to be saying these days is that they influence the way we metabolize food, along with the overall balance of our diet. My mother, who was hypothyroid and obese for more than twenty years, swears by the McDougall Diet. Low-fat vegan meals are just what her still-faltering thyroid gland craves for optimum performance. After adopting the McDougall Diet, for the first time since we were born she was able to wear the same dress sizes her daughters were wearing. She’s been “McDougalling” for fifteen years now and says she feels better, more alert, more energetic, at 75 than she did at 25. She’s actually gained bone mass while limiting her milk product consumption to a cup of yogurt every few months. Sometimes she's so perky she's annoying.
Others report that a low-fat, low-protein diet makes them depressed, irritable, hungry, and more likely to gain weight and/or become diabetic. Now, I don’t know these people personally—what causes me to go off the McDougall diet are factors like time, money, convenience, and social conformity, and these seem to be the most common factors for others who don’t stick to this diet. But I don’t doubt that there are people who become fatter and sicker on a low-fat diet, especially if the diet is nutritionally unbalanced, or becomes unbalanced for that individual body because of the individual’s inherited food tolerances. In theory, someone who was gluten-intolerant and also hypothyroid, like Mother, might gain weight even on the McDougall Plan if that person continued to eat wheat.
That said, I’ve never met anyone who really stuck to the McDougall diet who was overweight. If the diet’s not going to work for you, you won’t stick with it.
Now the good news: Whether or not you can or should follow Dr. John McDougall's vegan diet plan, you can still use Mary McDougall’s recipes. They never taste like anything in Frances Moore LappĂ©’s or Jane Kinderlehrer’s “health food” repertoires. McDougall Plan meals are juicy, spicy, fresh taste treats, if not flavor overloads. Kids love them. Older people can taste them. Friends who aren’t on extreme low-carb diets will enjoy them. (Friends on moderate low-carb diets will love them...even though they're "starch-based," it's all complex carbs.) Most of them are fairly simple to prepare, and although they do call for some specialty items, on the whole a McDougall Plan diet is surprisingly frugal. Local and ethnic foods aren’t the focus of the McDougall Plan, but incorporating them into your version of the Plan is encouraged. And there are even points of agreement between Dr. McDougall, Dr. Atkins, and others... although McDougall meals are based on plant starch, these are the more complex carbs Dr. Atkins allows, and both doctors recommend using a lot more fresh vegetables than many Americans do.
It’s the zesty quality of the recipes that makes The McDougall Plan a good choice for anyone who wants to go vegan, even for one meal a week, or to offer an alternative entree alongside the turkey for relatives who visit only at Thanksgiving. Just don’t be surprised if other guests who thought they wanted the turkey find themselves going back for more of the vegan dish. When people use Mary McDougall’s vegan recipes, this tends to happen.
If I wanted to deprogram a compulsive carnivore, I’d use these recipes. I’d crisp up a little turkey bacon and put it on the table in a small covered dish. Then I’d pile on a McDougall-style feast: fried rice, green salad, salsa-like “tomato dressing,” lots of raw and lightly steamed veggies. Chances are that, smelling the bacon, the carnivore would assume that it was in the rice and be satisfied. I wouldn’t try to do this to the same person repeatedly without the person’s knowledge and consent, but I would do it, once, as a friendly and ethical way of expanding a prejudice-cramped mind.

Although the McDougall Plan was not designed specifically for gluten-free, sugar-sensitive, or other restricted diet, the text explains at length how to adapt the recipes to a restricted diet. I'm gluten-free. Many of my favorite gluten-free recipes are in this book or in one of its many sequels. 
If I wanted to help someone with cardiovascular disease stick to a diet, I’d also use these recipes. Obviously the whole family can’t be ordered, “Don’t anybody mention bacon, chocolate, ice cream, fried chicken, or even mashed potatoes, in front of Grandpa, ever again.” Nor can the rest of the family eat fried chicken and ice cream while Grandma gets one baked fish finger on a big plate of unsalted green beans. So why not make a McDougall meal into a family party, an ethnic vegan feast? The McDougall Plan makes it easy. Of course, you could offer only the adults the McDougall dishes and make the kids eat boring old beef pot roast and brown’n’serve rolls, but then the kids might call Child Protective Services.

In short, I think the McDougalls have something to offer everybody with this book, and recommend it to anybody who has not already read it. If the whole Plan is not for you, you can save a few favorite recipes and pass the book on to someone else. I have copies for sale because I’ve bought a few extra for sharing. 

The McDougalls have written many other books after this one, and now that they have a web site, they offer a free newsletter with almost daily tidbits of vegan news. Enter their web space here...

...But I e-mailed them two weeks ago about offering The McDougall Plan as a Fair Trade Book, and they've not responded to that question. So it's a Fair Trade Book. Buy it from me for $5 + $5 for shipping, and the McDougalls or a charity of their choice will get $1--in contrast to what usually happens when you buy a book secondhand, which is that the author gets nothing. The $5 shipping covers whatever will fit into the same package. Please feel free to scroll down and browse.