McDougall vs. Fuhrman: Notes for you from the great plant-based doctors debate

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Drs. John McDougall, Joel Fuhrman with John Mackey from Whole Foods Market at the Advanced Nutrition Study Weekend debate

The long awaited plant-based diet doctors debate has come and gone.  I took pages of notes during the event so that I could report directly back in to you.

Dr. McDougall arrived for the event dapper and distinguished in suit and tie, while Dr. Fuhrman looked ready to wrestle in a sporty green -shirt with “Kale is the new Beef” blazoned across the front.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, with Lani Muelrath. Mackey moderated the debate

Moderated by John Mackey, Whole Foods Market CEO, the upshot of this conversation was how many similarities there are in the approaches of these two food-is-your-best-medicine physicians. Avoid processed foods and maximize whole foods. Eliminate dangerous meat, dairy, and oils.  You came away with an enriched whole-foods plant-based diet education by sitting in.

So if these guys are 98% on the same page, what about the other 2%?  That’s why I took notes for you.  Reporting in to you with a mix of quotes and paraphrases.

The Dr. John McDougall – Dr. Joel Fuhrman Debate
moderated by John Mackey McDougall Advanced Study Weekend, February 2012

Mackey:  Do you agree that starches form the calorie base of a healthy diet?

Fuhrman & McDougall:  “Yes.”

Mackey:  How are refined grains as compared to unprocessed?

Fuhrman:  With beans ruling as your primary starchy carbohydrate base, select also peas and corn.  Steel cut oats and black rice are also good choices.  Whole grains should be intact.  Consider the glycemic load.  Keep white potatoes to a minimum, sweet potatoes are better.  The white rice diet of Koreans has created a population high in diabetes.

McDougall:  “I want to to win the war rather than every battle”.  Traditionally, peasants ate brown rice.  Yet many healthy starch-based populations have traditionally used white rice.  If you must, go ahead and eat your white rice.  Give up the grease, meat, and dairy, and eat the white rice.  Clearly brown rice is the better choice between white and brown, but “I’d rather you ate white rice than meat and dairy.”  White rice does NOT cause diabetes.  Dr. Kempner’s rice diet which reversed diabetes was white rice and sugar.

Mackey:  What is your opinion on beans vs. grains for starch?

McDougall:  As beans are around 30% protein and too much protein can present  a stress to the kidneys.  Limit them to  1 cup a day to be on the safe side.

Fuhrman:  Eat freely of beans, limit the grains.

At this point there was a short debate over the % of calories coming from protein in beans. McDougall had them at around 30%, Fuhrman placed them much lower.  

Mackey:  Are potatoes good or bad for us?

Fuhrman:  It depends on the person.  I you are overweight or diabatic, limit them.  If not very active, limit.  35 studies show high glycemic load on sedentary overweight individuals promotes diabetes in some poeple.

McDougall:  Glycemic index leads you in a false direction.  Potatoes have a glycemic index of 100+.  Snickers bars, are 68 on the glycemic index.  Potato-based populations do not have diabetes or obesity.

Mackey:  Nuts and seeds:  How much is healthy?  How much is too much?

Fuhrman:  Overweight women should have no more than 1 oz. a day, overweight  men no more than 2 oz. a day.  Eat them with green vegetables at dinner to facilitate absorption.  If you are slim, you can have more.

McDougall:  In July, 2003 I wrote an article titled “What do I do if I lose too much weight?”  Nuts can help you gain.  Nuts are delicacies.

Mackey:  Do we need to eat some amount of animal foods in order to be healthy?

McDougall:  Any amount is dangerous because the behaviors are too difficult to change.  Keep the boundaries clear, because it’s too difficult to do things moderately.  Boundaries are important.  We can’t say if a little clean animal food will make you healthier or not.  But other issues as well as taste addictions are involved. It’s a behavioral issue:  you either have it or not.

Fuhrman:  In our society we have been indoctrinated to block out “vegan” – it’s more useful to engage people in the program without a strict “cut it out”.  1 – 2 servings a week, not more than 6 oz. a week.

Mackey:  What about salt?

Fuhrman:  In Korea, they consume 2x the salt as we do.  Hemoragic stroke is higher in societies with hi carb and salt.  Limit salt.

McDougall:  The is no evidence that limiting salt helps.  Salt is the scapegoat.  80% of the salt in the U.S. diet comes via cheese, salami, and lunch meats.  You are designed as a seeker of minerals/salt.  Sprinkle a little on top of food.   (Dr. McDougall then proceeded to quote from 2 studies to back this up). Put your biggest offense into the foods that matter:  oil, animal food, and highly processed food.

 Mackey:  Do we need  supplements?

McDougall: Vitamin D we get from sunshine.  You may increase risk of fracture by taking large doses of Vitamin D, which also raises LDL cholesterol.  Essential fats you get in your foods.  Using oils is a drug, it’s at best a medicine and at worst a toxin.  If you don’t get enough sunlight, get a sun lamp.

Fuhrman:  Both a deficiency and too much can cause problems.  Taking D3 will bring your levels up.  It’s only a theory that sunshine is better than a D3 supplements.  If you rinse the natural oils off your skin after sunbathing, you rinse off the vitamin D benefit.

Mackey:  What is the evidence that eating more nutrients than the government baseline says ideal is better?

Fuhrman:  The government tests on what the “average person is doing”.   We need to think whole foods, plant-based, nutrient dense.

Mackey:  Why limit fruit to 2 – 3 a day?

McDougall:  Most Americans love fruit.  They are a simple sugar and it can easily become a fruit-based diet.  Limiting to 2- 3 fruits/day keep people from overeating fruit and simple sugar.

What is the optimal diet?

McDougall:  Sweet potatoes plus green and yellow vegetables

Fuhrman:  Vegan diet supplemented with DHA, b12, and iodine

Mackey conclusions and observations on points of agreement: 

McDougall, American’s are poisoning themselves.  The most important thing is to stop eating the rich food and putting poisons in the system.  Fuhrman:  It’s not enough just to eliminate the bad but we need to beef up all the micronutrients.  It is a more complex system.

Points of agreement:

  • Get the poisons out of the diet
  • Eat whole foods
  • Eat healthy starches
  • Eat a plant-based diet
  • You are not going to solve the problems of excess by looking for deficiencies and supplementing.

My personal reflections?  The similarities between these 2 doctors and their dietary approaches are far greater than their differences.  The few points of contention were addressed in this friendly conversation.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t without its hot spots!  More to share – including a couple of shocking moments –  but I’ll save that for the upcoming Teleclass for the Success Club and FitDream Inner Circle scheduled for Wednesday, February 29.  Lot more to share from the Advanced Study Weekend including more presentations by Drs. McDougall and Fuhrman,  Kathy Freston, Melanie Joy, Doug Lisle, and more.  You don’t want to miss this call!

Thanks so much for coming by. Please join me now  facebook.

Want to be notified right away when the next tips and news are posted? You can, by subscribing to be sent Email Updates or RSS notifications.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Print Friendly


  • Janae says:

    Thanks so much for doing this Lani! I’ve been on pins and needles wanting to hear the results of the debate. I respect both men (although I’d say I’m much more in the McDougall camp). And I agree with McDougall about the fruit. I find I can eat, eat, and over eat on fruit and it doesn’t quite satisfy and gives me a bit of a buzz.

    • Lani says:

      Hey Janae, so glad you came by and are enjoying my notes. I did my best to jot everything down! Glad you are doing well. Your blog is adorable!

      • Janae says:

        Thank you! SO jealous you got to be there! It’s actually a dream of mine to go on Dr. McD’s Costa Rica trip someday. When the kids are bigger, you know.

        I do have a question about Furhman–does HE eat animal foods? I understand where he’s going with the people have mental blocks when they think super restrictive. But I think it’s a slippery slope. What do you think Lani? I remember reading somewhere that you have been vegetarian for a long while before you changed to McDougall so it seems that you wouldn’t be for eating animal foods for ethical reasons, but what if that didn’t exist for a person? Do you think they should eliminate ALL animal foods?

        • Lani says:

          Janae, I don’t know about Dr. Fuhrman’s personal diet and the question about him eating any animal foods, as far as I know, didn’t come up. I tend to doubt it, but one never knows. I agree that all things dietary can be slippery slope. And yes I’ve been veggie since forever – something like 38 years and my reasons then are as now: health, ethical, and environmental – and they’ve all just been reinforced and gotten stronger. Ethical reasons move beyond personal choice. I don’t see any good reason for anyone to include animal foods in their diet.

  • anna says:

    fantastic Lani i was happy to hear all about it and for sure i am staying a mcdaugaller, cheers Anna

  • Lance says:

    Thanks so much for posting this! I was unable to attend, and I really wanted to see/hear these two great men in person. While I personally follow McDougall’s recommendations, I always learn a lot from Fuhrman. I just finished his new book Super Immunity, which was very interesting.

    • Lani says:

      Thanks Lance, I always learn a lot too. Each point of opinion and clarification helps one shake down their own diet and health. Super Immunity sounds like a good read. Your blog looks great, too!

  • Stephen says:

    Thank you much for the comparison, Lani. I have not read much from Dr. F. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with some of what he says. I have been following Dr. M only since October, 2011, but have seen some wonderful changes; 30 pounds lost, 64 points in my TC, just to name two. Still lots to learn from both doctors. I do know this IS the lifestyle for me. No slipping back to my old way of eating.

    • Lani says:

      Hey Stephen, what good news! 30 lbs? 64 points? You are doing wonderfully! Dr. Fuhrman’s materials are great for reminding us about all the glory of phytonutrients we are getting in a color-rich, veggie diet. Keep up the good work and don’t be a stranger!

  • Lani,

    Thank you so much for taking such excellent notes & sharing them. Very interesting–lots of similarities between Fuhrman & McDougall, but some key differences—like vitamin D & amount of beans eaten. I’m somewhere in between the two, I’d say.

  • isa says:

    thanks so much lani! i would’ve loved to be there since i respect both doctors so much for their messages and their impact on so many lives.

  • Jess@miniMum says:

    I don’t know how many people do have a problem with fruit, but when I am not succeeding with the McDougall diet it is never because of too much fruit. I would rank fruit as a healthier option above white rice and salt on the “go after other problems first” scale.

    Not only that, but since a visit from Lisa Pitman, I’ve been doing unlimited raw fruit only for most of my mornings and as snacks throughout the day. It’s helping me do MWL better and I have lost 4 kgs of the weight I’ve struggled with since pregnancy #2.

    • Lani says:

      Jess, great to hear that you’ve found a good solution and rhythm. Within the paramters of wflfpb, we all definitely have some variations of nuance and even these can change from time to time with the same person it appears. I don’t know who Lisa Pitman is, yet congrats on your health quest!

    • astrid says:

      Jess, i agree…high fruit is healthier than high cooked starch. Fruit is our natural food, not cooked starch. Our ancestors didnt cook, and thus ate fruits. We are primates, and thus should eat our species-specific diet: mostly fruits, some greens, small amounts of nuts/seeds/avos

      Whats ur dinner like, after eating fruits all day?

  • Kathryn says:

    Thanks for these notes! As somebody who wants to loose weight and a health coach this is helpful! I love my potatoes! I hope I can go to an advanced study weekend soon!

  • Beth says:

    Thanks, Lani, for this interesting information.

    I have been researching both doctors, WANT to believe Dr. M because of the rice and potatoes, but I have been so brainwashed not to have starches that I am petrified!

    I am just finishing a 60 day, juice only, reboot. I am supposed to begin eating plant-based diet on March 1. I have lost 52 pounds and am scared to death to begin eating again. I don’t want to gain it all back!

    So, what’s a girl to do? Dr. F or Dr. M?

    Thanks again for your site – it’s wonderful!


    • Hi Beth,

      Each person has to decide the particular type and quality of diet they must eat to reach their weight and health goals.

      For me, when I started to eat more freely of the starchies, as I call them in Fit Quickies book, it all fell into place. I eat large quantities of veggies, too, yet need the calorie base of quality carbohydrates and low in fat to have true eating freedom.

      I go into this in great depth in Fit Quickies. Do you have a copy of the book? It explains a lot and will help you tremendously on the carbophobia!

      Keep me posted,

  • Bray says:

    Thanks so much for posting this.:) I tend to lean more toward a furhman style diet, as vegetables have so much more flavor to me and I enjoy eating most when it’s just the veggies and legumes, but both doctors have great approaches.


    • Bray,

      Finding the best match for you is important! Some people do better with a greater proportion of vegetables and fruits and we each need to figure it out. Whatever gets you best to your health and weight goals!

      Thanks for your post,

  • […] with regard to health and disease prevention. I read the books Eat to Live and Super Immunity by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and they further refined my vision of what the most protective diet would be. I watched and shared […]

  • Robert Roose says:

    “Mackey: Why limit fruit to 2 – 3 a day?

    McDougall: Most Americans love fruit. They are a simple sugar and it can easily become a fruit-based diet. Limiting to 2- 3 fruits/day keep people from overeating fruit and simple sugar.”

    If Americans turned to a fruit-based diet, then there’d be no problems! Nobody becomes obese eating too many bananas.

    The sugar is not the problem; starch digests into sugar anyway. Sure, people may end up with a few nutrient deficiencies in the long run on a strictly fruit-based diet, but at least they won’t be overweight. It’s not the deficiencies which are killing people.

    The idea that people can overeat fruit is nonsense and has no scientific backing.

    McDougall and Fuhrman basically advocate two sides of the same coin, but overall Fuhrman advocates the healthier diet. Too often McDougall defaults to his argument of ‘all healthy societies in history have been starch based, no exceptions,’ which really doesn’t help at all in proving what’s optimal human nutrition.

  • Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *