If You Want to Eat Potatoes, Rice, and Pasta to Lose Weight, the Starch Solution Is Your Answer

POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar
POPSUGAR Photography | Jenny Sugar

There are a lot of ways to eat a vegan diet, but one that has gained popularity over the last decade is high-carb, low-fat. While many experts say carbs makes you gain weight (which is why the ultra-low-carb keto diet is so popular), John McDougall, MD, believes that eating whole-food, plant-based carbs can actually help you lose weight. He wrote all about it in his book published in 2013 called The Starch Solution.

What Is the Starch Solution?

The Starch Solution is a high-carb, low-fat vegan diet with an emphasis on eating whole, plant-based foods, no oil, no processed foods, and limited sugars. You don't eat any foods that come from animals, and focus your meals on starchy foods like whole grains, potatoes, veggies, and fruits. Dr. McDougall's book discusses the healthy benefits of a whole-food, plant-based, high-starch diet, which includes satisfying your appetite, giving you energy, and maintaining a healthy weight. The book also discusses how this diet can help prevent chronic conditions like high cholesterol, heart disease, acne, and type 2 diabetes.

What makes the Starch Solution so accessible to anyone — especially someone coming from the Standard American Diet (SAD) that's rich in meat, dairy, and highly-processed, nutrient-poor foods — is that you can still eat the foods you love that may have been off-limits on other restrictive diets, such as bread, pasta, burritos, pizza, pancakes, and ice cream. You just need to eat healthy, plant-based versions of them. Keep reading to learn what foods you should focus on, which foods are off-plan, which plant-based foods to avoid if you're weight loss has stalled, and what experts think about the Starch Solution.

What Foods Should You Avoid on the Starch Solution?
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What Foods Should You Avoid on the Starch Solution?

  • Meat including chicken, beef, pork, and fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter
  • Oil, including olive, coconut, avocado, and canola oil
  • Processed and packaged foods
What Foods Should You Eat on the Starch Solution?
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What Foods Should You Eat on the Starch Solution?

  • Starchy whole grains including oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet, farro, corn, rye, spelt, and wheat berries
  • Products made with whole grains including bread, cereals, pasta, couscous, tortillas, and flatbreads
  • Legumes including all dried beans such as kidney, black, navy, adzuki, cannellini, garbanzo, pinto, and soy beans, lentils, and peas including green peas, split peas, and black-eyed peas
  • Starchy veggies including potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and winter squashes including butternut and spaghetti
  • Non-starchy veggies including greens (such as kale, spinach, and Romaine), broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, asparagus, brussels sprouts, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, tomatoes, celery, onions, mushrooms, radishes, snap peas, snow peas, green beans, and eggplant
  • Fresh and frozen fruits including berries, citrus, apples, bananas, melons, mango, kiwi, peaches, pineapple, and grapes
  • Small amounts of sweeteners like a sprinkle of brown sugar on your oatmeal, a drizzle of maple syrup on your whole wheat pancakes, or a dollop of ketchup with your oil-free, oven-baked fries
  • Herbs and spices
  • Salt in moderation; instead of adding it to recipes while cooking, sprinkle a little on top of your plate or bowl
What Foods Should You Limit on the Starch Solution?
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What Foods Should You Limit on the Starch Solution?

While the foods listed below are allowed on the Starch Solution, if weight loss is your goal, in the book, Dr. McDougall said these foods will "slow your progress." So if your weight loss has stalled he said, "I recommend avoiding these foods," and you can reintroduce them once you reach your goal. On the other hand, if you're happy with your weight or aren't in a hurry to lose, it's OK to include small quantities of these higher-calorie foods along with your starch-based meals.

  • Nuts like peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, and the nut butters made from them, as well as seeds such as flax, chia, sesame, and sunflower
  • High-fat fruits including avocado, olives, and coconut
  • Dried fruits like raisins, cranberries, and dates
  • Flours like whole grain, wheat, or all-purpose
  • Juices made from fruit or veggies
  • Simple sugars like white or brown sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, molasses, or agave
Won't Eating High-Starch Foods Cause Weight Gain?
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Won't Eating High-Starch Foods Cause Weight Gain?

Just to reiterate, the Starch Solution focuses on eating whole-food, plant-based foods like brown rice, oatmeal, potatoes, beans, and fruit — not highly-processed, high-fat starches like cookies, cakes, french fries, and potato chips. It's a common misconception that eating starchy foods will cause weight gain, registered dietitian Robyn Engman told POPSUGAR. "The starchy foods themselves do not cause weight gain. Whole foods like these are unprocessed, full of water, and high in fiber, so they actually keep you feeling satiated much longer," she explained.

Potatoes are a great example of a starchy carbohydrate that keeps you full and satisfied, but Engman said, sadly, potatoes get a bad rap and are deemed unhealthy because of our preparation of them. For example, we like to fry potatoes in oil and make potato chips or fries, or we top a baked potato with butter, sour cream, cheese, and bacon. When people make mashed potatoes, they usually add butter and heavy cream. "The added fat may be the reason why your starchy, high-carb dishes are so caloric, which you then associate with weight gain."

Remember that "carbs are the number one energy source our body uses. Approximately half of our calories should be coming from carbs," said registered dietitian Carlie Saint-Laurent Beaucejour, MS, LDN, known as @mindfuleatingdietitian on Instagram. She added that it's more nutritious and satisfying to get our carbs from the whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, and beans rather than the foods that have sugar added to them like cookies, cakes, pastries, sodas, and candy.

How Do You Get Enough Protein on the Starch Solution?
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How Do You Get Enough Protein on the Starch Solution?

There is actually a lot of protein in plants, especially in beans, lentils, whole grains, and leafy greens, said Engman, and added that if you're eating enough calories from these foods, you'll easily hit your protein goal. Even a typical serving of whole wheat pasta (which is Starch-Solution-approved!) offers eight grams of protein.

"The majority of people in America actually get more protein than is necessary, so you may not need as much as you think," Engman said. Saint-Laurent Beaucejour agreed, and added that it's extremely rare to see someone protein deficient. "In a well-rounded diet, even a vegan diet, you can get enough protein — generally between 50 and 60 grams of protein is adequate for the average adult," she said.

Aren't Oils Like Olive and Coconut Healthy?
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Aren't Oils Like Olive and Coconut Healthy?

"If you think about how [oils are] produced, you will see that they are also processed foods," explained Engman. Olives, avocados, peanuts, or coconuts are processed, taking away the water and the fiber, and leaving the pure fat. "Per pound, oils are the highest-calorie food there is," she said, and Saint-Laurent Beaucejour added that, "two tablespoons of peanut butter is 190 calories and one tablespoon of olive oil is 119 calories."

Engman and Dr. McDougall agree that in order to get the nutritional benefits of the healthy fats, which include antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, you should eat plant-based, high-fat foods in their whole-food form. Saint-Laurent Beaucejour added that plant fats also promote satiety, so she agrees with Dr. McDougall to watch your portion sizes. She also said that coconut oil should be eaten in small amounts since it's a saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease compared to other plant oils, which are unsaturated fats.

Is the Starch Solution Diet Safe Long-Term?
Getty | AnnaPustynnikova

Is the Starch Solution Diet Safe Long-Term?

Engman said she absolutely recommends this diet to clients, and said, "The great thing about the Starch Solution is that it can fit anyones needs." When you eat a diet of whole foods that are low in fat and high in fiber, you'll feel so satisfied, and it's easy to eat intuitively. She added, "You can get everything you need from a high-carb, whole-food, plant-based diet. The only two things I would add is make sure to take a B12 supplement as well as vitamin D3."

"When changing your diet always consult with your doctor and dietitian," reminded Saint-Laurent Beaucejour. She added that food is a huge part of our social life and should bring happiness, not anxiety. Ultimately, your diet needs to promote health and joy, and any balanced diet that incorporates a wide variety of nutrients and allows you to eat the foods that makes you feel good can be sustainable long-term. It's worth trying this way of eating to see if you like it.