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The McDougall Program heals chronic illness through professional medical care, world-class education and ongoing support for people transitioning to a starch-based lifestyle.

Dr. John McDougall is a physician, speaker, and best-selling author who teaches the importance of a whole-food, starch-based diet that halts, reverses and heals chronic disease. He started as a doctor who noticed his patients weren’t improving despite all the medical assistance he provided. That’s when Dr. McDougall discovered the power of a proper diet.

With this knowledge, he formed the McDougall Program alongside his wife, Mary McDougall, who has created thousands of low-fat, oil-free vegan recipes. Dr. McDougall met Mary in medical school, where she was training to become a surgical nurse.

Fast Facts

Dr. John McDougall, MD is the author of 13 national best-sellers including one of the top vegan books on Amazon, The Starch Solution, and a clinical instructor for four medical schools in the United States

Dr. McDougall received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Lifestyle Medicine

Dr. McDougall, Mary McDougall and Jim Ahrens are co-founders of Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods, which offers convenient food products.

The McDougall Program has helped thousands eliminate unnecessary medications while reversing and healing serious health problems.

The McDougall Program has been healing people worldwide for over 35 years.

The McDougall program centers on a diet of 90% starchy plant foods—including whole grains and whole-grain products—and 10% of a wide assortment of vegetables and fruit.

Dr. John McDougall was part of the Great Nutrition Debate 2000 presented by the USDA.

A Brief History of Dr. John McDougall

I was born a passionate person with a larger-than-life type-A personality. I was raised in a lower-middle-class family in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. Growing up, my parents instilled the importance of honesty. They would say, “Johnny, no matter what you did wrong (and I was into a lot of mischief) or what else is going on in your life, as long as you tell the truth, everything will work out.”

As I grew up and entered the medical world, this simple but essential lesson seemed to conflict with everything in that realm—which made me go off on my own. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My Life-Changing Medical Experience

My medical education began in October 1965 when I suffered a massive stroke at the age of 18. The stroke left me completely paralyzed on the left side of my body for two weeks, and I remain physically weakened all these years later.

This was my first real contact with the businesses of medicine. Without this opportunity, I would have never become a physician.

My parents worshiped medical doctors as if they were exceptional beings, and I was an ordinary person. I never even dreamed of aspiring to such heights—that is, before my fateful hospitalization.

My exalted view of doctors changed during my 2-week stay at Grace Hospital. As “a medical curiosity”—suffering a stroke at such a young age—I attracted some of Detroit’s finest medical specialists.

After each examination, I would ask the doctor:

  • “What caused my stroke?”
  • “What are you going to do for me?”
  • “How are you going to make me better?”
  • “When can I go home?”

The typical response was nonverbal; shaking their heads from side to side, they walked out of my room.

I figured I could do that.

After two weeks of the “best care” modern medicine had to offer, I left the hospital against medical advice and returned to my undergraduate studies at Michigan State University.

After three years of undergraduate work, I entered the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State.

Entering the Medical World as a Professional

In 1972, I started my internship at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu on Oahu. Mary and I fell in love with those exotic islands, and destiny took us to the Big Island of Hawaii the next year to work and live.

As one of four medical doctors at the Hamakua Sugar Plantation, I had responsibility for 5,000 people. I provided all medical services for them, from delivering their babies to signing their death certificates. This responsibility forced me to become the best doctor I could be—after all, I was “it” because the nearest specialist was 42 miles south in the small town of Hilo.

Struggling to Keep Patients Healthy

Under my care, patients with chronic problems seemed to never get well. Patients would come to my office with a complaint, and I’d prescribe a pill. On the way out of my office, I’d say, “If this pill doesn’t work, come back, and I’ll try another one.”

Upon their return, the scenario would be repeated. Soon, they’d tire of the experience and stop coming, but I never ran out of pills.

Consistent failures made me conclude that the fault was mine: I was a bad doctor. Had I not learned my medical school lessons? Maybe I spent too much time at the beach during my Hawaiian internship.

After three years as a sugar plantation doctor, I moved back to Oahu with Mary and my two young children. I entered the University of Hawaii Medical Residency Program to remedy my apparent lack of medical competence.

Before starting
The McDougall Program, I never ran out of pills.

Unfortunately, after more than two years of intense training under the guidance of some of the best professors in the world, I was still seeking the secrets to health and healing. These special doctors obtained no better results with their prescriptions than I had—the patients stayed ill. In 1978, I passed the American Board of Internal Medicine, certifying my competence in orthodox medical knowledge. Even though I was now a board-certified internist, I had to look back to my days on the sugar plantation for the solutions I sought.

Discovering the Power of Basic Nutrition

From my patients at the Hamakua Sugar Plantation between 1973 and 1976, I learned the cause of over 80% of the diseases afflicting people in North America and the rest of the Western world—their diet.

My elderly patients had immigrated to Hawaii from China, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, where rice was a staple food. They brought their culture, but their children were tempted by Western foods and slowly changed.

The third generation had given up rice and vegetables for meat, dairy and junk. For all three generations, their health reflected their diet. The first-generation immigrants were trim, active, and medication-free into their 90s. They had no diabetes, heart disease, arthritis or cancers of the breast, prostate or colon.

The immigrants’ children became a little fatter and sicker, and most of their grandchildren had lost all of their immunity to obesity and common diseases—in every way of appearance and health, they were full-fledged Americans.

My observations contradicted two fundamental beliefs I had held since childhood. The first was that we naturally become fatter and sicker as we age. The second was that a well-balanced diet was best. Before my own eyes, I saw fully functioning elders thriving on grains, fruits and vegetables.

Diving into Diet Therapy

My plantation days gave me a clear understanding of the power of a healthy diet to prevent disease. However, the full potential of diet therapy only became apparent after my research began at the Hawaii Medical Library in 1976.

Perusing the scientific journals, I learned that many other doctors before me had made the same discoveries I had. Diets of common starches, like rice and potatoes, resulted in robust health, and meat and dairy destroyed people’s physical condition.

These pioneer scientists reported that once people stopped eating the foods that made them sick, they recovered. They described weight loss and the relief of chest pains, headaches and arthritis. The solution reserved problems like kidney and heart failure, diabetes and many more troubles.

Volumes of research written over the previous 50 years in these library journals showed me how I could cure my patients with one big, simple solution: a starch-based diet. Yet, we all still relied on pills. Why didn’t I learn this in school?

Challenging the System

Questioning my lack of nutrition education was only the beginning of challenging the established systems I was a part of. I began learning that not everyone got the same childhood lesson about telling the truth as I did.

Asbestos in the Rice

My first experience fighting big business came after newspaper headlines in 1978 warned the citizens of Hawaii about cancer risks from asbestos exposure, which was common for shipyard workers. It also affected children because of schools built with these materials.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Honolulu Advertiser asking: “Why worry about these minor sources of exposure when our citizens are eating hundreds of millions of tons of asbestos-coated rice annually?”

The milling of rice from brown to white exposes the kernels and quickly spoils them. Manufacturers coated the rice with talc powder to prevent spoilage. Talc is an amorphous form of magnesium silicate, and asbestos is the same material in a fibrous form. You can’t mine talc without the asbestos.

After a yearlong fight with the rice companies, I won, and talc was removed from the rice sold in Hawaii, California, and Puerto Rico. Manufacturers replaced the talc with a glucose coating.

Informed Consent for Breast Cancer

In 1980, a Honolulu citizen group approached me while trying to get an informed consent law passed. The law would require doctors to tell women their surgical options when faced with breast cancer.

Massachusetts and California had already passed similar laws. There was a need for such laws because doctors weren’t telling women the truth: Surgery didn’t improve survival because, in most cases, the disease had already spread to the rest of the body. The cancer had been spreading long before the discovery of a breast tumor (even with a mammogram).

Simply put: A lumpectomy or a mastectomy made no difference in a woman’s day of death. The choice was to live with or without her breast. I thought a woman should know the facts in case she wanted to choose less mutilating surgery.

The fight took two years in the state legislature. My final face-off before the Hawaii lawmakers was with members of the Hawaii Cancer Society and the University of Hawaii Medical School.

These organizations lost, and the nation’s third informed consent law for breast cancer was passed.

Sometimes, fighting for the truth has consequences.

After winning the fight, I could no longer buy malpractice insurance. At that time, physicians controlled the state’s only two doctors’ liability insurance companies.

Losing my malpractice insurance meant I lost my hospital privileges. I practiced “bare” (without insurance) for the next two years. Until this writing, I haven’t told this final chapter of the story—I never wanted others to know that my colleagues retaliated against me for making them tell women the truth about breast cancer.

Working at St. Helena Hospital

In 1986, the Seventh Day Adventist St. Helena Hospital administration in Napa Valley, California, invited me to run the McDougall Program as their lifestyle residential program. Though I’m not an Adventist, I felt this was a good match because their founding religion believes in a vegetarian diet and a healthy lifestyle.

This hospital was considered one of the country’s best heart surgery centers. Even then, it seemed odd to me to invite a doctor who’s against most heart surgeries to work at a hospital that makes 80% of its income from heart disease.
Insurers Don’t Want the Truth
Now that I was working at a respected hospital, I figured I could get medical insurance to pay for patients to attend my program. I approached several well-known companies.

I argued that our program could treat heart patients at a fraction of the cost of bypass surgery ($4,000 vs. $100,000 at the time). No matter how hard I tried to convince them, the sale was impossible.

A representative from one large insurer told me they weren’t interested in my approach because it required the patient’s cooperation. All the bypass surgeon had to do to relieve chest pain was to get the patient to lie down on the table. The companies apparently had little faith in patients’ judgment and willpower. I countered by saying, “Some patients will change their diet, and they deserve this alternative.”

After some contesting, I finally got the real answer: “Dr. McDougall, you just don’t get it. As an insurance company, we take a piece of the pie, and the bigger the pie, the more we get.”

Dr. McDougall, we know your diet works.

Doctors and Surgeons Don’t Want the Truth

I had many chances to talk to surgeons and cardiologists while working at a heart surgery center. Some of them actually became my friends. I told these heart doctors several times that I would send all of my patients to them for a second opinion if they would return the favor.

I got no takers.

My kindest feedback came from the radiologists. They’d tell me, “Dr. McDougall, we know your diet works. We see the repeat angiograms of their heart arteries showing reversal.”

During my sixteen years at St. Helena Hospital, I sent many patients to other doctors for a second opinion and treatment. I didn’t receive a single referral from a local doctor in return.

Going Off on My Own

I have fond memories of those years working at St. Helena Hospital. I helped thousands of people with the aid of the talented and caring professional staff there.

But, the program never seemed to grow in numbers in this setting. Even though I appeared on most of the top TV and radio shows nationwide with my bestselling books, our census was far lower than it should have been.

My Departure from St. Helena Hospital in 2002

I have fond memories of those years working at the hospital. Thousands of people were helped with the aid of the talented and caring professional staff working for St. Helena Hospital. But, the program never seemed to grow in numbers in this setting. Maybe people saw a contradiction of health (my program) and medical treatment (the hospital). Even though I was a national figure appearing at that time on most of the top TV and radio shows nationwide with my bestselling books, our census was far lower than it should have been.

In 2002, an opportunity arose to enlarge the McDougall Program and help many more people. Dr. Roy Swank, the inventor of the dietary treatment of multiple sclerosis, offered the chance to open my live-in program to treat his patients with MS.

This was a win-win opportunity for everyone, and I expected an enthusiastic welcome from the St. Helena Hospital administration. After lengthy discussions, they told me that they didn’t want to be associated with MS patients, as if this would be a stigma.

The real reason may have been that treating MS patients in any hospital would be very low-profit. I explained that we’re a hospital, and our primary purpose is to treat the sick. We’re a unique hospital because of the religious foundation and even more exceptional because the Adventists believe in diet therapy.

I concluded no better match could be made.

They were steadfast. My contract renewal was due for signature in five days. I turned it in with “VOID” written over the front page.

Running Other McDougall Programs

Between 1999 and 2001, I ran my program in Minneapolis for Blue Cross Blue Shield. During these three years, with three different groups of employees, I demonstrated the same remarkable health benefits we were achieving at St. Helena Hospital:

  • Weight loss
  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Blood pressure reduction
  • Blood sugars reduction
  • Indigestion relief
  • Constipation relief
  • Arthritis relief

This time, I could document a 44% reduction in healthcare costs for each of the three groups based on the insurance company’s claims data.

I had a similar experience in Lakeland, Florida, caring for some of the employees of Publix Supermarkets. Both of these remote programs were run out of local hotels, and I could set up a 10-day McDougall Program in any city in the US within 72 hours.

The Santa Rosa Clinic

In May 2002, we began our first 12-Day McDougall program at the Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa, California. Our yearly census quadrupled in no time. The food now tasted as if Mary made it at home.

Like many things in life, we’ve asked ourselves why we waited so long to take complete control of our program:

  • The website,, received 7 to 8 million hits monthly.
  • The McDougall, MD, TV show played in households worldwide.
  • Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods was in nearly 4,000 stores.
  • Our free newsletter was going out to 30,000 people monthly.
  • We made new friends every month at our different sessions,like the 10-day medical live-in programs, 5-day programs, Advanced Study Weekends, Celebrity Chef Weekends, and Adventure Trips.

It seemed like we were on a productive track.

I recently co-authored AB 1478, a bill asking for even more informed consent for people in California. One part of this bill requires doctors to tell patients that heart surgery doesn’t save lives in most cases and that diet is a real answer.

The second part requires doctors to tell patients that common medications for type-2 diabetes increase their risk of dying and that diet will help them greatly.

I wonder if there will be any negative repercussions for me from my colleagues when AB 1478 passes into law. I can’t change. My parents taught me to tell the truth always, and my passions guide my life.

Medical care is changing for the better because millions of informed people demand improved health rather than more treatments. I’m optimistic, and you should be, too. To believe this can’t be fixed is unthinkable.


In 2017, after 50 years, I decided it was time to let others take the lead. Despite my love for seeing patients and helping them with their health problems, life showed me the truth: It was time to move on.

Luckily, I felt comfortable doing this because I have a trained team full of wonderful people who share my passion for diet therapy. This team includes my wife Mary, my daughter Heather, Anthony Lim, MD, JD, and many more.

By opening up my life’s work to other people, we’ve expanded our programs beyond the McDougall programs, such as:

Of course, that doesn’t mean the McDougall Program is retired. It’s still going strong with new points of view and a very interactive community taking control of their health through the information in our blog and other resources.