Starchivore or Nutritarian

Recently, I attended the VegSource Healthy Lifestyle Expo in Santa Monica California. After a few years, it was great to be back as I am a regular of this amazing  "plant based" expo.
There were amazing presentations by some of the heavyweights in the plant based diet movement, including John McDougall M.D. and Joel Fuhrman M.D., both of whom are on the expert panel here at
Interestingly, I learned that in February 2012, these two esteemed docs are going head to head with a very high profile CEO moderator to debate whether a plant based diet should be starch-based (potatoes, rice, corn etc) or vegetable-based (leafy greens, vegetables etc). For a little background on the subject, read this post on a plant "based" diet.
This is big stuff for people who are tuned into plant based nutrition as a key aspect of their lifestyle, and the consequences are big too. So most people want to get this right, and are dealing with a bit of an identity crisis, as the terminology around plant based eating for many (not all) is switching from eating "vegan or vegetarian" to "nutritarian" or eating "nutrient rich"; which can be vegan, but is about so much more. And I say that, not to discount one bit, the emotion and sentience that characterize an eating style that does not include the consumption of animals but only to highlight that there are other major benefits.
While out in California I had a conversation about this debate with another esteemed doctor whom will go unnamed in this article, over why there is so much tension around this issue.

Here are my thoughts:
Regarding our philosophical conversation about the potential winner of the upcoming "smackdown", one thing I realize clearly after this weekend, is that Dr. McDougal and Dr. Fuhrman are in two similar but very different conversations with the common theme of getting healthier, losing weight, and reversing disease.
Dr. McDougall IS most definitely helping people get healthy, lose weight and reverse disease as an enduring pioneer in plant based nutrition, and Dr. Fuhrman is doing the same, with an added focus on performance and longevity. The nutrient-rich way to eat is inherently a broader and more detailed discussion about maximizing health, performance AND longevity; hence, the focus on nutrient density, naturally reduced caloric intake as a result of comprehensive nutritional adequacy (not proactive calorie restriction AKA dieting) and minimization of even mild withdrawal symptoms caused by higher salt, more calorie rich, less nutrient dense foods.
Dr. Fuhrman gives additional attention to a new level of detail for maximizing healing, recovery and longevity overall. You probably know the studies on longevity, as an obviously astute researcher; combine them with performance and you have a very new message.  That is not what Dr. McDougall is focused on in my assessment even though he enables improvements in both additional areas, somewhat, simply by virtue of that fact that he promotes a healthier diet than the SAD and weight loss only diets.
I support Dr. McDougall 100% nonetheless. I love what he does in the world. This is about the targeted benefits that require an evolution of the standard vegetarian or vegan or even the plant based message, to one that is based on maximizing the nutrient per calorie ratio of the foods you eat. Even though the end result may be similar, the mindset is greatly enhanced.
Dr. Fuhrman has just taken things to a new level, and one that in my assessment after the conference, many are simply just beginning to come to terms with, including many of the doctors in the plant based community. And it has naturally created tension. This is good. There are many entrenched nutritional paradigms that are getting uprooted and in some cases upstaged right now as the message about the healthiest way to eat through nutrient density or "nutritional excellence" evolves. The science of nutrient rich nutrition has emerged.
Healthy eating is not simply about not eating meat as you already know; it's about knowing how to eat a whole food, plant-based, nutrient-rich eating style optimally, and not everyone is ready for that. It depends on where they are in the nutrition transition we define and help people make, here at this site.
Dr. Fuhrman is focused on how to do that optimally, so you get all the real health benefits including maximum performance and longevity. This is true here a as well. Eating up to 90% or More, Plant Based Nutrient Rich is not inherently about weight loss, but weight loss and living at or near your ideal weight all year round, is a natural consequence of eating for health, performance and longevity. This is a complimentary but broader more detailed discussion and the reason why the discussion about what your diet is "based" in, has been so tenuous. These two doctors are sending similar but different messages.
  • Dr. Fuhrman is basing his approach on the most nutrient dense foods that are naturally low calorie, with higher calorie yet still nutrient-rich foods in smaller amounts pending activity levels. He refers to people who seek the most nutrients per calorie as a "nutritarian".
  • Dr. McDougall is basing his approach on calorically dense foods that are still considered nutrient rich, with the most nutrient rich, lower calorie foods added in after a person get's enough calories. He refers to the person who eats a starch based diet as a "starchivore".
Both of these approaches have their merits but become more meaningful, relevant and actionable when you understand the complex of benefits they are designed to realize for the healthy eater. Pending the array of benefits you are seeking, where you are in your nutrition transition, and other individualized considerations, will determine what approach you take.
In my view, if a person is not active enough, or is starchy carb sensitive, they can very easily gain weight as a starchivore especially after they have been eating this way for a while and their body has transitioned fully from their previous usual nutrient poor diet. If a person who is eating a vegetable based diet as primates do, and needs more calories, or to eat more often for any of a variety of potential reasons, they can just do so; but they are surely going to get the most nutrient rich foods when they eat with the nutrient density of foods in mind first and foremost. And this favors a vegetable based diet since vegetables are the most nutrient rich foods around and the best for healthy weight loss. Especially in a world that is not that active anymore. This is why in my opinion, one eats kale before corn and romaine before russet potatoes…  
This broader conversation requires a great deal of additional nutritional education to understand concepts not yet commonly discussed in the vegan, vegetarian, now plant based community, so it's no wonder that some percentage of people are going to misinterpret, or simply miss aspects of the message. It's inevitably going to happen, but that does not in anyway constitute a message gone awry. It's a message not yet fully understood, that requires at least a basic nutritional education.That's what I see.
After a few years away from this conference, following 6 prior years of attendance, and a 23 year evolution to this point on this very subject, I could see this pretty clearly.  
It was an amazing conference!

3 thoughts on “Starchivore or Nutritarian”

  1. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with either one. Do the one you like and will stick with. I do more of a furhman style in the spring and summer but switch to a more mcdougal starch base in the winter when the in season fruits and vegetables aren’t my favorites.

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