The Scapegoat

At the McDougall Conference in February, there was some brief discussion about salt and sugar.  Are they ok to use, or should they be avoided? I thought Dr. McDougall’s response was reasonable. He said that if you need a little salt on your greens to eat them, then do it.  If you need a little sugar on your oatmeal to eat it, then do it. I thought that made a lot of sense, and as one who tends to crave salt over sugar, I was happy to hear him say that. (Quite honestly, I have never tried to limit my salt.)

In “The Starch Solution”, Dr. McDougall takes the discussion a step further, calling salt and sugar the scapegoats of the Western diets. Our taste buds are designed to seek out these substances and a diet without them is not one most people will follow. The real culprits are not the salt and sugar, but rather the meat, dairy, fats, oil, and processed food that are the staples of the standard American diet.

So let’s start with salt.

Salt is routinely blamed for high blood pressure (which then increases your risk for other diseases). However, randomized clinical trials show that reducing sodium to the current USDA recommendations by an average of almost 2000 mg a day had negligible reductions in blood pressure (just 1-5 points on the top number & 0.6-3 points on the bottom number). The book is quick to point out that just a week on the McDougall diet results in a 15 point reduction in the top number and 13 point on the bottom.  And that’s with using salt!

As for sugar, while there is such a thing as eating too much simple sugar (with health consequences), it doesn’t need to be completely avoided. Sugar is a source of energy for your body. It is best, however, to limit refined sugars and flours, as they are empty calories. Seek the majority of your carbs from whole starches (like brown rice, potatoes, corn, etc.), but if you need a little simple sugar once in a while, it’s not what’s going to kill you.

He pointed out that there are three sources of calories — proteins, fats, and carbs.  If you eat a low carb diet, that means you have to get more calories from proteins and fats, and therein lies the problem.

His discussion of the Glycemic Index was also interesting.  I have read in the past that foods with a high GI should be avoided, but yet, Dr. McDougall describes that an increased blood sugar after you eat is what is supposed to happen.  It is how we get our energy to go about our lives, and he feels the whole GI distracts us from the real problems.

For both salt and sugar, Dr. McDougall recommends putting them on top of the food, rather than cooking with it.  Your tongue will like it better that way!

I recommend reading the book for more details on all this.  There is so much information and I can’t cover it all in this space, but hopefully it’s enough information to make you curious!  Like so many other things on a plant-based diet, the information turns the collective wisdom on it’s head.

salt 1


The Scapegoat (2012) –


2 thoughts on “The Scapegoat

  1. Interestingly, people who tend to crave salt over sugar generally test as carbohydrate nutritional types, which explains why this diet is very satisfying for you and you seem to be losing weight easily on it. I crave sweets more than salt and test as a protein type, so I feel hungry quickly if I eat a meal with high carbs and low fat. But I do agree that everyone needs way more produce and way less refined junk.

    • I’ve always considered myself fortunate that I don’t crave sweets! Haven’t read about the connection of that craving to nutritional types. You would think sweets people would do well with carbs… Hmm.

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