Should Salad or Starch Be the Focus of a WFPB Meal? The Answer is Yes!

There are times I've noticed when it appears that the whole food, plant-based doctors are in conflict with each other. And while whenever two or more people are involved in anything, there will be some differences of opinions, minor tweaks in thought with others or differences in how things are done, the differences are not usually too dramatic. The main message for eating lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts and seeds stays in tact regardless. And on closer examination, I often find that what appear to be major differences at first glance are not differences at all.

In particular, I'm thinking about Dr. Fuhrman's call to make salad the focus of a whole food, plant-based way of eating versus Dr. McDougall's call to make starch the focus of a whole food, plant-based way of eating. Dr. Fuhrman focuses on the nutritional value of food and Dr. McDougall focuses on the energy and the satiety that foods provide.

So, who is right? Do we focus on the salad as the biggest part of our meal or do we focus on the starch as the biggest part of our meal. And the answer, I believe, depends on who is answering the question. If our eyeballs are answering the question, then Dr. Fuhrman is right. Our focus is on the salad because it will clearly be the largest item on our plate (or at least it should be). In fact, when I was at the recent Remedy conference last weekend, I would start each meal by filling my entire plate with salad and then putting the hot ingredients right on top of the salad. I do this at home also unless I'm substituting a green smoothie for the salad instead. It serves two purposes. First, when I do that, my salad requires no salad dressing and two, it ensures that I eat a large salad and not just make salad a sideline dish.

But what if we ask our stomachs? Our stomachs want satiety and they say that we can get there a lot quicker by having mostly starch-based foods. That's because starchy foods have a higher calorie density, so it takes less of them to fill us up.

What actually happens, or should happen on a WFPB way of eating, is we should see a large salad and a smaller portion of starch. And yet the smaller portion of starch can be, and should be, enough to be able to label our plate starch-based. Dr. McDougall says that 45% to 70% of our plate should be starch-based.

Let's take a look at what that actually looks like. Let's take a typically simple meal like rice and beans with a salad and see what we have. For such a meal of 500 calories, 70% of it, according to Dr. McDougall should be starchy vegetables, 20% non-starchy vegetables (like what you find in a salad) and 10% fruit.That breaks down to 350 calories coming from starchy vegetables, 100 calories coming from non-starchy vegetables and 50 calories coming from fruit.

In other words, 350 calories are from starch and 150 calories can be from salad (if we put the fruit on the salad). Both rice and beans are starchy vegetables. One cup of brown rice is 215 calories and half a cup of pinto beans is 122 calories. That's your starchy vegetables. Now the salad makes up the remaining calories through 3 cups of kale and 1/2 cup of blueberries.

Calorie-wise, that's a starch-based meal. But from the perspective of our eyesight, there's 3-1/2 cups of salad to 1-1/2 cups of beans and rice. The salad is over twice as large as the beans and rice. And yet the beans and rice comprise 70% of the meal, making it a starch-based meal.

So, when it comes to the centerpiece of your meal, you don't have to choose between Dr. McDougall and Dr. Fuhrman. Both are right. You need to eat large quantities of veggies, but you need to get most of your calories from starch. How about that! Instead of deprivation, both are saying to get enough of these important food components.

J Lanning Smith
November 20, 2017