Is starch a beneficial nutrient or a toxin? You be the judge.

sweet potatoesAs many of you know, I’m currently at the Ancestral Health Symposium at Harvard University. Yesterday I participated on a panel organized and moderated by Jimmy Moore called “Safe Starches: Are They Essential on an Ancestral Diet?” The panelists were myself and Paul Jaminet on the “pro-starch” side, and Dr. Ron Rosedale and Dr. Cate Shanahan on the “anti-starch” side (though Cate’s position is not quite as cut-and-dry as Ron’s).

I’m giving my talk on iron overload today, so I don’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to at least summarize the “anti-starch” side’s arguments and then list some bullet points of my arguments in favor of starch for those of you who aren’t here. I’m not sure if the panels will be made available after the fact (the talks will be).

Ron and Cate believe that glucose is toxic in any concentration, and it’s just a matter of scale. In fact, Ron is fond of saying that “everyone is diabetic”. Since starch breaks down into glucose, then by definition starch is toxic and should be avoided – by everyone. I’m a little less clear on Cate’s position, but she seemed to argue that glucose raises insulin, and insulin causes problems, so everyone should be on a low-carb diet ranging from 20 – 70 grams of carbohydrate a day, starch included.

My arguments in favor of starch

  • Let’s define the terms: are we debating whether starch is “safe” in healthy people or people with particular health conditions like diabetes or small-intestine bacterial overgrowth? These are very different conversations. People with hereditary hemochromatosis (a disorder that causes iron overload) should not eat iron-rich foods like liver and mussels; does that mean everyone should avoid these foods? Even if starch/glucose is “toxic” for diabetics, should everyone avoid starch/glucose?
  • If the argument is that starch is not safe for healthy people, I would say there’s little to no scientific or anthropological evidence to support that idea, and overwhelming evidence opposing it.
  • There are literally billions of people eating high-starch diets worldwide, and you can find many examples of cultures that consume a large percentage of calories from starch where obesity, metabolic problems and modern, inflammatory disease are rare or nonexistent. These include the Kitava in the Pacific Islands, Tukisenta in the Papa New Guinea Highlands and Okinawans in Japan among others. The Kitavan diet is 69% carb, 21% fat, and 10% protein. The Okinawan diet is even more carb-heavy, at 85% carb, 9% protein and 6% fat. The Tukisenta diet is astonishingly high in carbohydrate: 94.6% according to extensive studies in the 60s and 70s. All of these cultures are fit and lean with low and practically non-existent rates of heart disease and other modern chronic disease.
  • Amylase is thought to have played a key role in human evolution in allowing humans an alternative to fruit and protein. Compared with primates, humans have many more copies of a gene (AMY1) essential for breaking down calorie-rich starches. The ability to digest starch, along with the discovery of fire and cooking, gave humans a new food source that allowed us to thrive even in marginal environments. Some scientists have even argued that consumption of starch, along with meat, was primarily responsible for the increase in our brain size.
  • Dr. Rosedale argues that evolution is optimized for fertility, not longevity, and that starch consumption decreases longevity. The evidence he cites from this come from studies of roundworm, C. Elegans. However, I am not aware of any evidence in humans showing that starch consumption decreases longevity, and some of the longest lived cultures in the world consume large amounts of starch. Okinawans over the age of 65 (who grew up eating a traditional diet) are a prime example. According to a study of the traditional Okinawan diet in 1949, they obtained 85% of calories from starch, mostly from sweet potato. Life expectancy was 86 years for women and 77.6 years for men. Life expectancy at age 65 is the highest in the world, at 24.1 years for females and 18.5 years for males. Finally, the Okinawan population has the highest prevalence of centenarians in the world. This is especially remarkable when you consider that Okinawans did not have access to modern medical care during the 40s & 50s and and higher rates of death due to infections like tuberculosis as a result. If glucose is toxic and promotes short lifespan, how do the Okinawans live so long?
  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The amount of starch (and carbohydrate in general) will depend upon genetic/epigenetic factors (like amylase production), existing health conditions and the volume and intensity of activity – among others.
  • If the argument is that starch isn’t safe for those with impaired glucose tolerance, I concede that may be true in many cases. However, I’d like to point out that there’s some evidence that suggests starch may be safe in this population as well. For example, low-fat diets also cause fat loss (even without deliberate calorie restriction), though to a lesser extent than low-carb diets. And there are documented cases of people losing significant amounts of weight and improving metabolic parameters by eating nothing but potatoes. For example, Chris Voigt lost 21 pounds over the course of two months by eating only potatoes and not deliberately restricting calories. Furthermore, his fasting glucose decreased by 10 mg/dL (104 to 94 mg/dL), his serum triglycerides dropped by nearly 50%, his HDL cholesterol increased slightly, and his calculated LDL cholesterol dropped by a stunning 41% (142 to 84 mg/dL).

There’s more, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go further. If Drs. Rosedale and Shanahan are going to advise us to avoid an entire class of food that has been eaten for a couple of million years by humans, the burden of proof is on them to tell us why that food isn’t safe. Evidence from roundworm experiments and biochemical/mechanistic speculation is not enough in the face of overwhelming evidence that starch and glucose are safe in the absence of certain existing health conditions.

Now I’d like to hear from you. Which side of this debate are you on?

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Categories

Paleo Diet

Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Adam says

    Awesome. First time posting, but felt it necessary to. All I can say is, I transitioned from a vegan to paleo diet. It was a great starting path. “No/Low” carb worked for a month or two only because my guess was from elevated insulin and glucose levels over the course of 2 years of pounding my body with legumes and grains.

    A couple months into paleo, I started to reintroduce lots of safe starches and have never felt OR looked better. (Super lean, strong, and look vibrant.)

  2. says

    I personally have found I fare much better on a starchier diet, even a much higher fructose diet (I eat a lot of fruit) which I never imagined I’d be saying! Restricting carbs and eating a higher fat/higher protein diet does not feel good for me, it was always a bit of a struggle, and I would end up having crazy fruit binges. At the end of last year I went traveling in Asia and threw the whole high fat/moderate carb thing out the window whilst enjoying loads of fruit, white rice, yams, and small amounts of meat (and daily ice cream!) during my travels. I was well into the “insidious weight gain” parameters as outlined by Mr Sisson ;) yet I lost 7 kilos, my skin cleared up and I felt amazing. Granted, it was a fun, stress-free period so obviously that played a role as well. Coming home, I tried to revert back to my old ways, limiting the starch and fruit and trying to up the protein and fat again – I ended up feeling sluggish and gaining all the weight back – plus my temps became completely frigid so I suspect that I wasn’t getting enough glucose for proper thyroid function. Now, I’m back on the CHOs again (>250g/day), leaning up slowly (yes, really), warming up my temps and feeling relaxed about my diet again. Sleeping like a baby, too, with all those carbs in my belly – that’s been the best thing!

    • David Doerr says

      Sucrose increases bad cholesterol build-up in the arteries, yet the vitamins in fruit help to protect the body from this ill effect. Table sugar is the substance to avoid. The starches help us to get a good night’s sleep, especially if consumed with foods that contain tryptophan (for example, low-fat cottage cheese). With the addition of vitamin B6, the tryptophan converts to the sleep-inducing chemical, serotonin.

      • daisy says

        Lovely Christina I so agree. ”Let not thy butt be silent.” He listened and learned, so that’s good.

  3. says

    As someone who is BFing and underweight (5′ 7, 107), I think starches are important. Of course, many who are overweight and carb sensitive probably need to restrict them. Nora Gedgaudas’ argument against safe starches didn’t convince me, either. I’ve tried cutting them out before and going low-carb, but I felt terrible–sometimes they’re the only foods that fill me up.

    • Cassie says

      I am currently breastfeeding too. I feel terrible with out carbs- potatoes, lots of fruit, raw milk and rice occasionally. I don’t feel good low carb. But I have a feeling I don’t feel good with higher carbs either. Still trying to figure that out.

    • Michal R. Pijak, MD says

      It´s strange that Kitavans, inspite of very high carb diet are not fat and free of diseases of affluence.

        • says

          In one of my previous post I mentioned the same: „……………. horticultural Trobriand Islanders …………..SMOKE HEAVILY ……………“ The Trobriands consist of four main islands, the largest being Kiriwina island, and the others being Kaileuna, Vakuta and KITAVA.

      • Galina L. says

        Kitovans also eat once a day. It looks like IF makes macro-nutrient content of a diet to be less important. Before I started LCarbing, fasting and eating in intervals longer than 3 hours was just impossible because I was too hungry. After I got adapted to LC diet AND fasting, my hunger is not ruling my life any longer. However , I continue eating LC because I like how I feel in ketosis, it also helps controlling my migraines and PMS.

        • says

          If Carbs are so bad, how are Kitavans able to eat only once a day. The problem is not with carbs. The problem is with damaged metabolism. And unless you fix that, you will continue to feel better on low carb. It maybe that your metabolism cannot be fixed. Or it maybe that it has gotten fixed due to the LC diet, you just haven’t checked it out. You do know that you will get a High Carb flu if you start eating carbs suddenly.

          • Galina L. says

            Carbs are not bad by itself, but different people react on carbs in their diet differently. I think the ability to comfortably tolerate the infrequent eating is the indicator of the appropriate macro-nutrient diet composition for a particular person. I am not comfortable to say that my metabolism is broken because I have been always prone to get too hungry between meals and my appetite has been an issue since I remember myself (until I started LCarbing). I grew up in a different country without any access to a fast food, After moving to US at 35 years old, I continued cooking all my meals. I am not a sedentary person. My be I am secreting too much insulin when eating a “balanced” diet. I have a lady friend who managed to reverse the beginning of middle-age weight-gain by just changing the pattern of her meals to IF – first meal is at 10 am, second and last one at 5 pm, nothing in between. I am now doing pretty much the same but a LC variation. I think my diet is better because I stopped having all seasonal flues and infections since I started my diet 5 years ago(the list of disappearing health conditions is too long to mention), she didn’t. What other people like Kitovans or my friend are doing, or what any expert is saying has nothing to do with my diet choices – only personal observations can give an answer. I think eating excess of carbs is more often an issue for people than eating too little.

            • David Doerr says

              Might the Kitovans be consuming large quantities of fruit in their diet? Smoking depletes ascorbic acid (vitamin C) from the body, as explained by Dr. Linus Pauling. The Kitovans must replace that vitamin with (probably) fruit. It should be made clear that starches are complex carbohydrates (glucose) and are safer than carbs from table sugar, which contain fructose, without the antioxidants that are in vitamin-containing fruits and vegetables. Thanks, Chris.

      • Dustin Brashears says

        Magic is in the source of food. Truth is we are wonderfully complex and adaptive. There are heavily processed fats and carbs which have very negative effects but there are quality/natural sourced fats and carbs which are very beneficial to our bodies. I very much enjoy Kresser; what I’ve learned most is that food is primarily individualized. If I were to make blanket statements it would be focus on real food, eat seasonally available food, wild as much as possible, raw and cooked. I’m in the middle of creating my own site/blog. http://www.subjectivesustenance.com
        I’ve been devouring these topics for the last four years. Naturally people in extreme cases with always require specialized circumstances. Just my two sense. Stay healthy my friend;)

    • Mike says

      If you look very closely at overweight humans, chances are the obesity is caused from an over abundance of meat, dairy and too much protein. I doubt very seriously that anyone eating a plant based diet and (that is what a starch based diet is, plants. They are not obese. In contrast they are usually thin and lean and have perfectly working pancrease to handle the extra glucose not used by the brain for fuel.

      Look at Africa…starch based (potatoes) and thin, look at Japan Starch based (rice) thin. US meat and animal protein based, dairy based (obese and chronic illness like Heart Disease and Dibetes)

      • says

        “If you look very closely at overweight humans, chances are the obesity is caused from an over abundance of meat, dairy and too much protein.”

        It’s an abundance of refined sugar, flour, trans-fats etc. in all of the processed foods available here, not too much meat / dairy… That combined with lack of regular exercise / movement.

  4. says

    Very well reasoned and written.

    For those of us who read about this sort of stuff on a regular basis, it gets tiresome coming across piece after piece, position after position, on what’s “good” and “not good.” As you point out, that analysis is too cut and dry. The real questions are: Good for whom? Not good for whom?

    Here’s an example. Based on your recent post on FODMAPS, I cut down substantially on vegetables and fruits that are high in insoluble fiber – as an experiment. And I’m feeling SO MUCH BETTER. I’m learning that those kinds of foods are Not Good – for me, and for some people. But that doesn’t mean they’re Not Good for everyone.

    Precise thinking and writing like this takes longer than vague generalizing, and it’s harder. So it’s no wonder there’s so little of it around.

    :-)

    • MAL says

      ME TOO, same experience. cut down tremendously on fruits/vegetables like that and my digestion has improved a ton.

    • Michal R. Pijak, MD says

      Susan, good point regarding FODMAP.

      In recent decades, the role of dietary com ponents in inducing IBS symptoms has been explored. There is evidence that certain food components can contribute to symptoms through the effects of malabsorption of carbohydrates, and stimulation of hypersensitivity through food chemical ingestion. Noncoeliac gluten intolerance also exists and may be important in a subgroup of patients with IBS.

      Recent paper summarizes the evidence and application of the most common approaches to managing food intolerance in IBS: the low-FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols) diet, the elimination diet for food chemical sensitivity and others including possible noncoeliac gluten intolerance. (Barrett JS, Gibson PR. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul;5(4):261-8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3388522/?tool=pubmed)

      Food intolerance in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is increasingly being recognized, with patients convinced that diet plays a role in symptom induction. Evidence is building to implicate fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) in the onset of abdominal pain, bloating, wind and altered bowel habit through their fermentation and osmotic effects. Hypersensitivity to normal levels of luminal distension is known to occur in patients with IBS, with consideration of food chemical intolerance likely to answer many questions about this physiological process.

      There is emerging evidence for the role of food intolerance in the management of IBS symptoms. This does not present a cure, rather suggested dietary modifications to improve symptoms and quality of life. The greatest body of evidence is for the low-FODMAP diet, which improves symptoms in at least 74% of patients with IBS.

      Elimination of food chemicals is more difficult to introduce, more challenging for the dietitian and patient alike, and is largely based on hypothetical constructs rather than high-level evidence. For these reasons, elimination diet techniques should remain a second-line dietary therapy to be instituted only by those trained in the techniques.

      Noncoeliac gluten intolerance appears to exist, but further research is needed to confirm this and to examine the mechanism of action. Caffeine and fats may well play a role in inducing IBS symptoms in some patients, a reduction of which can be trialled to assess response. The considerable evidence supporting the low-FODMAP diet for IBS, and the fact that it is relatively easy to implement without significant nutritional concerns, supports the suggestion that this should be the first dietary manipulation trialled in patients presenting with IBS.

      • Geliza says

        After three months of really uncomfortable bowel symptoms which I took to be IBS, (my mother had this), I started a gluten free diet. After only two days without gluten most of the IBS symptoms had dissappeared along with other`problems that I didn’t know were due to gluten intolerance. My migraines are also far fewer now and much less severe than before, though I have not cut down on other foods such as caffeine, fats or FODMAP foods. The removal of the IBS symptoms and the improvement in my migrains has convinced me that food is a very important medicine and a lot less dangerous than most of the pills that doctors would like to prescribe us.

        • Kathy says

          Celiac is prevalent in my immediate family. Although I was told I don’t have celiac, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and had acid reflux for about 25 years. When I was diagnosed with u.c. I asked the specialist about eating a gluten free diet. He said “diet doesn’t matter”.
          I quit eating gluten anyway and the acid reflux and the u.c. went away.
          I just recently stopped eating virtually all grains and have lost the “last 10 pounds” that I could never seem to get rid of and my digestion is even better.
          I still eat a lot of fruit because I love it. But, I am also confused on what fruits or vegetables I shouldn’t eat.
          I don’t have health insurance, so getting tests run is pretty much out of the question.

          • turnip says

            @Kathy,
            No doc can tell you which veggies and fruits work for your genetics yet. Yeah they do have some tests but they are so limited in scope. It will take decades before they will be able to do this. In the mean time you can test them out yourself. You can either approach this the long way around and do Paleo and then autoimmune protocol and then find out you are still having problems like many of us. Or, what I have found that seems to work quicker and gets me clearer results is just go meat only and then test one veggie back in at at a time. I would test out Paleo autoimmune friendly veggies first. Then try fruit one at a a time. Do this slowly since sometimes it takes awhile for immune system to react in a way that you can actually see or feel the changes. I would also tell you that fructose may also be causing intestinal permeability too. Maybe test out low fructose veggies and fruit first would be better.

            My mother had colitis but I didn’t. My daughter is a Celiac but I am gluten sensitive. Variations on a similar theme. Also you can get Celiac later in life so you may not have it now but genetically you are a great candidate for getting it. Dr. Fasano also found this out that Celiac can be acquired at any time in your life. Big game changer. All the more reason not to mess with it. Don’t get too swallowed up by the GAPS or FODMAPS either. Just follow your genetics and epigentics and what it tells you.

            No doc can do this for you but they will try and charge a lot for it.

        • says

          I totally agree with your comment about doctors. When I look back now.. I was a very healthy teenager up until I got a job a a bakery at started eating copious amounts of bread.. serious gastritus, constant sinus and candida infections, rashes, chain headaches and then glandular fever followed by 2 years of chronic fatigue (which is not even a diagnosis in my opinion). 9 years… yes 9 whole years later I finally got diagnosed with fructose malabsorption. Since changing my diet.. EVERYTHING has improved, and I don’t have to touch drugs at all. Let just say, I no longer visit the doctor for my health advice.

    • says

      I concur with this. What works for one doesn’t work for another. I have lost 80 pounds over the past few years and *after* that weight loss, I developed diabetes. This is contrary to what all the doctors, and the medical profession on the whole, state should happen. In addition to this, I’m also a celiac and have multiple food allergies/intolerances.

      Jan 1 of this year, both the hubby and I went strict Whole30 paleo. At the same time, I eliminated my diabetes meds (1500mg Metformin daily) and the result at the of March was a rise in A1C from 5.8 to 7.3. (When diagnosed last year, it was 14.1.) It’s taken me most of this year to learn how my system works.

      1. I cannot have grains of starches of any kind. They cause my BGL to skyrocket.

      2. I have to include a “sugar” of some kind. Whether fruits that are higher on the GI or the use of honey, without this, my numbers start to creep up. This has been nice since it’s about 10000 degrees here over the summer – it’s allowed me to enjoy things like sorbets and frozen fruit bars which would typically be off-limits for a diabetic.

      My diet now consists of meat, veggies, fruits (mostly berries, grapes, apples and then things like mangos), coconut oil, use of honey here and there. No dairy, soy, corn, grains, legumes, gluten, etc. I would never want to tell someone else that this is the way that they should eat.

      I think we all need to find what works for us and do that. I have read a ton of fabulous info all over the place but not one plan fits what I need. I have to pull a bit from here, a bit from there, and toss in my own ideas. In the end, we’re all responsible for our own health and no one knows better than you what your body does/not need.

      This is what works for me and me alone. I cannot speak for others and would hesitate to advise another diabetic to follow my plan.

      • gibson girl says

        I am also diabetic and have read that I should include some safe starch in my diet to avoid wear and tear on my liver. I have an A1c of 5.3, and it scares me to experiment. So much conflicting advice! I pretty much eat what Cherie does (minus the honey), plus a few avocados a week. Am I really doing damage?

    • Melissa says

      I did the FODMAP diet as well. My diet is about 60 grams each of protein and carbs and the rest is fat. My blood sugar problem and IBS-C are now under control. Fructose, high fiber foods and casein were destroying me.

  5. Michal R. Pijak, MD says

    Not starch per se, but its source is important. The global pattern of varying prevalence of diseases of affluence, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, suggests that some environmental factor specific to agrarian societies could initiate these diseases. There is increasing evidence that a cereal-based diet could be such an environmental factor. The global epidemiological pattern suggests that almost all agrarian societies have some prevalence of diseases of affluence. In contrast, diseases of affluence have been virtually absent among many non-agrarian societies in Melanesia, Malaysia, Africa, South America and the Arctic. One such traditional population are the horticultural Trobriand Islanders with a mortality from atherothrombotic circulatory diseases which apparently is close to zero, even though they have access to abundant sources of food, smoke heavily and have a fair share of elderly people. Read more in: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6823/5/10/

  6. David says

    According to the series 9 Steps to Perfect Health – #5: Heal Your Gut, to have a healthy large intestine we need fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)

    • michelle kolarich says

      That is what I read too David. In fact, you can try a new product I saw in the supermarket. It is called Yucca bread. It is made with grated yucca, that has been pressed into a flat bread. The additional water and starch from the yucca have been squeezed, before it is baked.

      Dr. Mercola also makes his own health bar made with yucca, chia seeds, dark chocolate, and other healthy ingredients. The bar is delicious!!! He, (Dr. Mercola), wrote a book about The No grain diet that you might like. I have been able to maintain weight loss from his recommendations, and stave off bad carb cravings, and yes I do consume yucca sometimes.

      Dr. Mercola has articles about yucca – as a healthy starch/carb alternative. Try drmercola.com

      Thanks for sharing David.

      • Denis says

        Lacto fermented dill cucumbers. The Poles call them Ogorki (I think). Get them in brine. Amazingly good for your gut flora & fauna.

          • Denis says

            The trillions of bacteria that every human being carries in their gut. Some of the bacteria do not exist outside the human gut. I point you to the work carried out by Natasha Campbell McBride. She is a Russian/British doctor who has come up with the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet.

            Some examples (from Wikapedia) of gut flora are -

            Bacteroides fragilis
            Bacteroides melaninogenicus
            Bacteroides oralis
            Lactobacillus
            Clostridium perfringens
            Clostridium septicum
            Clostridium tetani
            Bifidobacterium bifidum
            Staphylococcus aureus
            Enterococcus faecalis
            Escherichia coli
            Salmonella enteritidis
            Klebsiella sp
            Enterobacter sp
            Proteus mirabilis
            Pseudomonas aeruginosa
            Peptostreptococcus sp
            Peptococcus sp

            All these bacteria are important to human health. The one I look to particularly are the lactobacillae. These are bacteria that live in a carbon dioxide environment which is what exists from the small intestine to the colon. They are what absorbs nutrients from your diet and builds faeces to eliminate waste products from your gut.

            Eat lacto fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi (I’ve never eaten it) and others, not to feed you but feed your gut flora & fauna.

            It’s a symbiotic relationship. Look after your gut flora & fauna & they will look after you. It’s in their (and your) interest.

            Peace.

            • Kell says

              Just for the record….

              Flora refers to plant life. Fauna refers to animal life

              Bacteria are not animals. Animals, fungi, plants, and protists are eukaryotes, and typically multicellular – and their cells contain membrane bound organelles. Bacteria are prokaryotes, which lack membrane bound organelles and other complex cell structures.

              The bacteria in the gut are primarily the genus Bacteriodes, which are anaerobes, and will die when exposed to an oxygen rich environment. The gut also contains facultative anaerobes that can function in both oxygen rich environments through aerobic respiration and switch to fermentation in an oxygen poor environment.

              In summary: Bacteria in the gut are not animals, most don’t use oxygen.

              Now, about those fungi….
              Fungi were originally classified as plants (flora), but have since been separated out as they are heterotrophs (meaning that they don’t fix their own carbon, but have to use (eat) carbon fixed by other organisms for their metabolism). Since the “intestinal flora” is an old term, we still say that – even though fungi are presently being re-evaluated as organisms. :)

              http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070508142520AAkx86j

              • turnip says

                @ kell,
                Is that Kell like in antigen? Ha ha..This is great that you break this all down. So when someone introduces probiotic to gut what happens with the gut bacteria? How do you know which probiotic to introduce and how much? In a healthy gut are there just certain strains that reside there and which ones are there? Does it depend on what you are eating say meat only diet vs VLC? Are there tests you can get that will tell you the strains you have and how efficiently they are working? Can you cite any research about what is optimum gut flora environment etc. ?
                Kell you had me at flora…..

                • Kell says

                  All very good questions Turnip!!
                  I’m sorry I don’t have those answers for you – but would love to know also!

                  I can say I recently saw a traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner who came highly recommended who seemed to think that all I needed to do was take a multitude of ‘pills’!! $400AUD worth and that would cure all of my ills – alongside a no sugar low carb diet of course!!! He gave me prebiotics/probiotics/multivitamins/magnesium/calcium etc etc etc the list is very long and stupidly I ‘fell’ for it and it was only when I got home and started thinking about how much crap he had given me that i felt rather miffed!!!!!!

                • turnip says

                  @Kell
                  Well I tracked down an amazing article today that was published in the NY times about two months ago which pretty much tells me this whole probiotic thing is something researches are putting a lot of resources into and the data coming out of it is vast and surprising. How they isolated so called health individuals for this study was quite extensive. You might find this extremely interesting:
                  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/health/human-microbiome-project-decodes-our-100-trillion-good-bacteria.html?pagewanted=all

              • Tutsi says

                Denis is actually correct about flora AND fauna. Besides bacteria (flora), there is also some worms (fauna) that we have a mutually beneficial relationships with. You can never be completely worm-free. Even super healthy people have them and actually need them. There is some species (i believe, hookworm) that proved to be beneficial against asthma, for example.

    • Galina L. says

      There are cultures (herders like Mongols, Masai, also Inuits) who lived healthy lives without fibers in their diet. It doesn’t mean that potatoes are a poison, of course.

    • Michal R. Pijak, MD says

      David, I hope that by fermentable starches you mean those starches that resist small intestinal breakdown and are fermented by the resident bacteria in the large intestine, producing a variety of end products, the most significant of which is the short chain fatty acids(SCFA). These RESISTENT STARCHES were also defined as “Total amount of starch, and the products of starch degradation that resists digestion in the small intestine of healthy people.” SCFA consist primarily of butyrate, propionate and acetate and are the preferred energy source for the colonocytes (cells lining the colon).
      Other benefits of SCFA’s include:
      • Increased colonic blood flow;
      • Beneficially lowers pH in the lumen which may aid mineral
      bioavailability and reduces the growth of pathogenic bacteria;
      • Helps prevent abnormal colonic cell development.

  7. Cathryn says

    I’ve been adding more safe starch in the form of rice (have eaten sweet potatoes for years) ever since I read Jaminet’s book about a year ago and it seems to be very good for me. I, too, am very lean and pretty strong for a 61 year old woman with gut problems (IBS) and autoimmunity (both well enough controlled that I mostly enjoy my life). My safe starch carbs are often over 100.

    I like to ferment my favorite rices; sushi type and basmati, which I do for 3-4 days. I guess this isn’t very common because I don’t get any feedback from people I’ve asked about the possible benefit of this. My husband and I find this preparation especially delicious so that’s a good enough reason for me to do it, benefit or not.

    • Megan says

      Cathryn, I’m actually very curious how you ferment your rice. I recently have been eating a lot of starch after the realization that it seems to upset my stomach much less than fruit and vegetables. The FODMAP diet works very well for me, although I have found that I tolerate fermented FODMAPS (such as homemade sauerkraut and yogurt) very well. In fact, I’m seeing lots of health benefits on these fermented foods and would like to do more fermenting (I recently purchased Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz to help give me ideas). I’m starting to see some logic to the regular consumption of fermented versions of foods I also eat unfermented in order to supply the gut bacteria needed to digest these foods. Since rice is something I eat a few times per week, I’m curious about how to ferment it.

      • Cathryn says

        Hi Megan,

        I first soak the rice overnight and the next morning stir it well, then rinse til the water is quite clear. Then I cover it again with fresh, filtered water and leave it for a few days. You can put it in a warm spot like a sunny window area and/or add a little hot water to bring up the temp to about warm. Sometimes the rice develops a mild cheesy aroma or smells a little yeasty. Once I found a little white, cottony mold on top that I just lifted off. When ready to cook, drain and rinse and add fresh water.

        Hope this works for you.

          • Cathryn says

            Hi Turnip,

            It’s not based on any science. It just occurred to me to try it, maybe after I heard someone on a podcast say they did it, I don’t remember. It was just an experiment and I found it very tasty and no problems so it didn’t seem like it compromised the digestibility. At worst it would be the same as eating rice prepared the usual way, is what I figured, but maybe it could be beneficial for those of us with extra sensitive guts. I honestly don’t know.

            • Paul N says

              Not based on science, maybe, but there is a long historical precedent for this – the Chinese have been doing it for thousands of years.

              Stephan Guyenet wrote a post about a “new” way to soak rice some time ago (link

              The only difference to what Cathryn is doing, is to save some of the soaking solution, and add it as a “starter” to the next batch, just like doing a sourdough.

              It is interesting to note the emphasis on *not* cooking the rice in the soaking water – it contains water soluble antinutrients/toxins, so is discarded.

              I cheated and used some kefir whey to start my rice “sourdough” and it has worked very well.

              Works even better if you then cook the soaked rice in a bone broth…

              • Cathryn says

                Thanks, Paul, good to know. I notice Stephen’s post specifies brown rice and I only use white. I have cooked it in the soaking water and it was good, but now I always rinse it and add fresh water. I assume there aren’t as many toxins in white rice. I like the idea of saving some of the soaking liquid as a starter and will try that.

                • Pam says

                  They make a “bread” in India by fermenting three parts rice with 1 part red lentils. Soak overnight, pour off the liquid and set aside, then blend them in the blender into a bit of a paste. Add the liquid back, cover and let ferment again, overnight. It should get a little frothy. Add turmeric, cilantro, salt and pepper to taste. Cook like you cook pancakes. They are nice little breads that are great with butter or applesauce, or can be used for sandwiches. Not sure,though, if the cooking destroys all the fermented goodies.

  8. Teal says

    My own experience restricting carbohydrate and avoiding things like sweet potatoes and other starchy vegetables was described very succinctly by Stefani Ruper on her blog post about carbs for fertility: http://www.paleoforwomen.com/carbohydrates-for-fertility-and-health/

    “Because low carbohydrate diets are so popular for weight loss, it is common for women trying to lose weight and to ‘look good’ to exercise often, eat very few carbohydrates, fast, and restrict food intake. The more of these restrictions a woman undertakes at once, the more and more her body reads this as living in a starved, stressed state. The results are significant. Her adrenals fire heavily, her liver gets tired from performing so much gluconeogenesis, her insulin sensitivity drops, her body fat levels fluctuate, her leptin signalling gets off, she stops sleeping soundly, and she stops menstruating regularly.”

    Check, check, check, check, check, check and CHECK.

    • turnip says

      Check. How many low carb Paleos plateaued half way through weight loss? Tons literally and figuratively. Why is that? That was one brick wall many Paleos hit. When Dr. K last year talked leptin resistance in a big way a tidal wave response occurred finally someone was talking about it. Isn’t this one of the reasons why the term Paleo Failo started circulating?

      It didn’t fail completely but it did not work completely either. It began a movement to start asking tougher questions about it all.

      I have seen when I do add carbs my body isn’t freaking out and holding onto fat so I make it through when food and carbs become more plentiful.

      But carbs are very problematic for me and I think it may have something to do with fructose being my arch enemy. So a work around for me since all types of potatoes have fructose maybe a bit of rice is my work around. Going to try it.

    • says

      I agree women need carbs, I was too low carb for too long and felt the hormonal impact. My motto is to now eat a little bit of everything, rather than a huge amount of the “right” foods. After eliminating FODMAPs for 3 months the only foods I haven’t reintroduced are garlic, onions and raw dairy because they do not agree with me, others may tolerate them and therefore can enjoy. I think it is important to experiment yourself, it is not just about food, to summarise Chris’s posts it’s about managing sleep, stress and activity for optimal health and it takes hard work. I have returned my metabolism back to it’s pre-teen working order and have never felt or looked better.. As a mother of four teenage/adult daughters I am very passionate about getting the message out there, thank you Chris for helping to make this happen.
      Jodie

    • says

      Check for me as well. My PCOS symptoms had mostly normalized before I decided to experiment with a lower-carb diet (<100g/day) at the time when I was exercising more (Zumba 2-3x/week, plus strength training 2-3x/week). Within weeks I was spotting heavily and erratically and my actual period didn't show up for two weeks past ETA. Reproductive Endocrinologist told me my body was stressed and asked if I had made any changes in my lifestyle. Took a few months to really get back into the rhythm, but increasing carbs (~200/day) normalized my cycles again.

      • Rachel says

        I don’t know what’s going on with me. I lost over 100lb on a ketogenic diet. Then my metabolism slowed right down (I got a stomach bug abroad and took antibiotics, which I think really kicked things off). Cold hands and feet, no energy, weight loss stopped. Felt terrible unless I ate some form of sugar. So I started making kefir to rebuild gut flora, and upped my carb intake. The symptoms eased, and I feel “normal” now. However, I can’t lose weight. I can’t lose if I’m keto (in fact that brings on fatigue and cold hands again), and I can’t lose if I add rice and sweet potatoes to my diet. I don’t lose if I’m inactive, and I don’t lose if I lift weights or go jogging. I’ve been fluctuating above and below the same weight by 5lb, for about 3 months now. I’m still a good 40lb overweight for my height.

        To be honest I should be pleased- I’m over 100lb lighter than I have been for a decade, but you know I’d like to get this finished. My aim was never to have a BMI under 25; I was aiming for 27. I can’t even get there. Kinda out of options, and the longer it goes on the harder it is to stay on the straight and narrow, primal-diet-wise. :(

        • Adam Long says

          100lb! Wow, that’s impressive. I’m no expert, but the weight loss stalling may be from a few things I can think of.

          Ketogenic diet = low insulin and low leptin. But high adipose tissue = high leptin, so you likely had low insulin and high leptin (the winning combo for fat loss). Now that you’ve lost weight, you may have really low leptin if you’re still eating fairly low-carb. But you said you can’t lose weight by adding back carbs, likely because you’re spiking your insulin in the process and storing fat. This leads me to believe you should carb cycle and do some carb refeeds while keeping up the activity.

          Carb cycling -> do an intense workout (lift weights, sprint, yadda yadda), then afterwards eat lots of carbs and protein, but keep that fat LOW. I’m talking lean burgers and sweet potatoes aplenty. This way, you should be insulin sensitive from the workout and keep your insulin levels low, but will spike your leptin and thus lower your setpoint = weight loss. Try it out, yah?
          http://www.marksdailyapple.com/carb-refeeding-and-weight-loss/#axzz23MHUjGjk

          There is another possibility, though I’m not quite sure what to do about it if true. Adipose cells either get larger or split into two when they get pretty large. First, when gaining weight, they’ll balloon up. Then they will have enough nutrients/mass to divide into two cells. The issue with being very heavy, then, is that you have a TON more fat cells than a normal person, because these cells don’t really die at an accelerated rate when you’re losing weight, the bunch of cells just get smaller. So you might be hitting this plateau where you emptied most of these fat cells, but you just have a lot of small ones left over. Not sure how to kill ‘em beyond keeping at the carb cycling, spot-icing, or surgery. But they may just die off if you work through some carb/activity fluctuations – intermittent fasting would be a nice method to add in as well as training fasted for super fat loss :)

        • Kelly says

          Hi, Rachel. I feel your pain. I was in the same boat but I didn’t lose ANY weight. Actually I lost about 6 pounds. My story is this. . . I usually hover at 200. I was eating a very high sugar diet for over 5 years (I blame my antidepressant because it was really making me binge). Over the period of a year the AD stopped working and the depression started creeping back in pretty bad. At the beginning of 2012, I couldn’t even get out of bed anymore – I was so tired and so depressed. I knew I had to do something dramatic so I started a Paleo diet with no carbs (well maybe 20 a day). The first few weeks were okay (2 weeks I think). I had a bit more energy. The weight was coming off steadily. I was feeling a little bit better but not a lot. I was proud of myself for turning my diet around so quickly. I was gaining momentum.

          But then one day, two weeks later, everything stopped. The weight loss completely stopped and I believe, looking back, I went into a kindof hibernation zone. I had ZERO energy. I was so depressed. More than before. I could sit on the couch in a daze for HOURS at a time. But I had cut out all carbs and I have eaten a high sugar diet for years, so I was determined to battle through it and not give in. This went on for a month and a half – I could barely work, I didn’t want to leave the house. I was very cold. My husband would leave the house in the morning and I would jack the heat up to 85. Finally one day out of desperation, as an experiment, I ate a sweet potato and within 30 minutes I was up, buzzing around the house, cleaning the kitchen. That was in January-March of this year.
          Have you had your hormones tested? I did and the levels were really low. My progesterone was REALLY low. And I also had an RT3 ratio that was too high (I had read about RT3 for months before getting it checked – I should have listened). As of now I’ve started taking bio-identical hormones and thyroid medication. It has helped maybe 25% I have lost 10 pounds in all (in 8 months). I can come to work everyday and socialize – so I’m better there. But I still have rough mood swings – periods of panic, periods of agression. And I still have zero energy.
          I still don’t know the answer. I found this article http://drcate.com/going-low-carb-too-fast-may-trigger-thyroid-troubles-and-hormone-imbalance/ but, I will warn you, it will probably frustrate you. It hits on the issue but if you read through all of the comments, it seems her solution didn’t help anyone.

        • Linda says

          I was having trouble losing forty lbs after my first child for five years. Then I did GAPS intro and lost two dress sizes in a month. I am eating the same way I used to eat again and it hasn’t come back yet. I wonder if I had a parasite or fungal infection? Intro was very intense. I had a lot of symptoms that they call die off. I should also say that I have Ulcerative Colitis that came on after I had my baby and received MMR vaccine at hospital. Was vegan for seven years and vegetarian during pregnancy eating crap I hadn’t eaten like doughnuts. Something happened because I was healthy before pregnancy and introducing junk food. Drs so far have said none of those details have any relavence.

          • turnip says

            @Linda,
            I personally have noticed that bacterial infections seem to be extremely common prior to autoimmunity. Then I googled and found many experts talking about this. Was it the bacteria or was it perhaps the antibiotics which are used for treatment? Kind of the chicken and the egg thing. But either way it seems like they both were exposed to the immune system. Perhaps either one messed up the immune system? Did it mess up the gut in the process? We know antibiotics can do that temporarily but maybe it does long term? Maybe with hormonal changes certain genes turned on for you? There are so many maybes for us and not enough good studies to answer them.

            You mention you had the MMR too. Hey that gets the immune system charged. Did you know that those vaccines use saponins to get the immune system to see the vaccine? Those same saponins are ones us autoimmuners are suppose to avoid eating because with our leaky guts they just enter blood stream to jack up immune system most likely. I do think it is not unreasonable to think that hormones does affect how autoimmunity presents it’s self too. I think men who are over weight have have Fibromyalia like symptoms but to a much lesser degree than women. For women it is much more obvious and more painful. I do think their muscle mass seems to help them in some way. That muscles mass also helps them lose weight quicker too it seems.

            Donuts aren’t the only source of really bad lectins. Beans are just the worst too. If you were eating vegan and vegetarian I bet you had a leaky gut to some degree. The older we get the worst autoimmunity gets and the more of them pile on. So many tend to start up with small symptoms and then it just gradually accelerates. Maybe a little indigestion that you assume is normal. Hey I gradually started to use antacids in my 20s. I thought this was normal if I ate spicy food (saponins) and then gradually used them more and more over the years. I have no need to use them now plus they cause intestinal permeability too. The irony. Your old normal may not have been so normal as you recall.

            I never had colitis but my mother did. Genetically autoimmunity seems to show up in families and some times it presents its self the same way or in similar ways. Think back at how you relates health was. My daughter is Celiac but I am gluten sensitive. Gradations of a similar theme.

            I would say that you are the best judge of what is happening to you in many respects and continue to figure out what foods work best for you. Right now genetically docs can not tell you what all your food tolerances and intolerances are. They are all guessing at this point based on some limited science. They won’t be able to do this for decades so your best bet is to do an elimination diet. Pay close attention to any changes and test everything including drugs and supplements and seasonings. Leave no stone unturned. Write it down and track it.

            • Linda says

              I don’t know how I missed your response from two years ago, Turnip. I have come further in discovering what might have gone wrong with me. You are right about the leaky gut with my vegan diet. I also have a history of birth control pills, NSAID and antacid “abuse”, and hormonal imbalance. There is autoimmune and digestive illness in my family which I didn’t know about before. I think non-celiac gluten sensitivity runs in my family. There is heart disease, mental illness, diabetes, rampant tooth decay, and osteoporosis. Things were definitely brewing and then the MMR, I think was the trigger. Dr. Shoenfeld identifies ASIA (autoimmune syndrome induced by adjuvant). Dr. Wakefield’s research found the measles strain used in the MMR infecting the guts of children with ulcerative colitis. I thought I was going to live forever by being vegan. Whoopsy daisy.

  9. Tyler Wood says

    “There is no one-size-fits-all approach. The amount of starch (and carbohydrate in general) will depend upon genetic/epigenetic factors (like amylase production), existing health conditions and the volume and intensity of activity – among others.’

    That sums it all up pretty nicely. Individually, we need to track how we feel, biomarkers, etc to be able to answer the question for ourselves.

  10. Brad says

    If the anti-starch camp – Rosedale, Shanahan, and Gedgaudas, among others, probably including Jimmy Moore – doesn’t offer legitimate, convincing arguments for their position soon, I’ll have to start believing they’re fear mongering and sensationalizing. It’s frustrating to want to respect them as thought leaders but at the same time not be able to find truth in the foundation of what they’re saying. How they can be so convinced of their rightness in the absence of compelling evidence?

    I do have to express my appreciation that Cate Shanahan seems to be genuinely open to moving off her staunch anti-starch position. It seems she has begun to recognize that a low/no starch diet doesn’t actually work well for everyone and that some of us thrive on safe starch consumption. Keep up the good work, Cate, of trying to get to the truth of the matter.

    • greg says

      the hunter-gatherer ideology hypothesises that man originally didn’t eat starch,thus man isn’t meant to eat starch,so those beholden to this ideology seek after evidence supporting their belief.

      • courtney says

        I’m not sure this is true. I think HGs were digging up roots and wild tubers as part of their foraging routine. Wild roots and tubers of our ancestors’ generation most likely had a very different nutrient density then what we see today. The huge idaho spuds we see today were probably nothing like ancient potato species.

        • says

          I agree; the whole hunter GATHERER thing seems to = men with spears for the vast paleo majority, which doesn’t jive with what we know of subsistence cultures. I blogged about “chauvanism is bad for your health” on exactly that topic.

          • Chris Redmond says

            When we consider the recent evidence demonstrating how the digestive system of a carnivore like a dog has actually evolved and adapted over a relatively short time, to the point where they are now able to thrive without meat, we shouldn’t be surprised that it isn’t really possible to look at what man ate thousands of years ago and assume this is what we should now eat.

            Our bodies adapt very quickly to change, so over many generations I’m sure that we could adapt to eating most diets. The Innuits have adapted to eating high fat, low carb and are very healthy, just as other groups eat high carb and are similarly healthy.

            Starch or no starch again is probably dependent on the individual, and personally I believe it is sugar which is the major cause of inflammatory related health issues, along with processing and additives.

            Whether we eat starchy foods, high-carb, low-carb, meat, no meat, saturated fat, no saturated fat, so long as they are unprocessed I believe there isn’t much difference between any approach, so long as a diet cuts out processed foods and excessive sugar.

            Where we are able to observe primitive cultures in the modern world, anything sweet is usually seen as a treat, and I’m sure we’ve all seen the videos of tribesmen in the Amazon climbing trees to get to beehives, and the subsequent gorging on the honey.

            At one time in the west, sweet treats were mainly for special occasions, such as birthday cakes, Christmas pudding, and as a kid I only received sweets as a reward.
            Nowadays babies are weaned straight onto tinned food which is sickly sweet, and as soon as they grow and get spending money it usually ends up being spent on sweets and candy.
            Fast food stores ensure there are plenty of sweet relishes/sauces to add to foods and our addiction to sugar pandered to.

            • says

              I agree with a lot of what you said, but I also don’t think that dogs thrive without meat. I think they survive without meat. I think dogs that eat a plant based diet would do even better on their natural diet of meat and some vegetables.

              There are many stories of people switching their dogs (or cats) to more species specific diets and seeing ‘cures’ to arthritis, digestive disorders, etc.

              • says

                Dogs having a few more copies of the amylase gene just means they can digest starch faster. It could be an adaptation from starting to use starch when it was still scarce; it doesn’t mean they’ll metabolize glucose differently if there’s lots of starch in their diet.
                Digestion and metabolism are two different things.

                Adaptation is driven by natural and sexual selection – that’s a scientific fact.
                Natural and sexual selection are driven by the death and failure of individuals; in medicine (as opposed to pure evolutionary science), those are events which it is unethical to condone. Especially when there’s the alternative adaptation – using our big brains to identify unwholesome foods, and our strong social structures to forbid them.

    • Galina L. says

      I don’t think that everybody should treat potatoes as a poison, people have different nutritional needs. However, I think many more people could benefit from eating a ketogenic diet or close to ketosis like me. It makes wonders for a mental health, mood problems, PMS, hot flashes, migraines. My son trays to eat a Paleo-style diet, no starch limitation for him, except when he feels he may be getting a flue, or there are some tests, then he is avoiding anything with carbs..

  11. says

    I feel far better having a few starches in my diet than without. I think a lot may have to do with where you are in the spectrum of health. Lower carb/starch seems to work well for those with metabolic derangement but then as one loses weight and insulin levels normalize in the body, it seems like some starch is necessary to feel optimal. I cannot ever eat gluten-based grains and I have found that certain FODMAP foods like onions and sugar alcohols are definitely not well-tolerated, but a little rice with sushi or some white or sweet potatoes from my garden go a long way to making me feel great overall.

  12. Brigita says

    I believe that eating any single nature food in moderation does no harm to humans since our evolution, during millions of years, involves living nearly in all the regions of the world, and mixing with probably all the possible tribes on earth, therefore having eaten nearly all the existing nature foods in wild, however, that would be great if I could know my specific genetic information, by a single test, about what foods and how much I can eat, depending on the history of foods eaten by specifically my ancestors altogether. However, I think that the problem with the starch is what you eat it with in the same dish. I don’t believe that our ancestors had a big plate full of many different foods collected from all the corners of the globe in the same dish 3 times per day every day. They normally ate what they could get instantly, similarly to the animals – they don’t eat a full plate of mixed foods, but each single type of food one by one. Mixing foods is where starts all the problems, I think. For example, mixing starch with protein in the same dish makes a poor absorption of both. Mixing milk with meat proteins also causes the stomach’s enzyme crash, which results in a poor absorption of both at the end. I believe that this is the only thing our genetics aren’t adapted to – to absorb many different types of foods in the same time, which leads to bad absorption of them all, and there is where starts all the deseases. Eating a single food one by one, even starch, makes it easy for the stomach to absorb its nutrients fully. Like that Cris Voigt who ate only potatoes…probably not mixing them much with other foods. Funny, but our ancestors had a better nutrition by having relatively smaller access to foods than today, when in the abundance of all different kinds of foods, we suffer from a poor absorption of nutrients.

  13. says

    I have no clue who is right, so I take the mindset of an investor and implement a hedging strategy. More carbs in the summer and less in the winter.

  14. says

    One can be on a “low carb diet” of under 50-70 grams of carbs, and still have “safe starches.”. The Perfect Health Diet suggests that vegetable carbsare fermented into short chain fatty acids in the gut, which is why they do not count towards the carb requirement.

    I tend to not eat that many sweet potatoes, because I have to count and measure them more specifically, whereas “lower carb” is easier if I stick with vegetables.

    Fruit is a whole other issue, and I would love to see more about that (free fructose vs fruit fructose).

        • daisy says

          Turnip my Love! I meant to say are you more interested in learning more about turnips? Wiki is good for that. Your vegetable totem may well be the turnip, it is worth some meditation. I wouldn’t pick a fight a with you as I strongly sense that your animal totem is a rude grumpy mummy brown bear though. Respect!

  15. Jon says

    I’m not big on eating a lot of starch but, I think there are some logical flaws in a couple of the axiomatic arguments presented by the starch opponents:
    “Dr. Rosedale argues that evolution is optimized for fertility, not longevity”
    This is true for some life-forms but not all. Mammals with long gestation periods and long developmental cycles through to maturity, such as Whales, Elephants, and Humans are, by necessity, optimized for both fertility AND longevity. Our success as a species requires the passing of adequate wisdom to succeed well and in variable environmental situations. Only a longer life can provide that. If evolution had not optimized us for longer life, we probably wouldn’t live as long.
    Second: While I realize that below is not a direct quote from Cate;
    “Glucose raises insulin, and insulin causes problems – so insulin causing things are bad”
    The whole insulin mechanism would not exist to handle starch/glucose so effectively if we were not evolutionarily designed to consume a variety of foods in variable environments and seasonality to succeed and thrive – to fertility and for a long time.
    Humans are not consumption specialists, we are generalists. We are designed to creatively succeed in as many situations as possible. This is how we have come to overrun the planet to a level of being nearly unsustainable.

    • Honora says

      >Dr. Rosedale argues that evolution is optimized for fertility, not longevity.
      I did read somewhere that so-called pigmy populations were optimised for fertility by omitting the pubertal flush growth due to having a low life expectancy, however my partner has just drawn my attention to a study postulating the short stature of 2 ethnic groups (Efe, Biaka) as a consequence of an alteration in thyroid hormone pathways with unique mechanisms for each tribe, in response to living in a tropical forest environment which is low in iodine. The symbiotic Bantu Lese population has a prevalence of goitre at 42.9% compared with 9.4% for the Efe people and offspring with both tribes as parents have an intermediate incidence of goitre . I assume the Lese haven’t adapted because they moved there more recently from iodine-sufficient regions in the direction of the Cameroons.

        • Catherine says

          Great point. I’m sticking you and Jaminet at the top of my “list”
          And thanks for the cleanest web site!
          I enjoy /visit Attia, Taubes, Wolf–actually about ten more, but you two are the cream of the crop
          where my reality hits the road.
          There are brands out there to be protected, I respect that. When I decide what to eat, you two are the source.

      • says

        It might be interesting to note that studies in fruit flies showed that certain amino acids such as methionine were vital toward maximizing longevity while not reducing fertility patterns. Including methionine into a calorie limited diet enhanced fertility while maintaining longevity. At the same time, decreasing methionine levels in high caloric diets actually extended life spans. Earlier studies had already displayed that lowered levels of methionine in mice and rats assisted in prolonging life expectancy.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Another more fundamental problem of focusing exclusively on longevity is this: without fertility, longevity is meaningless. If a hypothetical intervention increases longevity but decreases fertility, that is not going to help us in the long run.

  16. lisa says

    I am extremely insulin resistant. A little bit of starch can set me up for a long period of weight gain. My b-i-l is an insulin dependent diabetic and I steer him the Rosedale route. My 21 year old son has the metabolism that is set at light speed – I consistently include good starches in his meals. Had I been raised on a good starch, whole foods diet, I might find the inclusion of starch in my diet to be feasible or beneficial. But like many Americans, I was raised on high sugar, low fat. I am metabolically ruined now and have to stick to the strictest of low sugar, low starch, primal regime in order to not balloon.

    • Galina L. says

      I was raised of home-cooked meals, eating a lot of veggies, without an excess of sugar, but now at 51 years old I eat a LC diet (since Nov. 2007) because it keeps me at better health and prevents the weight gain. Yes, I lost 30 lb on LC, but I also lost all my seasonal flues, the need in asthma meds, pre-menopause symptoms, leg edema and much more .

  17. says

    Chris, great points, but to me a glaring point is of course individuality and then what population, if generalising, is this geared towards. Fat and glucose are primary human fuels, to say glucose is toxic in even a moderate amount is short sited, especially as many people following a healthy lifestyle exercise, and If someone told me I couldn’t have a plate of potatoes and steak after I played rugby Id laugh at them, id be in bits the next day. Indeed there are some who this would apply, but I cannot see the negatives of consuming safe starches. If this is the their stance in the paleo world then they really are down to eating meat and berries!

    • Chris Kresser says

      Ben: that was my first point. “Let’s define the terms: are we debating whether starch is “safe” in healthy people or people with particular health conditions like diabetes or small-intestine bacterial overgrowth? These are very different conversations.”

  18. Tracy says

    As someone who avoided starches for many years, I’ve changed my stance on this. After developing thyroid issues/symptoms, I’ve found that adding rice, potato, sweet potato to my diet has really helped my energy levels, with no adverse effects.

    Like you said, who are these starches ‘safe’ for? Some people may not tolerate them well, others may tolerate them just fine. Given that many cultures consume them with no ill effects, why paint them all with the same ‘unsafe’ brush?

    • Janknitz says

      Its a myth that the Okinawan diet is starch-based. There was ALWAYS an ample supply of fish, seafood, and sea vegetables (it’s a tiny island in what was some of the most pristine waters–though perhaps no longer). Except when they were starved by conquerors they ate a lot of pork and all the fat with it.

      1949 is not the best time to judge the diet of the island. Okinawans were starved before and during WWII when it may not have been safe to hunt pig and fish. Sweet potatoes were perhaps a subsistence food but not the major source of calories in the diet except in extreme times. In 1949, agriculture and fishery were probably still in recovery phase on the island–as late as the 1960′s there was still so much unexplored ammunition that some places were STILL unsafe. The island was nearly bombed out if existence during the war–every tree gone.

      I grew up on the island in the 1960′s. While most Americans were isolated from the Okinawans on military bases and “civilian enclaves”, my mom was the original locavore so we ate where Okinawans ate and shopped in their tiny storefronts. We had Okinawan Friends and ate in their homes, attended their family celebrations, etc. I NEVER ever even saw a purple “Okinawan sweet potato” until 40 years later in Hawaii, when they suddenly became trendy.

      The diet is very similar to native Japan with plenty of short grain sticky rice but always substantial servings of meat, fish, eggs and seafood, and a variety of vegetables along with a mouth puckering green tea. . Fat is not skimped on.

      There is certainly starch in the diet (mostly rice is what I experienced) but its far from a “starch based” diet.

      I know there are studies that show life prolongation from very low calorie intake/starvation, and my guess is that has more to do with Okinawan longevity, combined with their healthy omnivorous diet in good times. Its ridiculous to credit sweet potatoes as a factor in their longevity!

      • Alex says

        Hear, hear!

        The pro-safe starch group accuse the anti-safe starch group of using weak, unscientific arguments and generalisations and then we get this from the pro-safe starch group!

        I’ve also read first-hand accounts of the traditional Okinawan diet, written by native Okinawans, and the emphasis on starch is conspicuously absent!

      • Honora says

        I read recently an amusing article stating some of these so-called centenarians were actually dead and their children were enjoying their old-age pensions. I think the article said there was to be an overhaul of the departmental computer systems after that.

      • says

        I never made it to Okinawa in the 13 years I lived in Japan, but what you say resonates with what I’ve heard about Okinawa, that pork was/is the preferred meat and lard is used widely. I think the omnivorous diet, with lots of plants and herbs as well as meats and fats, has something to do with their longevity, as well as close-knit families and intact culture, despite Japanese and American imperialism. Just my impression.

        Similarly, I want to roll my eyes when people go on about the supposedly low-fat, high-soy Japanese diet. Some favorite foods there include tonkatsu, very fatty pork chops, dipped in egg, then panko, and deep-fried; tori-age, or bits of chicken (fat and skin intact) rolled in cornstarch then fried; and toro, the fatty, rich, pink underbelly of tuna and the most prized sushi/sashimi. When I used to pull the skin off such fried chicken, a Japanese friend exclaimed, that’s the best part! Which was a novel concept to me at the time.

        The traditional Japanese diet, like the Okinawan, includes foods from the sea, the mountains (fiddlehead ferns and all sorts of greens), and everywhere in between. People call it a “rice-based” culture, but that should not be taken to mean that rice accounts for the bulk of calories consumed. Rather, it’s the default starch, but by no means the only one, and is eaten frequently but in moderate quantities, accompanied by smallish portions of meats, vegetables, fermented pickles, and miso soup. Many flavors and types of tastes (not just sweet and salty, but sour, bitter, and umami — savory — as well). The SAD tends to lack sour and bitter flavors, and may be deficient in various micronutrients provided by such foods. Of course, with the spread of western fast food chains in Japan has come the spread of obesity and poorer health in those who consume that diet.

      • Chris Kresser says

        I’m sorry, but you’ll have to show proof of this in a published, peer-reviewed study. The analysis I referred to was based on the 1949 diet in Okinawa, and the lifespan data is based on the population that was eating that diet. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17986602 Personal accounts are not on par with peer-reviewed evidence.

        You have also misinterpreted my argument. I never claimed that starch was responsible for their longevity. I said that it’s highly unlikely that a population could live to be so long if their diet is 85% “toxin” (glucose), barring some unbelievably protective factor. This is especially true when you consider that the Okinawan population I am referring to did not have access to modern medical care and had high rates of mortality due to infection.

        • Alex says

          According to the study you cite:
          “Therefore, we investigated six decades of archived population data.”

          How does this source of information give a more accurate picture of the traditional Okinawan diet than the testimony of a native Okinawan or someone who has lived among them?

          Unfortunately I cannot access the full text without paying – so I don’t know what this ‘archived population data’ consisted of that so accurately spells out the traditional Okinawan diet. Is it in any way similar to food frequency questionnaires of 24-hour recall?

          • says

            It might be interesting to mention opinion about Okinawan diet from recent review article published in Nutr Metab. 2012; 2012: 569486.
            http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335253/?tool=pubmed

            Okinawan Diet – excerpt.
            Equally notable is the wide variation in other aspects of healthy diets such as macronutrient intake, represented most notably by the healthy Okinawan diet, which is LOW IN FAT and HIGH IN CARBOHYDRATES (mostly from vegetable sources). This suggests that low-energy, nutrient-dense diets with high-quality carbohydrates may be beneficial for reducing the risk of CVD among many chronic diseases.
            The cardioprotective benefit of Okinawan diet is ascribed, in part, to the LOW CONSUMPTION OF SATURATED FAT. Other possible mechanisms, such as the high contents of phytochemicals, high antioxidant intake, and low glycemic load in this diet, are also likely to be contributing to decreased risk for CVD and some cancers through multiple mechanisms, including reduced oxidative stress.
            A comparison of the nutrient profiles of the previous dietary patterns shows that the traditional Okinawan diet is the LOWEST IN FAT INTAKE, particularly in terms of saturated fat, and HIGHEST IN CARBOHYDRATE INTAKE, in keeping with the very high intake of antioxidant-rich yet calorie-poor orange-yellow root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, and green leafy vegetables. The longevity of Okinawan populations suggests that such a diet may even help to slow the aging process itself.
            My comment: The authors failed to mention the role of : 1. Coral calcium, 2. Pork, 3. Soy (even unfermented – tofu), 4. See food including algae
            http://www.facebook.com/MichalPijakMDPersonalizedPaleoNutrition

            • Alex says

              Not blowing my skirt up!

              The first reference given in the Okinawan diet section is the same one Chris has already cited. The other two references given are by the same team of researchers and no doubt mined from the same archived data as the first study.

              Is this cream of ‘peer-reviewed and published scientific support’ for this position vis-a-vis the Okinanwan diet and safe starches? One study and a couple of permutations thereof by the same authors? Jesus wept!

              How do you get a high carbohydrate diet from green vegetables anyway? As a percentage of those ‘restricted calories’, maybe, but in absolute (mass) amounts?

          • says

            “How does this source of information give a more accurate picture of the traditional Okinawan diet than the testimony of a native Okinawan or someone who has lived among them?”

            God, you’re not serious, are you? How does a scientific study gave better data than personal impressions?!

      • Rob Genova says

        The Okinawans and Kitavans are useful to make a dramatic point, but not necessary to disprove the low carbers claim that starch is unhealthy for those of us without metabolic issues. Hundreds of groups all over the world consumed starch as a staple **prior** to the onset of the diseases of modern civilization. That is, before DIABETES EXISTED. This reality immediately falsifies the position that “carbs” in and of themselves are **causing** modern metabolic disease. The burden of proof is on Rosedale and others to defend their extremely radical position.

        I was quite shocked at AHS12 as to the degree to which (very) low carb is still entrenched in the paleo community. Chris, you did a great job on the panel standing your ground, especially given that fact that Jimmy was anything but an impartial moderator and Paul was so passive.

      • PHK says

        i also think the diet in 1949 was not representative of the traditional Okinawan diet.

        my dad grew up in rural China; his family was poor. so they ate mostly veg + rice. didn’t have a lot of meat (probably cooked in lard). so it may have been 60% – 80 %calories from starch.

        but for middle class family a typical meal includes rice, veg, meat/fish/egg (including organ) & soup , fruits as dessert. i doubt the starch calories is that high.

        (due to the overdose of veg @ childhood, of my dad, he hates veg & all he wants now is fatty cuts of meat, meat, meat, meat + some rice.)

        • says

          “but for middle class family a typical meal includes rice, veg, meat/fish/egg (including organ) & soup , fruits as dessert. i doubt the starch calories is that high.”

          Yes, but 95% of the population was poor!

      • daisy says

        Finally! Someone who really knows what the real Okinawan diet is. No! Nobody in Japan would ever eat in the way that Dr John McDougall thinks that they eat. I lived on the mainland in Tokyo and never met a single vegetarian or vegan except for one fat angry Aussie vegan female and her pasty faced skeletal timid Tasmanian flatmate. Fish, pork and chickens everywhere in meals. Not very red meaty I agree but that has more to do with the climate and landscape of Japan.

    • Jeanette says

      Tracey. Love it!! I’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue. I do not do well on high protein low carb. I do well on more carbs/starches.

  19. Canuck says

    There are no safe starches for me as a type 2 diabetic so I stick with protein, low carb veg, salad, some berries. I must eat to my meter… So the poster above who said “for whom” is right on the mark;)
    My lipids etc drop drastically too when I low carb.
    I have concern when I know my kids have genes for type 2, and see them eating way too many carbs, will they be in my shoes in their 60′s?:):)

  20. Brent says

    Thanks Chris! That was highly informative. I’m 17 months Paleo and for the most part have avoided starches. Time for some sweet potato frys!

  21. says

    Definitely on the pro-starch side. I had a similar situation as commenter Tracy above, I went Paleo and VLC for quite some time and ended up being diagnosed with hypothyroidism. My doctor wanted me to get on thyroid medication but I decided to do my own thing…and that very thing was to get those safe staches back in my diet. Most of us live “always on the go” type lifestyles and when you combine that with lots of stressful workouts and such you cannot expect your body to produce its own glucose and do everything else it is designed to do. Give your body a rest and eat some carbs, don’t fear them!

    • Galina L. says

      From the blog the Scribble pad
      ” the problem is not food; the problem is hormones: insulin, leptin. The configuration of hormones, nervous system, determines how you feel and how your body works. Food merely affects these. The thing of concern when it comes to diet-related hypothyroid and infertility is negative fat tissue energy balance i.e. when more FAT is leaving your fat tissue than is coming in. When fat cells are shrinking, or you are trying to. This will always lead to low thyroid and decreased fertility unless the person in question is a million pounds and hasn’t lost much if any weight. IN OTHER WORDS, losing weight causes these problems. Not lack of carbs.”
      http://itsthewooo.blogspot.com/2012/03/why-low-carb-does-not-explodes-thyroid.html

      • says

        I would say one might lead to the other…it is not fair to say that a lack of carbs is the sole reason for low thyroid or decreased fertility…but when initially starting a VLC diet THAT is what causes a negative fat tissue energy balance (over some time.) Some say that a significant drop in body fat will lead to hormonal issues especially in women, and in this circle I believe it’s going VLC that brings on that fat loss. I believe another commenter mentioned this article, but it’s worth a read in my opinion:

        http://www.paleoforwomen.com/carbohydrates-for-fertility-and-health/

  22. meredith says

    I am now pro-carb, starch, whatever. After tinkering with low carb, veggie + meat only for years, I discovered that my amenorrhea was due to lack of concentrated carb source in my diet. After introducing a very modest amount (less than 70 grams or so) of fruit/starch I immediately resumed my cycles.

    I have read the longevity arguments, however I cannot for the life of me understand why eating a diet that causes hormonal imbalance for me is supposedly ideal. Doesn’t amenorrhea lead to bone loss in reproductive women? I’d hate to be the 120 year old lady who can’t stand up straight!

    • Chris Kresser says

      Another argument I didn’t include in the debate or this article due to time/space considerations is that there’s often a trade-off between longevity, health and performance. Certain interventions that improve one of these areas will sometimes cause a decline in others. For example, anabolic steroids may very well improve performance for certain athletes, but they will decrease both health and longevity.

      If there was an intervention that could increase your lifespan by one year, but it meant your health and performance (mental and physical) would suffer, would you do it? Or would you prefer to optimize your performance and health and live on year less? Most would choose the latter.

      I think that’s a straw man argument in this case, though, because there’s no credible human evidence that starch/glucose decreases longevity.

  23. Stu says

    Candidly it is hard to take arguments based on studies of earthworms extrapolated as to humans seriously. Even if some similarities exist, it is prima facie evidence of reaching.

    Personally, while I felt great on a low carb diet, I feel even better on a diet with ample starch. As Chris (and other posters) discuss, however, the source of the starch matters (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and rice are my staples).

    First, I appreciate and enjoy food much more when I eat starches. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising. After all, starch is a staple in virtually all cuisine. As such, when I include starch, my diet instantly goes from types of food (meat, fruits, and vegetables) to types of cuisine. Note the fundamental distinction.

    Second, there are real physiological benefits from eating starch. Serotonin, thyroid hormones, leptin, insulin, and glycogen status, among many others, are all implicated. Without pretending to understand the intricacies here (dare I say nobody does?), suffice it to say they are all interrelated and, for many people, myself included, the ability to handle stress (personal, work, exercise, etc.) and otherwise thrive and enjoy life is, for whatever reason(s), enhanced due to bio-chemical benefits sourced from dietary starch.

    The key here is experimentation and patience. There are no magic bullets. All we can do is dedicate blocks of time to new ideas and test their applicability to our unique situations. This is the very essence of science.

    Best of luck to all and a big thank you to Chris!

  24. turnip says

    I am going to try out rice since it doesn’t contain fructose, just glucose and see if I am able to add that into a boring meat only diet. Not tons of it but in moderation. I was thinking of doing this just yesterday and found out you gave a speech about this at the AHS with considerable push back on this.

    I can not tolerate sweet potatoes and avoid regular potatoes based on the whole argument Cordain and others make about avoiding these for autoimmune conditions. That got me thinking….is it the high lectins or saponins or is it the fructose that bothers us or maybe both?

  25. Chantal says

    >Amylase is thought to have played a key role in human evolution
    >in allowing humans an alternative to fruit and protein.

    You wanted to say “FAT and protein”?!

    And what about tooth decay and dental degeneration caused by CH consumption? The studies of Weston A. Price? They seem to be a counterargument for me if we try to determine (high) starch/CH consumption to be “natural” or something we are well adapted to.

    Cheers, Chantal

    • Will says

      With modern dental hygiene and the use of fluoride (eek, I’m getting into controversial territory here…), cavities are not as big of a problem as they used to be – even in the face of increasing refined carbohydrate consumption.

      Price himself advocated properly prepared whole grains and beans, by the way. He was not anti-carbohydrate by any means.

  26. Jordi says

    To me it is as clear as daylight. Insulin is mitogenic. Starch elevates insulin ergo it ages you faster no matter what short term kick you may gain from it. Clearly it does not fit into a longevity diet. All this talk of it being safe is misguided. And who cares what your okinawans eat? Talk of “studies” here is useless until you have had the luxuary of following a group of very low carbers for a life time, placebo controlled appropriately.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Who cares if starch elevates insulin in a healthy person? That is exactly what is supposed to happen. It is a NORMAL physiological response. The carb-insulin-fat hypothesis has been so thoroughly debunked I can’t believe it’s still discussed. No scientist that studies body fat regulation takes it seriously.

      • John2 says

        “No scientist that studies body fat regulation takes it seriously.”

        I’m surprised and dissappointed in you, Chris. You have any data to back that statement up?

        • Jon says

          “The carb-insulin-fat hypothesis has been so thoroughly debunked I can’t believe it’s still discussed. No scientist that studies body fat regulation takes it seriously.”

          Chris, If you are stating (indirectly) that Taube’s “Why people get Fat” and more recently, Wheat Belly, are just plain wrong – I’d appreciate it if you would point me to the information that counters it. For me, when I originally read Gary’s book, it made so much sense to me that I immediately changed diet and fat immediately started melting off me. I eat much more now, meat, fruit and veggies, and continue to maintain a trim weight. The only thing that explains that (to me) is the “Carb-insulin-fat” hypothesis.
          I also have to admit being completely taken aback by reading that statement and I set it aside for future inquiry.
          Any guidance appreciated.

          • Brent says

            Jon – I too have the same positive weight / fat response when maintaining a low-carb Paleo diet.

            Chris, let me get this straight… I can eat a lot of carbs and not worry about the insulin response, or more importantly insulin insensitivity? And if I become metabolically deranged due to insulin insensitivity, I won’t get fat?

      • says

        Unfortunately, you’ve just shot your credibility with me by saying that the “carb-insulin-fat hypothesis” has been so thoroughly debunked. There may be many factors playing a role and reasonable people disagree but insulin has a very definite role. To deny it is, well, very, very odd.

        Just look at what insulin does when given to a person who is deficient in it:
        http://wellcometrust.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/type-1-diabetes-patient.jpg

        Taubes’ points out that carbohydrates spike insulin (absolutely not controversial, that’s what the glycemic index is based on) which shunts glucose into adipose tissue (also not controversial).

        This is entirely consistent with our current knowledge of how insulin works in our body. To be more precise, here is a good explanation:
        “The major function of insulin is to counter the concerted action of a number of hyperglycemia-generating hormones and to maintain low blood glucose levels. Because there are numerous hyperglycemic hormones, untreated disorders associated with insulin generally lead to severe hyperglycemia and shortened life span.

        In addition to its role in regulating glucose metabolism, insulin stimulates lipogenesis, diminishes lipolysis, and increases amino acid transport into cells.”

        http://themedicalbiochemistrypage.org/insulin.php

        “insulin stimulates lipogenesis” == creates fat
        “diminishes lipolysis” == prevents fat from being burned

        I could have used any number of biochemistry textbooks that say the very same thing.

        As for why serious obesity researchers aren’t studying insulin more, isn’t Gary Taubes’ whole point that the obesity researchers *should* be paying more attention to insulin?

        Or are you saying that if people eat plenty of refined grains, lots of high fructose corn syrup and potatoes as long as they don’t go above, say, 2000 calories a day they won’t gain weight?

        • Chris Kresser says

          I did not deny that insulin plays a role in obesity. I denied that the insulin hypothesis, as stated by Taubes et al., explains the obesity epidemic. That *has* been debunked, as anyone familiar with the literature on the topic will tell you.

          Read this article for a good summary. If elevated insulin causes fat gain, then why do experiments that chronically elevate insulin levels in animals fail to cause them to gain fat? If anything, as Stephan points out, chronically elevated insulin seems to have the opposite effect: it opposes weight and fat accumulation in animal models.

          Yes, insulin does all of the things you said it does. But that doesn’t prove that elevated insulin is the cause of fat gain in mammals, and when that has been tested experimentally it turns out to be false.

          • says

            But of course you need extra insulin AND extra carbohydrate!
            The insulin produced in response to carbs keeps fat from being burned and promotes glucose conversion to lipid.
            One needs to eat carbs regularly (as we are advised to do for our “blood sugar”, and as junk food eating and soda consumption promotes) otherwise the situation will reverse when fasting (unless we have diabetic gluconeogenesis going on)
            one needs adequate thiamine status (unlike most high-carb Asian populations, or our own past)
            but putting conditions on a rule does not disprove the rule.
            Every scientific hypothesis that was correct has been modified over time.

            • Will says

              You may be surprised to learn that de novo lipogenesis (glucose converted to fat) is not a major pathway in humans (contributing only about 5% to fat storage, if I recall correctly). So you cannot say that carbohydrates are easily converted to fat — they are not. See the work of Marc K Hellerstein for details.

              Insulin reduces fat burning because it increases glucose burning by an equivalent amount. Just because insulin suppresses fat release temporarily does not mean total calorie burn is being reduced. This is where the confusion stems from.

              • says

                Yes I am surprised.
                It is easy to manipulate these studies by running them in weight loss or post-ketogenic states. See this paper:
                http://www.lucastafur.com/2011/04/extra-glycogen-de-novo-lipogenesis-and_04.html

                If you feed a starving person a high-carb, low-fat diet they will regain weight, won’t they?
                In some contexts extra carbs turn to fats, in others they reduce the burning of dietary or stored fats. Fats can’t turn to extra fat or reduce the burning of fat.
                The carbohydrate content of the diet controls the fate of dietary fats.

                • Will says

                  I found some time to examine the link you provided. It actually discussed 4 papers, but only the second paper really contradicted what I said about de novo lipogenesis.

                  Paper 2 only showed an increased rate of DNL in the context of caloric excess. To be clear, I’m not saying you can eat unlimited quantities of carbohydrate and stay lean.

                  What I’m saying is that DNL is not a major fat storage pathway in the context of caloric balance. But this is only true to a point. If you lower fat intake enough (while keeping calorie intake constant to maintain energy balance), then carbohydrate intake has to rise concomitantly to fill the gap. This excess carbohydrate WILL result in an increased rate of DNL. But this is not a problem – it’s only replacing the lipids that you would otherwise have otherwise obtained by eating fat anyway.

                  There’s nothing special about insulin here – the focus should be on caloric load. Insulin is a red herring, at least in the the sense that Taubes et al think it causes obesity.

                • Will says

                  You are right that insulin can help shunt _excess_ dietary carbohydrate into the fat cells. But one could similarly argue that ASP shunts excess dietary fat into fat cells.

                  ASP production is stimulated by chylomicrons, too. And chylomicrons come from – you guessed it – fat in the diet.

                  Do you accept both lines of reasoning?

                • says

                  That depends what ASP is. If it’s adipose set point, this is an abstract concept and can’t be “produced”.
                  It’s hard to fatten if you don’t eat carbs. It’s easier to lose weight if you cut them out.
                  It’s easier to restrict calories or do IF without carbs.
                  There has to be a reason for this – a mechanical explanation.
                  Even when only 5% of glucose carbon goes into DNL fat on a high-carb diet, there is also the ATP from more glucose being used to build it, and glucose being burned instead of fat.
                  And if you increased weight by only 1% a day, that’d be much more than most people gain.

                • Will says

                  “ASP” stands for acylation stimulating protein, not adipose setpoint. You can think of it as a hormone, even though it technically doesn’t quite meet the definition of one. CarbSane has written about ASP in the past.

                  The explanation for weight loss on ad-libitum low-carb diets (when it works, because there are definitely people for whom it doesn’t work) is that LC causes a spontaneous reduction in caloric intake. This is really the same as the way all diets work. One major explanation is that protein is highly satiating for most people, especially in the short-term. See this multi-part BBC documentary on the Atkins diet:
                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2d_wxJageqw

                  I’m a bit confused as to what you are trying to say with this part: “Even when only 5% of glucose carbon goes into DNL fat on a high-carb diet, there is also the ATP from more glucose being used to build it, and glucose being burned instead of fat.” Why is it a problem that glucose is burned instead of fat? As long as net energy balance is negative, the fat will eventually get mobilized and burned.

                • says

                  But surely what happens in an energy deficient state is not directly relevant to cause and effect in obesity? What about studies of DNL during weight gain?
                  It is impossible to eat exactly isocalorically. What pushes weight and appetite to grow and increases the efficiency of storage mechanisms?
                  Even when weight is kept stable on a low-carb diet there is an improvement in fitness.
                  Less puffing and wheezing and sleep apnoea.
                  I don’t think any of the world’s fattest people got that way eating low-carb. Some people will overeat for reasons unconnected with energy. Some people will compulsively eat dirt or plastic for that matter. That doesn’t change the fact that carbohydrate is uniquely fattening for most people and fat in the absence of carbohydrate is not productive of pathological weight gain.
                  Why is it that so many people CAN eat more carbohydrate than they need AND store the energy as fat? This is a property of carbohydrate, not a quirk of some individuals.
                  “The discussion concluded with the vexed issue (once again) of carbohydrates versus calories – All agreed that significant calorie restriction is hard to achieve and restricting a single food class may be easier, and there was general consensus that carbohydrates probably have greater adverse metabolic effects than other food classes, and full consensus that this needs to be properly researched.” http://blogs.biomedcentral.com/bmcblog/2012/07/12/now-on-video-diet-cancer-and-obesity-emperors-clothes-and-elephants/

                • Will says

                  “But surely what happens in an energy deficient state is not directly relevant to cause and effect in obesity?”

                  Hmm? It’s directly relevant. Energy deficiency => weight loss. Energy surplus => weight gain. All I’m saying is that insulin’s temporary downregulation of fat oxidation (in favor of glucose oxidation) does not threaten this model.

                  Let’s look at it from another angle. Even if I were to allow that rates of DNL are highly significant, so what? This doesn’t explain the metabolic ward studies that fail to show a weight-loss advantage to low-carb diets at isocaloric intake.

                  “What pushes weight and appetite to grow and increases the efficiency of storage mechanisms?”

                  Food reward and palatability. The extent to which individuals are affected by highly rewarding food seems to be partially genetic, however.

                  Social factors could also play a role (i.e. you have been trained to finish everything on your plate, even if you are not hungry).

                  Regarding fitness and low-carb, you might be interested in Anthony Colpo’s post on the topic:
                  http://anthonycolpo.com/?p=1535

                  “I don’t think any of the world’s fattest people got that way eating low-carb.”

                  I don’t think any of the world’s fattest people got that way eating a high-carb vegan diet, either. That doesn’t tell us anything. The world’s fattest people probably ate incredibly calorie-dense, but unsatiating food. On a regular basis.

                  “That doesn’t change the fact that carbohydrate is uniquely fattening for most people and fat in the absence of carbohydrate is not productive of pathological weight gain.”

                  You haven’t provided a reason to believe carbohydrate is uniquely fattening (i.e. beyond its calorie content alone). Are you arguing that carbohydrates are less satiating (causing you to eat more), or that low-carb diets provide a metabolic advantage (insulin slowing down metabolic rate)? Or both? Neither is true, as far as I can tell.

                  And fat can surely induce weight gain (in the absence of carbohydrate!) if you ingest enough calories to produce a surplus. Do you deny this? It’s not any different from consuming too many calories as carbohydrate.

                  “Why is it that so many people CAN eat more carbohydrate than they need AND store the energy as fat?”

                  You can turn this argument around by substituting ‘dietary fat’ for ‘carbohydrate’, and it would still be accurate.

                  Also, it’s not just a binary choice between “carbs” or “no carbs.” By switching from refined carbs to whole food carbs, you still get an increase in satiety (and thus a spontaneous reduction in calorie intake) without having to cut out an entire macronutrient. This has numerous advantages, but I won’t enumerate them here because this comment is getting long :)

                • says

                  Will, no offense and I hope you’re not offended. I’ve enjoyed this debate and I always appreciate the chance to see where my own ideas are weakest.
                  I’ve followed the food rewards concept at Stephan Guyenet’s site and I remain a sceptic. I’ve seen it make sense for an instant, only to vanish like a mirage, and I can’t be bothered with its nebulosity. That said, I have a real appreciation of the good doctor’s Guyenet’s worth, and continue to read him with pleasure.
                  I don’t think food reward theory is incompatible with metabolism. Sweetness receptors stimulate insulin production. There’s no real dichotomy there. I’m a mechanical determinist by nature, but I think dieters have free will in their macronutrient choices.
                  This guy neatly reconciled Guyenet and Taubes a while ago. I don’t think its been said better.
                  http://sparkofreason.blogspot.co.nz/2011/08/comment-on-guyenet-vs-taubes-or-why-i.html

                • Will says

                  None taken. I guess I came off sounding more combative than intended.

                  I agree that food reward and the insulin hypothesis are not mutually exclusive. After all, Stephan didn’t say food reward was the _only_ factor, just a dominant one.

                  But the fact that they _could_ co-exist doesn’t change my view that the insulin hypothesis is wrong. Independently of this, I also think there is decent evidence for the food reward hypothesis.

              • says

                Let’s put it another way.
                If you store fat from carb and burn it later, no problems. Ditto fat.
                But what if you can’t burn it readily because your high-carb diet is suppressing fat-burning genes? PPAR-alpha and the like?
                Look at this guy who won a 100-mile marathon mostly on body fat reserves, when high-carb runners needed constant top-ups of glycogen:
                http://www.meandmydiabetes.com/2012/08/11/western-states-100-low-carber-wins-ultramarathon-steve-phinney-and-jeff-volek-study/
                If you are fat adapted you can burn fat; your appetite can decrease because you have round-the-clock access to anything stored.
                You’re not actually burning fewer calories.
                In some people insulin reduces fat burning, not temporarily, but overall. The switch becomes stuck in the “off” position, and their appetite tells them they need more carbs. Anything they can’t use goes into Fort Knox.

                • Will says

                  If PPAR-alpha and friends are a big problem, then why isn’t this evident in the controlled trials that compare macronutrient intakes?

                  Is Tim Olson first guy who has ever tried to compete in a marathon on low-carb? I’m skeptical. The vast majority of world-class endurance runners are fueled by high-carb diets, and more likely than not they have defeated many low-carb hopefuls in the past that we haven’t heard about. The fact that Olson is even news in the first place, speaks to the rarity of successful low-carb runners.

                  Furthermore, is Olson’s diet even low-carb? In the link provided, the researcher makes excuses about why they couldn’t reveal the details of his true diet. As Colpo described in my previous link, some “low-carb” athletes heralded by the LC community were not, upon closer examination, actually low-carb. To know for sure, Olson’s diet cannot be kept a secret.

                  “In some people insulin reduces fat burning, not temporarily, but overall. The switch becomes stuck in the “off” position, and their appetite tells them they need more carbs. Anything they can’t use goes into Fort Knox.”

                  Do you have a reference to back this up?

              • says

                I am not saying that carb-adapted runners do badly. I am saying that Tim Olson, being fat-adapted. had ACCESS to many more stored calories than his competitors, thus needed to eat less.
                What are two preconditions of obesity? Eating more, and burning less, calories.

                What is the opposing view to mine? That everyone has equal access to stored energy, and its accumulation is always due to overeating and insufficient exercise?
                Doesn’t that just beg the question WHY?

                Now carbs are so beneficial that athletes are cheating to include them.
                Someone better tell the IOC.

                BTW I do eat “safe starches”. I actually have pretty much limitless respect for Paul Jaminet, Kurt Harris, and our host.
                However, obesity, diabetes, and a host of inflammatory conditions are characterized by carbohydrate intolerance.
                The diseases that can be made worse by increasing carbohydrate and cutting fat vastly outweigh, in terms of human suffering, the rare problems that can be eased or prevented by replacing fat with carbs.

                If you are following current “healthy” guidelines you are snacking on high-carb foods 5 times a day. When does insulin become “temporary” if it is always “covered” with sugar?

                • Will says

                  Sorry if I offended you somewhere. I’ll keep it short this time:

                  “Doesn’t that just beg the question WHY?”

                  The answer, for the most part, is food reward.

                  “When does insulin become ‘temporary’ if it is always ‘covered’ with sugar?”

                  If most of your fuel is coming from carbs, then it makes sense that you should be spending more time burning carbs as opposed to fat.

                  High fasting insulin is a symptom of obesity & diabetes, rather than a cause. Allowing insulin to “cover” the entire day via snacking is not the same thing.

                • says

                  “The world’s fattest people probably ate incredibly calorie-dense, but unsatiating food. On a regular basis.”
                  Not necessarily calorie dense; soda isn’t calorie dense. Calorie density is probably not relevant, above a certain minimal dilution. In fact, if it was highly calorie dense, like pure lard or butter, it would be highly satiating.
                  But how does this conform with the food reward and palatibility idea?
                  Can’t a rewarding, palatable food also be satiating? Like a good cheese, or bacon and eggs with tomato relish? You are wandering into a subjective, aesthetic area of science. My daughter finds the music of Justin Bieber palatable, I do not.

                  Your mitochondria do not care whether calories come from dense food or soup, nor do they care much what it tasted like or how you felt about it emotionally. Those things might be involved in your choices, but at the energy level – e.g., whether you can readily burn stored fat – it only matters what the mix is; whether it came from your diet, or from your bodily reserves, is of little importance when the mix is the same.

                  Asking me for a reference, Will, gives a nice appearance of intellectual rigour, but this is unfortunately spoiled when you direct me to Anthony Colpo.

                • says

                  This is nice:

                  Despite an apparent absence of cardiovascular disease and the metabolic syndrome in the Kitavans, the relationship between TGs and HDL-C was similar to that observed in Caucasians, while neither of the variables was associated with markers of insulin sensitivity in the Kitavans. Whether the findings can be explained by normal physiology or partially reflect the high intake of carbohydrates *and saturated fat* in Kitava is uncertain.

                  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12817903?dopt=AbstractPlus

                • Will says

                  Based on your commentary, I’m inclined to believe that you don’t properly understand the food reward concept. This is not meant to be spiteful; it is easily misunderstood. I’ll give a brief explanation, but I won’t comment further since I think you have already made up your mode about food reward.

                  Palatability and reward are often related, but they are technically distinct concepts, with different circuit systems in the brain. Your own examples show how palatability does not always travel with reward. Reward is a measure of how motivated you are to acquire and eat a given foodstuff again. Food that induces satiety has lower reward value than food which fuels hunger and craving.

                  If you read Whole Health Source, you know that Stephan has already attempted to defend food reward against claims that it is vague pseudoscience. I won’t try to rehash his arguments except to say that real scientists do take it seriously, and it is a frontier of modern obesity research. That’s good enough for me.

                  The reason I brought up food reward is to explain what drives us to eat more or less food. The mix of fuel seen by mitochondria is irrelevant. It may only _seem_ relevant if you believe the insulin hypothesis. If you don’t (as I don’t), then there’s no reason to invoke fuel types to explain overeating.

                  Feel free to look down on me for linking Colpo. I don’t much care if I look intellectually rigorous or not. But I am still interested in that reference, if you have one. To me, that reference would support the crux of your argument.

                • says

                  Thanks Will, the thiamine paper is very interesting. I am trying to find out where the study was done (fortified country or not?).
                  I don’t know whether the diets you mention would be as thiamine-replete as a western fortified diet. And I certainly don’t think thiamine can make everyone fat; taking multivitamins for years didn’t change my natural leanness. It is an observational hypothesis with some epidemiological support and a partially-understood mechanism.
                  It really depends on the extreme level of fortification seen in a country like the USA.
                  it is interesting that the GABA shunt appears to have a “food reward” type aspect.

                  I guess red meat might be bad if you eat it in a bun, remove its natural fat and cook it in oil, and wash it down with a coke.
                  No study I’ve ever seen measured those factors, and the correlations were not strong anyway (even in those “red meat kills you” studies, not eating meat killed almost as many people as eating it did, i.e. not many at all).

                  I liked this book: it approached all these issues from a novel and entertaining angle.
                  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2105132/Damn-low-fat-diet-How-reformed-vegan-John-Nicholson-gorges-foods-granny-enjoyed–felt-better.html

                  Apparently, he got fat and sick on a diet that was low in caloric density and palatability and anything but rewarding or satiating, and got better on the calorie dense diet he found most palatable, rewarding, and satiating.

                  Thanks Will, it’s been fun and stimulating.

              • says

                I can see that to people still in the phase of food addiction or with complex emotional relationships to food, something like food reward gives a useful framework to step outside that.
                This doesn’t mean that it has any more reality than the higher power postulates of 12 step programs.
                Once you have moved on, and are no longer hooked, does it provide a useful knowledge base for what is happening to your body?
                Does it explain exercise, or cancer, or circadian rhythm, or nutrition in the sense of being nourished?
                What is the relationship between palatability, reward, satiety that is true for everyone?
                Everyone can measure insulin, blood glucose, HDL/TG ratios, HbA1c and so on.
                Their inter-relations can be shown on graphs, the patterns of gene expression and protein circuits behind them are being mapped.
                What is the use of a medical theory with no diagnostic?

                • Will says

                  Your concerns about food reward, as I understand them, have to do with the lack of concrete, verifiable, mechanisms behind it. But food reward has a very particular mechanism – activation of the hedonic and reward circuits in the brain. If an obesogenic mechanism does not activate these subsystems in the brain appropriately, then food reward is not at play. I will admit that I don’t know if all satiety factors influence these particular regions of the brain, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. Please see these blog posts for more info:
                  http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/10/case-for-food-reward-hypothesis-of.html
                  http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2011/10/case-for-food-reward-hypothesis-of_07.html

                  Now, back to the insulin hypothesis. :-)

                  I agree that citing one reference wouldn’t “prove” the whole insulin hypothesis, but I was looking for something very specific. By what mechanism does insulin slow metabolic rate? And how important/relevant is this mechanism to general obesity?

                  The common low-carb answer (and the mechanism hinted at in your reference) is that insulin locks fat away via its action on LPL and HSL, so that overall energy expenditure must decrease. But as I said, metabolic ward studies show no significant metabolic advantage to calorie intake from carbohydrate vs fat. If there is an effect (by any mechanism whatsoever), it is likely quite small. Furthermore, those with high fasting insulin tend to have _greater_ resting energy expenditure, not less. Any plausible biological mechanism for supposedly “fattening” carbohydrates must bow to this evidence.

                  I’m familiar with with the insulin hypothesis and its most common arguments, having genuinely believed it myself in the past. I used to read Hyperlipid as well. In Peter’s response to Stephan’s famous critique of Taubes’ thesis, Peter writes:

                  “Starch based diets are not associated with obesity. They do not cause hyperinsulinaemia, post prandial or fasting. They do not cause insulin resistance. You can, with significant effort, become obese on starch but only if you force yourself to do so. I agree with this, in unacculturated people. I think it might even have applied to people in the USA of 1900. I disagree with this if applied to the current industrialised world, especially anyone who has become obese.”

                  Quite frankly, this surprised me at the time. Not because I didn’t believe it (I had already rejected the insulin hypothesis long before Stephan’s post), but because it was coming from Peter. Here, even Peter is admitting (with a couple of asterisks) that starch-based diets do not cause hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, or obesity.

                • says

                  I think you’ll find that the foods considered “most rewarding” are the foods that influence insulin the most. Sugars as well as starches.
                  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19352508

                  For example, deep frying a starchy food impacts the insulin response compared to lower heat cooking at the same macronutrient amounts,
                  http://www.ajcn.org/content/91/5/1220.abstract

                  “Results: In comparison with the steamed diet, 1 mo of consuming the high-heat-treated diet induced significantly lower insulin sensitivity and plasma concentrations of long-chain n−3 (omega-3) fatty acids and vitamins C and E [−17% (P < 0.002), −13% (P < 0.0001), and −8% (P < 0.01), respectively]. However, concentrations of plasma cholesterol and triglycerides increased [+5% (P < 0.01) and +9% (P < 0.01), respectively].

                  Conclusions: A diet that is based on high-heat-treated foods increases markers associated with an enhanced risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in healthy people. Replacing high-heat-treatment techniques by mild cooking techniques may help to positively modulate biomarkers associated with an increased risk of diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular diseases."

                  High heat treatment is part of what makes junk food "rewarding" (for some)

                  In what way does this contradict an insulin hypothesis?

                  It would make more sense to say that the food reward hypothesis adds another detail to the story of disordered insulin signalling, and that what we know about insulin offers a partial mechanism for food reward.

                • Will says

                  Again – I always discuss food reward separately and independently of the insulin hypothesis. Please stop claiming that I think they contradict each other. I do not. The insulin hypothesis is wrong, but NOT because food reward somehow conflicts with or invalidates it!

                  Your first reference says that the sweet taste receptor stimulates insulin secretion in a mouse model. It says nothing about the effect of insulin on the brain, the key player in food reward. If you knockout the insulin receptor in the brains of mice, they will increase their food intake: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11000114

                  I’m not sure how the paper on deep frying contradicts anything I’ve said so far. As you noted, high heat treatment might make the food more palatable and rewarding. But the paper also stated “A 10% higher caloric intake was evidenced in the STD group as result of a higher overall food consumption and higher energy density, with a significantly higher intake of carbohydrates and fats…” (STD is the group that ate the deep fried diet).

                  I agree that insulin could have a role to play in food intake via it’s action on the brain. But that isn’t what Taubes is saying, and that’s not the version of the insulin hypothesis I disagree with.

                • Galina L. says

                  Will, I disagree with the Food Reward theory because it doesn’t match my family experience or experiences of other immigrants I know who arrived to the US in a mature age. At the beginning we all got exited about new and convenient food, but after a year or two we returned to home cooking (who had time) or at liaest we prefer home cooking . Fast food is cheep and convenient, you don’t need to wash dishes and spent time cooking and cleaning kitchen afterwards, but we can’t eat it regularly, especially things like frozen prepared dinners.. My son couldn’t eat cafeteria food after he did it for one year in his university and started to cook his own food. If it was so carefully engineered to work almost like a drag, then the appeal has to be more universal. Not everybody reacts on starches with increased appetite, decreased energy and a weight gain, for some it is enough to reduce grains and sugar, but for more carb-sensitive people removing tubers from their diet is the next necessary step.

                  I also have a problem that WHS mostly discusses the obesity aspect of the food, which is reasonable because SG is the obesity researcher, but weight gain abnormalities are on the tip of an iceberg. I grew up in a fast-food-free society, and observed how people around me got various illnesses of a Western civilization without obesity being a problem in the population. One year ago I convinced my 75 yo mother to cut completely grains and tubers from her diet, and it normalized her GERD and blood pressure.

                  Starches are definitely not toxic, but it is not completely benign food for everyone. At the same time there are a lot of people around who are so little prone to obesity that they can eat only boiled potatoes or exchange normal coke for a diet one and loose weight because they need very little changes to drop weight. I needed to use a LC diet to loose weight, not just a slight change in my routine.Also, for the people who try to follow a diet after a weight-loss it is much more easy to manage when whole group of nutrients is minimized than trying to keep some sort of a balance. I have been doing LCarbing for around 5 years, cook food for my family. Limiting carbs makes a diet easy to comply. I just don’t put on my plate starches I made for my family, but we all eat the same meat and veggie dishes. I can go to any restaurant and most fast-food places and have a food appropriate for my diet (like a burger without a ban and minus french-fries). Following a food reward diet would be much more difficult undertaking.

                • says

                  So if you don’t replace the insulin hypothesis with food reward, what do you replace it with?
                  If someone eats rewarding, highly palatable food of low satiety and high calorie density, and gets more energy than they need, why doesn’t that energy make them energetic?

                  A food reward paradox; alcohol is very rewarding, palatable to those it rewards, of low satiety ditto, and calorie dense.
                  Yet an alcoholic who eats little other food will lose weight on a hypercaloric alcohol intake.
                  Why?
                  Because some of the alcohol is metabolized to heat, H2O and CO2 alone in peroxisomal oxidation. Like part of the energy from long-chain fats – call it metabolic advantage if you will, though I fail to see the advantage.
                  And alcohol depletes thiamine, which eventually means the body’s ability to metabolize glucose is reduced.
                  No doubt there are other mechanisms.

                  A further point is that carbohydrate is associated with other diseases, from cancer to diabetes to GERD to gout and arthritis, which are more-or-less amenable to its restriction. Insulin is known to be a significant factor here. There are many more experts researching the links between insulin and degenerative disease than there are researching food reward. And of course, obesity is a risk factor for those diseases. Go figure.

                • Will says

                  Galina,

                  Thanks for your comment. It was very interesting. I can’t argue with personal experience, of course. And I’m not arguing that starches are fine for every single person on the planet. I appreciate the efficacy of ketogenic diets in treating epileptic seizures, for example. In my view, low-carb is also useful if it winds up being the easiest trick for someone to maintain long-term weight loss. But the insulin hypothesis is an unlikely explanation, and the diet simply can’t be sustained for many people.

                  You mentioned grain elimination and blood pressure a couple of times. Please realize that grains, in particular bread and flour products, are a major vehicle for salt in Western diets. This alone could be the explanation. Moreover, displacing grains with more potassium-rich food sources like fruits and vegetables would also help improve blood pressure. I don’t think it’s grains per se unless you can rule out the influence of sodium and potassium.

                • Will says

                  George,

                  Excess calories => higher circulating leptin => appetite suppression & increased energy expenditure. Leptin’s appetite suppression effect occurs in the brain. Leptin resistance may occur via inflammation in the brain. Hope that clears up your confusion.

                  I’ve gotta say, I’m skeptical of your claims about alcohol. Drinking to caloric excess, coming mostly from alcoholic beverages? Is that even an ethical experiment? Please cite a reference; this one I’d love to see! But even if it were true, I don’t see the practicality. There is no significant effect for dietary carbohydrate or fat, and no sane person would recommend consuming lots of calories from alcohol for weight loss.

                  I read your blog post on thiamine. While interesting, there isn’t enough evidence to be convincing. Are there any controlled studies on thiamine supplementation by itself and weight gain? What about The Rice Diet (http://www.ricediet.com/page/view/nutrition)? The all-potato diet (http://20potatoesaday.com/)? Durianrider’s fruitarian diet (http://paleozonenutrition.com/2011/03/05/30-bananas-a-day-durianrider-an-analysis-of-his-paleo-vegan-diet/)? All of these diets are thiamine-replete because they come from whole food carbohydrates, and they did not cause weight gain.

                  In this report (http://www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/evm_thiamin.pdf), the authors found a relationship between thiamine/calorie and BMI, where thiamine/calorie explained roughly 8% of the variation in BMI. But this correlation was inverted for women; the higher their thiamine/calorie ratio, the lower the BMI. Looking at the thiamine/%carb ratio makes the data even less compelling. What’s more, the effect with protein appeared to be 2X that seen with carbohydrates.

                  Are carbohydrates really associated with the other diseases? Look at the populations in good health today, or a few centuries ago. Almost all of them get the bulk of their calories from starch, except for perhaps a few scattered tribes living at the extremes of the environment. This is incontrovertible stuff.

                  And consider this. Red meat is associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, gout, and arthritis. Beef scores just as high as pasta on the insulin index. Do you therefore avoid red meat? If you are being consistent with your own logic, you would. For that matter, do you avoid all protein sources that rank high on the insulin index?

                  This will be my final reply. I’ve enjoyed the debate, George. I will let you have the final word.

                • Will says

                  It looks like my previous reply had enough links to get caught in Chris Kresser’s moderation queue. You’ll know what I’m referring to once it is approved :)

                • Galina L. says

                  Will,
                  I have also problems with migraines which look like an epilepsy on an electroencephalogram, and ketosis is very beneficial for managing all that. I personally have unbelievable health improvements after I changed my diet on LC, like I am off asthma meds, didn’t have a single seasonal flue or infection since I started almost 5 years ago, list is so long I am afraid ii I continue it may sounds like I am selling a snake oil. I lost about 50 lb at 27 yo and around 40, and didn’t have similar health improvements back then . I don’t agree that bread carries salt into a diet. I cook since 10 years old (all my married life I cook every meal in my house), and according to my experience, soups , dishes with tomato paste and vinegar, cured meats and salads are major salt carriers. In my household it is probably a self-made fermented cabbage I have in my fridge all the time because sour taste lowers the perception of saltiness. Salt in ample amounts is necessary for many treasured food preparations like bone broth, fermented veggies, cured raw fish and salted fish eggs, pates, meat jellies (aspics). My mom continued eat big amount of sauerkraut and got her blood pressure to be normalized on a LC diet.
                  I understand it is awkward to accept somebodies anecdotal experience, but I am also feel often uneasy when I read about some research which contradicts my own experience.There are individual differences. It looks like you don’t need to keep carbs really low. My son and husband are like that, but after looking at me , my son goes low-carb when he feels like he is getting a flue, so far it worked every time.

                  People often think that the insulin theory of obesity doesn’t make sense partially because they associate it only with a carbohydrate consumption. But insulin also get secreted when people eat any food (I think it is the reason why IF is helpful for a weight loss), any calories restriction lowers insulin. Insulin theory explains for me individual variations like why I can’t eat the same food as my husband and stay slim like him. I used to be abnormally hungry between meals, now I am hardly hungry at all even after more than 4hours between meals.

                  I enjoyed WHS blog much more before that “food reward” fixation occurred with Stephan. Nowadays he seems to think that because of the FR people get fat and then sick as a result, he even said that diabetes was caused by the weight gaining. All that seriously contradicts to what I see around. Weight gain is just the tip of an iceberg.

        • says

          I absolutely agree. There are factors that modify the insulin hypothesis, and some researchers want to focus on those, but the “fattening carbohydrate” and basic metabolism are still the parsimonious explanation.
          If you factor in, for example, the modifying effect of thiamine status, apparent anomalies between East and West, past and present, become consistent.
          http://hopefulgeranium.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/some-footnotes-in-support-of-thiamine.html

          It is still carbohydrate driving obesity – and beri-beri as well.

  27. WildGrok says

    Thanks for this well written and informative article, there is no shoe that fits all sizes, and we all see around us people who eat a lot of carbs and have “perfect” blood tests and weight.

    In my case I choose to avoid the starches, my carb intake comes from some fruits and any carb that comes with yogurt. I estimate my daily carb intake at less than 80g. I don’t feel the need to add the starches. On my days of “lifting heavy things” (two a week, 20 minutes sessions) I notice that an extra banana or two “feels” much better.

  28. says

    Wow, Chris, I am impressed. For someone having so little time, this post is killer.

    My position: PRO STARCH!

    I had a very bad experience on a low carb diet. My hormones were out of whack from pregnancy and nursing. Low carb only made it worse.

    Since I switched to a higher carb diet, I’m doing much, much better. I eat lots of whole grains and fruit every day now. My temperature is up from the low 97s on low carb to a steady 98.6.

    I think instead of all these folks blaming starches and carbs for diabetes, they should look first to optimizing hormone function.

  29. Hannah says

    Like another commenter I ceased menstruation when I cut out starch. I kick myself now for being so quick to jump on that bandwagon, but there were so many compelling anti-starch arguments. For a long time I didn’t understand that I needed carbs, this was when paleo was all about the low carb. For me no starch was a terrible experiment, but great birth control. I wish so much that I had read something like this post before I screwed my hormones. Chris- you do a great service by questioning anti-starch/carb. There is not one diet for everyone!

  30. Dave says

    Nutritional statistics is such a mess. Everyone wants to have an opinion. If I die an early death because I was eating sweet potatoes well I guess I gave it my best stab. I’ve killed sugar and grains and bad fats, am sub 10% body fat and people tell me I am unhealthy. I think people should be able to detect when things are happening CORRECTLY in their body. It’s not like we just wake up one day and say oh my God I got fat overnight. Eat the potatoes and if you put on 10 pounds of body weight in one day or you feel like crap then I would say you’ve gone a bit to far. Love your work Chris!

  31. HighlySkeptical says

    With all respect Chris, the Okinawans are a terrible example. They could eat anything they like and still reach 100 – due to their particular genetics. Anyone can Google the many studies of their unique old-age genes. Particular alleles of the HLA II locus on chromosome 6 give them special longevity. Those of us without those genes can’t necessarily follow their example.

    • Honora says

      I wonder why they were engineered to live so long. Did the young ‘uns need a lot of instructions from the old folks to get be able to survive long enough to be old enough to breed?

  32. LeonRover says

    “the burden of proof is on them to TELL us WHY that food isn’t safe”

    No, Chris, not quite.

    They have already TOLD us: instead we need facts – as in population and longevity data for Homo Elegans not C. Elegans.

    In addition, we need a detailed biochemical/pathway explanation which provides the HOW – not WHY.

    Stand-alone arguments are useless, scientific data alone convinces.

    Slainte

  33. Nigel says

    Perhaps one of the most convincing arguments against starch consumption is Elaine Gotschal’s Breaking the Vicious Cycle. The theses being that poly saccharides are not an entity most of us can digest well, and the likelihood if leaky gut is exacerbated by consumption of poly saccharides. However, if we have attempted over a fair and long trail period to adhere to a standard low carb Paleo, and also, in an alternative effort, to supply carbs from fruit/fructose/honey while abstaining from poly saccharides, and have only experienced abysmally poor results in both dietary strategies, than it seems starch carbs as white rice may be our only satisfactory option. As a former triathlete, and later as a recreational active and fit person , I found it impossible to maintain leanness on either standard Paleo or Paleo plus fruit carbs. The low carb Paleo diet brought me insomnia, visceral fat, muscle deterioration, and the worst general health ever. Adding fruit carbs to the Paleo improved nothing and brought even more excess body fat. White rice proved to be my dietary salvation, to restore leanness, muscularity, and normal sleep.

    • Chris Kresser says

      This is only relevant for the particular population that has gut problems. I mentioned this in the article.

    • Rob Genova says

      You need to differentiate between starch polysaccharide and non-starch polysaccharide. We are quite evolved and suited for the digestion of starch into glucose due to amylase production. Non-starch polysaccharide requires healthy gut flora to be dealt with in a beneficial way.

  34. lenny says

    I think as soon as you hear someone making statements that you should treat people as if “everyone is diabetic”, you should immediately discredit anything that makes it out of their mouths. It’s like telling everyone to reduce the intensity at which they can safely exercise because people who just had a myocardial infarction should—it makes no sense and puts people in a state of panic over nothing.

    As a sidenote–the majority of people seem to be worried about weight loss but fail to notice that every traditional culture that displays extreme leanness is almost always on a high starch diet. The greenland inuit, which low carbers are so fond of citing, are probably the plumpest indigenous people i have seen. And I think it’s been made clear that the masai are not low carb at all.

    • says

      Aren’t the Inuit obese because they all consume sugar, flour and alcohol now and have severe genetic intolerance of these foods? I’m confused by this claim since I’ve encountered quite a lot of examples of low-carb hunter-gatherer groups who had superb health… Also I thought the traditional staples of the Masai–nomadic herders, not farmers–were milk and blood? Is whole milk a ‘starch’?

      • Leaf Eating Carnivore says

        Yes. They have an appallingly high consumption of refined flours, trans and other bad fats, soda pop, sugar, etc, and now make “Eskimo Ice Cream” with Crisco (!!!) instead of whale fat. The rates of T2, cancer and CVD are off the charts. And yes, they now have crappy teeth. This is true of all the Native populations here in Alaska, save those few individuals who are steadfastly eating a traditional diet.

      • lenny says

        Bananas, tubers, and honey were staples of the masai diet–milk and meat was not always available, and reserved for the ‘warriors’ mainly. My understanding in regards to the inuit is that they had rather pristine health. There was very little tooth decay, cardio problems…etc, but if you take a look at dated pictures from the 1960′s and earlier, you’ll notice they have plump faces and bigger bodies; Compared to tropical islanders, african tribes..etc.

        *and whole milk, although it isn’t starchy (especially the super fatty stuff the masai drink), it does propel their carb intake to 100-200 grams/daily–which is no where near the low carb level that Rosedale or any other stringent low carbers are preaching.
        The masai also have one of the highest protein %’s of any traditional culture~ 19%, which is at odds with another major tenant of Rosedale’s diet (i.e. reducing protein to reduce production of the evil glucose monster).

    • Galina L. says

      Even being a LCarber, I agree with you that we should immediately disregard whatever the person who said “you should treat people as if “everyone is diabetic” said.

  35. Lee says

    “According to a study of the traditional Okinawan diet in 1949, they obtained 85% of calories from starch, mostly from sweet potato”

    Interesting that you refer to a study that was done just 4 years after the end of WWII, when the war’s effects on the local economy and diet would still be profound. This is around the same time that Ancel Keys was noting that Italians ate a lot of plain pasta with nothing but tomato sauce, also in large measure due to the dire effects of the war, an observation that helped lead to his diet/heart disease theories.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Yes, but the people that were born during this period and were eating this diet are still around. The longevity effect is due to caloric restriction, but if starch/glucose are “toxins” how is it possible for a culture that eats 85% of their diet from toxins to live so long? It’s highly unlikely that genetics could override such a powerful environmental influence.

        • Will says

          The Okinawan diet: health implications of a low-calorie, nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich dietary pattern low in glycemic load.
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20234038

          From the paper:
          “However, dietary change since World War II has been largely deleterious, with younger Okinawans developing a higher risk of obesity and other chronic disease risk factors [30,31] versus older Japanese.”

          This demonstrates that Okinawan genetics are not the whole story regarding risk factors for chronic disease. But I did not find a reason to believe the Okinawan elders – the centenarians in good health – abandoned their traditional diet entirely. And even if they did, carbohydrate intake would STILL be quite high on the modern Okinawan diet:

          “Despite the large increase in fat intake in Okinawa in recent decades, fat intake in the modern Okinawan diet is comparable to that of the DASH diet (at approximately 27% of total daily energy intake) and lower in fat than the traditional Mediterranean diet (42%). Saturated fat still only totals about 7% of total energy intake (versus 6% in DASH and 9% in Mediterranean). Carbohydrate intake (58%) of total calories remains highest (versus 55% for DASH and 42% for Mediterranean) and protein intake falls between the lower Mediterranean (13%) intake and the higher DASH (18%) intake.”

          Either way, it seems that the Okinawan diet was always high in carbohydrates, even though carbohydrate consumption declined somewhat post-WWII.

  36. Suzan says

    I think that it is trial and error for each person. We are all individuals born with unique DNA. We have environmental differences, we have different food consumption/health histories, and we are of various ancestries. We are not all the same!

    So I think that a higher-starch diet may work quite well for some and not for others.

    Frankly I am sick of the idea that we all must eat exactly the same in order to achieve vibrant health and optimal weight.

    I am overweight and I have a relatively sedentary job. I have tried all versions of Primal, Paleo, and Perfect Health, and a diet with lower carb consumption (which definitely includes limited portions of starchy fruits/tubers -bananas and sweet potatoes) works just fine for my general health and weight loss.

    On the other hand, my very active husband does much better eating more starches, so he also consumes a moderate amount of white rice, and white potatoes occasionally.

    If he cuts out the rice, he loses weight like crazy and has no energy. On the other hand, if I eat white rice and white potatoes, I feel tired all the time and don’t lose weight.

    I don’t think there is a one-size-fits all approach to good health, though there are certain basic guidelines.

  37. ProudDaddy says

    The only thing I don’t understand is how anybody has the patience to argue with the lo carb crowd. Science has no role in religion, and a religion is really what they espouse. Further, people who have published books and based their reputations on lo carb can never admit error.

    • Jon says

      The best argument is your own success. If you’re trim, healthy, energetic, and have low levels of VLDL particles, are pain free and you are not deteriorating with age, then you win in your own world. The similarity to religion in Paleo comes primarily from the fact that they have been converted by their own success, overcome some obstacle after many failures, and they want to share the good news. You don’t see many of these people carrying a lot of extra weight and looking pasty and sickly – like my last 2 cardiologists. I count myself as a Paleo success – from 210 to 180 at 60 yrs and feeling better than I did at 40. I don’t try to convince anyone that they should go ultra low carb, I eat what I need to for my activity level, but a lot of family and friends have followed my example because the change was effortless for me and I eat more and better than I ever have.

      • Alec says

        Jon, On your pale example how low in carbs are you and did you moderate your carb intake after you reached you weight goal?

        There seems to be a broad range in low carb. USDA was at 300 grams of carbs a day. 150 grams is half that so could that be considered low carb? I feel better at 125 to 150 grams of carbs a day.

        • Jon says

          Alec, I have never measured my carb intake by weight. I cut out all sugar, grains, beans/legumes. Basically eat a lot of veggies/salads, eggs, chicken and beef with some occasional bacon if I can find the uncured, sugar free kind. I eat as much as I’m hungry for of whatever I’m eating. If I’m getting hungry too quickly after meals, I up my saturated fat a bit or olive oil on salads. It is possible that I’m high carb, by weight – but it mostly comes from green veggies so I don’t worry about it. I moderate my intake of various foods based on my activity/exercise levels more than by any weight goal. 180 was not a goal, that is just where I stabilized after my diet change. Now I moderate my body composition (%fat) by activity. Dumbells and walking. I wish I liked sweet potatoes, but they taste bad to me, although I feel pretty good from eating them when I force myself. – Hope that helps.

          • loma says

            Yay for sanity ! Obsessing about grams and percentages kills my joy in food ( and bores the pants off partner and family etc ). I have experimented , found what food suits my body and stick mainly to that and it happens to be the same as Jon’s ( except I adore sweet potatoes!) I still have some issues and am researching valuable resources like this site to see how others cope.

      • Galina L. says

        .I am another one who is a LC success story. I know starch is not a poison, so it is safe to eat, but when people age they seem benefit from eating less. Starch is the easiest thing to minimize in the diet.

  38. Kul Beens says

    I work out every other day more or less. In addition to fatty meat, I add sweet potatoes on workout days, and on off days I add salad type vegetables instead of potatoes or occasional gluten-free grain.

  39. Catherine says

    I was happy on <50 Gms carbs per day for eight months, until T3 hit the wall and Paul Jaminet PHD put me back on track. You all have the best argument as far as I am concerned and I appreciate the attitudes also. ;) (no T-shirt required)

    Giving up all wheat was the main difference for me, then avoiding PUFA n6s, sugar. I did gauge my starch / blood sugar with a meter and think I am now dialed in.

    • Kelly says

      Hi, Catherine. Can you elaborate more on this as I think I went/am going through the same thing. When you say T3 hit the wall, you mean it dropped too low? And how did you get back on track?

      Thanks for the comment. I have been struggling with this problem for the last 6-8 months. I am very tired, very depressed and have pretty bad mood swings.

  40. says

    Chris, I agree with everything you said and I also find the arguments against carbs mostly unconvincing. That said, after many years eating low carb (around 50g/day) I can’t escape the fact that it works better for me, even though that I was never overweight, diabetic or insulin resistant. Starch in the 100g/day range dropped my HDL (as I’ve blogged about) and greatly impaired my exercise recovery. So I’ll continue to experiment with it, but that may just be how I’m wired up.

  41. says

    Whelp, here we are again in another silly debate. It seems all too easy to think ourselves into some strange maze, nose to the ground sniffing after the perfect diet ignoring the obvious by way of example in favor of some strange logic or delving head first into reductionist biochemistry without observing the dynamic behavior of living systems. I’m fairly pro starch right now even though I seem to have some trouble with it and I think the evidence is clear that it can be very healthy. Starchy foods certainly are enjoyable! I’m also not convinced on this “safe starches” thing where everyone is vilifying grains. Besides the Hunza living largely off wheat as Matt Stone pointed out in the rather funny blog post linked below, I’ll bet there are plenty more examples of healthy people getting their deadly starch from deadly non-rice cereal grains and doing pretty well for all that. Anyone have any examples? I’m not saying no one has problems with them, I know I do right now, but I’m inclined to think that there is more something wrong with us that we can’t negotiate them than there is a fundamental problem with them that is impossible for our systems tolerate them. I feel the same way about FODMAPS foods. I think we should be careful not to assume that the fault is with the foods or that there is something fundamentally wrong with us that is not repairable rather than just a dysregulation of some kind. That’s my leaning at this point. I’ll be working toward the goal of being able to thrive on as many diverse foods as I can thank you very much! I have a long way to go, let me tell you. I’d like to thrive on anything at this point, but it certainly won’t be predominantly meat and fat- been there done that, now trying to clean up the mess.

    http://180kitchen.wordpress.com/2009/11/11/mccarrison-style-chapati/

  42. trina says

    I seem to be carb sensitive, and eating them increases my appetite for them, I gain weight etc, but total avoidance xeems to trigger all of the cortisol/thyroid stuff. So I find a balance is a starch meal every other day or two. This actually matches the 80/20 rule recommended in the paleo sphere, although they think of it as “legal cheating”, I think for some people it might be exactly the right thing. Even Jimmy Moore has said he had planned cheat days while he lost weight, so he was eating some of this stuff at that time…It is also similar to the type of eating recommended by Ned Kock, and others , I think the idea of cycling the carbs has some merit. but maybe the term should be “safest carbs”, not “safe carbs”, to indicate that they are not necessarily a great choice for everyone.

  43. sam says

    I have to go against the grain and disagree with you. I respect Dr. Rosedale a lot and agree with him. Your arguments aren’t very compelling and the biochemistry is on his side as well. A low carb diet decreases your metabolism, which of course, increases your longevity. Also, burning ketones produces less CO2 per calorie than burning glucose.

    As for the Okinawans and Kitavans, are we really basing optimal nutrition on a society known for smoking and being small and a group that gets most of its fat from MCTs? Not that there’s anything wrong with MCTs but they clearly allow you to eat more carbs than normal.

    Amylase- it’s higher in women’s saliva than men’s, so are we meant to have women chew our potatoes for us? This kind of reasoning proves only that we have continued to evolve towards carb burning, but it’s still not what we have been eating regularly for millions of years.

    The question isn’t whether starch is safe to eat, but whether it’s what we are built to eat. It’s about what’s optimal for the long haul.

    As for Mr. Voigt, I suspect the monotony of his diet caused calorie restriction. It’s the same trick as sticking to one type of drink when going out. That and there are worse things than potatoes, which he probably partook in previous to his extreme diet.

    • Honora says

      Suspect you’re right about the monotony causing him to eat fewer calories initially; first he struggled to eat more than 14 spuds/day and lost weight.

      >He decided to live on 20 potatoes a day because he needed 2,200 calories a day, and each potato has about 110 calories.

    • Will says

      Sam, a calorie-restricted diet would also slow metabolism (and thus increase longevity). Does Dr. Rosedale account for this when claiming there is an advantage to low-carb in reducing metabolism?

      We are interested in the Okinawans and Kitavans because they are models of health. They are healthy despite the fact that they smoke. Something else is protecting them; diet is therefore a likely candidate.

      Why do you imply that being small indicates poor health? Since you are interested in longevity, you might know that tallness is associated with shorter lifespans.

      Why would MCTs allow you to eat more carbohydrates than normal?

      You could argue that salivary amylase doesn’t “prove” that we have fully adapted to starch consumption yet. But we’ve already adapted enough to attain pretty amazing health status on starch-based diets. There is existence proof of this in the healthiest populations on the planet. If a low-carb diet really is optimal, why aren’t the Maasai (or any low-carb populations) living longer than, say, the Okinawans?

  44. Fredrick says

    I really love sweet potatos but most people tell me that its goitrogenic and since i have thyroid issues,should avoid it like a plague.Can anyone clear for me the air here please.Will really appreciate.

  45. Chloe says

    Is there a real explanation or term for the descriptive word, ‘toxic.’ It seems to be a fad word used to explain something is deadly harmful/poisonous to the body. What is the scientific take on it, please?

  46. Chris Kresser says

    Fredrick: they are not significantly goitrogenic unless you eat them raw, which I don’t recommend. You can also mitigate their mildly goitrogenic effect almost completely by ensuring adequate iodine intake.

    • Fredrick says

      Thanks for the response Chris.The problem is that my thyroid issues are caused by Hashimotos and as you know,iodine and hashimotos are not good pals.Should I just avoid all the goitrogenic foods?

    • Fredrick says

      Thanks for the feed back.My thyroid issues are due to Hashimotos and i guess iodine will be a problem for me.Should I just avoid all the goitrogenic foods?

  47. says

    Where is the documented proof that Chris Voigt ate only potatoes and improved upon his health? If there isn’t any, he’s full of potatoes. And if it is true, what in the world was he eating before??

    It’s not that starch is unhealthy – it’s that it is unnecessary and can lead to excess fat gain in many people. And if you work in the fields for 14 hours a day, sure, you can get away with eating a lot of starch.

    If I adopted a potato diet for the next 3 months I would gain fat – a lot of it – and my health would suffer greatly. Where did he get his micronutrients from Chris? His BCAAs?

        • says

          thanks, steven for the link! (i’ve always enjoyed reading carole deppe- it was potato porn, indeed!).

          her experience is much more informative …and relevant. I’ve always thought that citing this particular experiment as an argument “for” starch consumption/the nutritional value of potatoes was extremely limited, and even distracting from any more substantial evidence based in sustainable, healthful diets heavily reliant on starches. actually, i find it pretty counterproductive, especially as it seems he would completely waste away were he to continue on the all-potato diet for a longer period. I wouldn’t exactly call that healthy.

          of course, it seems all too common that people who adopt any sort of new diet – be that low-carb, low-fat, vegan, paleo, all-potato etc. for a short period of time experience weight loss and/or improvements in health markers. that seems much more relevant than whether or not potatoes/starch are a healthful staple for a long-term diet. If we want “anti-starch”-ers to take us seriously, it seems we should be looking towards evidence based in reality, such as the experiences of subsistence gardeners.

          I realize that glycemic index can be a bit controversial, but i love this paragraph from deppe’s article regardless:

          “There is one legitimate nutritional concern about potatoes however. Potatoes have a high glycemic index. We digest them as fast or faster than almost anything, and turn their carbohydrates into pure glucose, blood sugar, the sugar our bodies are designed to run on. A food that is maximally easy to digest and whose carbohydrates are turned almost totally into exactly the form that our bodies can use most easily—shouldn’t this be considered the epitome of excellence in a food? Why are all the foods that are harder to digest or that contain or turn part of their carbohydrate into other less directly useful sugars be considered superior? By this reasoning, a food that is so hard to digest that it provides no food value ever and raises blood sugar not at all should be considered best. (Rocks, anyone? Yum yum!) I prefer to view the high glycemic index of potatoes as proof positive that they are the epitome of excellence in a food.”

          • says

            tonia: Yeah, I love that quote! I don’t think we need to look to that potato industry guy and his kooky unsustainable potato diet experiment to prove much of anything. That’s just spin. I like Carole Deppe’s perspective as a person who has chosen to be involved in her own subsistence. She can actually grow enough potatoes and corn to survive on with minimal access to land. People who do their hunting and gathering at the grocery store might not always realize the privilege that it is to do so. As someone who butchers the vast majority of their own meat, I can tell you that when you consume mostly meat and animal fat, a 250 pound pig or even a 500 lb cow does not last that long. In my environment it requires many acres and 18 to 24 months to Properly “ripen” every steer and we are not talking about the fattest steer ever. So add to this idea that people who subsisted largely on meat/fat fed a lot of the muscle meat to the dogs in favor of more nutrient dense animal parts in order to get enough nutrition and we are looking at a “paleo” diet very high in meats and fats being an extremely privileged diet. When I was on gaps I was flying through meat at a shocking rate! And mostly muscle meats at that. Fats aren’t so easy to come by in natural environments either. In my experience, lean animals are the rule and fat ones the exception. If there is fat in something else, a seed or nut, people ate it.

            Not only did primitives eat starch as it was available in the form of nuts, seeds, grains (grass seeds), roots, rhizomes and tubers, especially here in arid california, but eating starches also allowed people to practice agriculture. What we think of as vegetables have not comprised the majority of crops grown in the past. It is staple crops high in carbohydrates either as sugar or starch that made agricultural communities possible. A good example is corn/beans/squash of American Indian groups. Whether that is viewed as a good thing compared to the hunter gatherer life, is a complex question made difficult to judge by the fact that subsistence lifestyles are largely outside the experience of modern people who haunt the comments section of nutrition blog posts. My point is really that, in this day and age, if we want to work toward taking responsibility for our food supply or work toward a sustainable and equitable food supply, our options are more along the lines of agriculture than not. I feel like it’s a trap for us to look at food from a nutritional perspective only, which is primarily what I see on these nutrition boards and blogs. Eating food from our local environments for ethical and personal reasons is not only not less important than eating a healthy diet, it can be argued that it is more important to a holistic approach to life. More broadly encompassing food values should inform what we eat as much or more than what we have determined or been told is ideal for our health from a theoretical perspective. I just don’t think those ideas are incompatible either. I just am somewhat dismayed by the phenomenon of people feeling really entitled about food– Importing high resource input food and supplements from all over the world and not being able to “survive” without fresh coconut water or fruit all year, or this or that fresh vegetable all year or pasture fed meat etc… All people before the industrial revolution ate what was in season in their area as well as that which could be stored and if we want to continue to eat “well” as industrial society inevitably begins to collapse around us, then we need to look at our options and I’m guessing that non-starch or low carb paleo diets are not going to be a viable option for most people. All this just to say mostly that it is refreshing to read an opinion about food and nutrition from someone who is more involved with food and understands what goes into growing or getting it. Not only that, but someone who uses the energy derived from her food to attain more food rather than expending energy at getting buffed out at the gym on some machine. And she’s over 60! Carole Deppe has mad credibility.

            As for glycemic index, natives here in my part of California subsisted largely on starches and sugars. Pinole (ground seed meal, usually toasted) from numerous broad leaved plants, grass seeds and especially acorns, which are lower in protein than wheat and heavy on starch. Then there were bulbs, numerous species were eaten fresh and dried and sugar content was often increased by long cooking. Entire food gathering processing and storing technologies were developed around these foods and they were not minor components of the diet. I have found many of the tools for processing this diet while digging foundations and stuff. A few thousand years of that seemed to work for them, but then we don’t have documented studies of their health status. I’ll bet they outperformed the pants off any modern paleo tweaking Whole Foods shopper though and as pointed out in other comments, there are examples of thriving starch eaters anyhow. Whether starches are the perfect food or not, we have the hardware and software to eat them and our bodies aren’t telling us to eat them because they are poison.

            My point in general though is not so much that these indians ate lots of starch and that it was Ok, as that people ate what was in their environment because that was what was available to them. Looking at that fact and the health status when available is probably more informative than basing decisions on speculation about what humans ate during our genesis in a more specific environment (the true nature of which is also somewhat speculative). Same goes for over reliance on biochemistry and diet studies on isolated foods. I can just imagine some hard line anti-carb paleo person having trouble eating dinner with most primitive groups. Like, “here is this awesome root we dug up and it’s full of energy and you don’t want it because why?” They’d probably laugh their asses off or be terribly offended, but then they could be schooled in just why this food is poison.

            Just to put these comments in perspective a little , by view is somewhat apocalyptic and I think our choices should be informed by what kind of future we want to see, if any.

            tonia, Dude, we should hang out. Maybe eat some potatoes and corn.

            • says

              This is why true Real Foodism/paleo (with an asterisk)/whatever you want to call it is really revolutionary: it’s not because it escews Coke, it’s because it demands an awareness of the world outside one’s own tiny orbit WHILE inherently and irreversably demanding that that orbit itself changes. I won’t get into my particular circumstance, but let’s just say we’ve made some conscious choices yet are not able to feed ourselves from our own labours and are acutely aware of that, and find the entitled WF shopper has missed the evolutionarily- (which should thus include environmentally-) appropriate point on their way towards bodyfat% goals disguised as health-improvement efforts. Your illustration of a VLCP invited to a HG dinner is spot on. Faced unexpectedly with roasted offal at a dusty roadside stop with half a goat hanging on a hook out front, I had to say ‘I was raised to believe that outsides are higher status than insides, and have a negative association with insides as a result. I’m sorry’. I’m over it now (can I have a do-over?) and I must say that it was intellectual arguments that started that, rather than my respect for an ancient culture’s food wisdom over that of my (impoverished) own. Not to utterly debase the knowledge my culture has – I’ve had some serious facepalm moments in foreign countries in response to their accepted wisdom that just really didn’t check out. Just… think big, live small. Say I.

            • says

              steven- i’ve been through many phases in my health and nutrition geekdom, though my very first attempts at making the “right” food choices were confounded strictly in ecological reasons (i was once younger and righteouser). it wasn’t until i started growing, gathering, and processing a significant amount of my own food that i was really able to grasp sheer quantity of sustenance it takes to feed a human being in a single year (i feel like i need one of those football field analogies here or something-except on a way larger scale. isn’t that just what your gut bacteria covers after all?). at about 5’3 and 110lbs or so, i’m pretty small and still find myself astounded by how much food i consume. it becomes pretty evident when you stock up on what you think will be WAY more than enough…say blackberries for an entire year, and find the gallons and gallons and gallons of them gone well before next year’s season. like you said, a 250 lb pig or even a 500 lb steer doesn’t last all that long…neither does 1200 lbs of potatoes apparently!– though i imagine the inputs for that quantity of potatoes are conservative compared to the inputs (and acreage) to properly “ripen” a steer. its hard enough for most people (myself included) to plan their grocery shopping list for the week…let alone the entire year. learning the value of food beyond what it can offer from a personal health standpoint has provided me with a *perspective* on food much more in line with that of our ancestors.

              you made so many well-articulated (and humorously written) points. i too often feel disconcerted by the disconnect between those who are involved in food growing, and those who are, as you say scanning the health/nutrition blogs, tweaking their whole foods shopping list and seeking the perfect diet for optimum health. it seems to me that there is a place in which human health and well being intersect food subsistence; a place where the “perfect” diet for optimum human health meets the “perfect” diet for optimum ecological health. to me, this means an adjustment in our minds, by rethinking our feelings of entitlement to specific foods, in our bodies, by cultivating the health to be adaptive to the seasons and to our local food ecology, and in our actions, by finding creative ways to have nutrient-dense foods locally and year round through variety selection, intelligent farming/gardening techniques, and creative preservation methods. i am hopeful that others in this health-centered community will become more intimately involved in their food choices, beyond simply buying the “right” superfoods, or saying hello to the guy who grew their kale at the farmer’s market. i think we would all be profoundly affected by cultivating a more tangible relationships with the land that (still) provides us with the resources to grow and gather our own food.

              • Lynn says

                Steven, Lauren & Tonia, THANK YOU for your contributions. I don’t know where to start in agreeing, but as a tiny, tiny example, let’s just say that for someone like me, with no tropical ancestors, how can I even think about *coconut* as an “ancestral” food? :)

                • says

                  Lynn: Lauric acid and coconut oil seem to be everyones darling now. It is pretty funny that paleos are so hardcore into a substance that occurs in significant quantity in only a handful of plant species the world over. Lauric acid, oddly, occurs in baynuts which are native to california. Also curious is that bay laurel genes have been genetically engineered into canola to increase the lauric acid content! I guess the evil vegetable oil empire that has sold us the “saturated fats are bad” pill for so long are jumping on the lauric acid train. More ironic that they are putting it into their flagship unsaturated fat.

                  more on baynuts, with links here… http://paleotechnics.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/baynutting-tips-for-harvesting-storing-and-using-california-bay-nuts/

    • Rob Genova says

      “Where did he get his micronutrients from Chris? His BCAAs?”

      Nobody is advocating a long term potato diet. The point is that his fasting blood sugars went down not up.

  48. Alec says

    From the Seattle Times web site: “Chris Voigt, executive director of the Washington State Potato Commission,”

    If your job is to promote consumption of potatoes can that be taken as proof that potatoes are good for you?

    • fiona says

      Dr. Kresser, I do not see any of the studies referenced in your post? Unlike the same debate between Rosedale and Jaminet which was FULL of links to supporting studies.
      http://drrosedale.com/blog/2011/11/22/is-the-term-safe-starches-an-oxymoron/
      It is a great debate, detailed with rich scientific data and with all the references. It seems that all of these doctors are overall helping the greater good of people and directing health in a much better direction from the SAD diet. Though, the symptoms stated might be as per Rosedale and many others, it is the symtoms of too much protein. Both Rosedale and Shanahan’s patients never had those issues once their patients were properly fat burning.

  49. says

    I enjoy the debate about whether starch is fine for gut health, longevity, etc. but this whole [greater] debate is frustrating to me because it’s based on misunderstandings and wishful thinking. The people who are in the “low carb” camp because of metabolic issues, heard the word “safe” before the word “starch” and got all excited, even though it had nothing to do with them.

    What’s going to happen when someone with a nut allergy finds an article on making nuts “safe” by soaking them? ;)

    I welcome the interchange between paleo, low carb, and traditional/ancestral foods, because of the large overlap and shared interest in health, but people need to think before they eat something new (or old) again.

  50. Michaela says

    Hi

    Please can you answer my question. All paleo´s people are saying that only when you workout hardly you should or can replenish your glucogen level, but what about people who work hard mentally who use their brain 16 hours daily. I am judge and sometimes I need to focus 8 hours without any break. When I ate paleo no starch or only little I could not focus on my work I cold not pay attention so I add stach like fruits (2-3 pieces daily, local berries apples, but also banana) some butternut squash and raw sheep dairy and sometimes dates (yes I know full of glucose fructose, but they do perfect jobs for brain)….. I eat it every day at least 1meal consist mainly from some kind of starches. I am very skinny and have no problem with weight I do not workout only do walk everyday. So I think my brain utilize all glucose or even more. When I was on paleo with only little starch I felt bad sluggish and could not focus on my job. Can you clarify this. Thanks a lot

    • PHK says

      @Michaela

      my work also demands intense concentration for long time.

      but my mind feels clearest when i dont’ eat (semi-fasted state)

      i’m pro-safe carb & have been followling Paul Jaminet’s PHD/paleonu diet for about 2 years.
      (moderate carb, 20 – 40%, it varies a lot since i normally don’t count, not am i “metabolically challenged”)

      initially, my diet was closer to Mar Sissone’s Primal version; (not VLC).
      but his version has too much “rabbit food” & coconut (both disagree with my tummy)
      so i slowly migrated toward PHD.

      despite my being pro-starch, i can’t eat an unlimited starch.

      if i over-do it (> 60 gm starch in one sitting), my postprandial BG becomes way way high (> 160 once it was as high as 200).

      when my BG is too high, it makes me sluggish (brain & body) & COLD (due to my mild Raynaud)

      so too much glucose is bad news.

      strange thing is my BG always drops back to < 100 (same as fasting BG) after 4 – 5 hours.
      i wonder if there's such thing "pre-pre-diabetic"

      anyway, moderate starch seems to work best for me.

      regards,

  51. says

    For healthy individuals I feel certain “Paleo” starches are fine, for an unhealthy individual (disease,cancer, autoimmune) I feel they are best left out. I would prefer a ketogenic way of life to stay healthier.

  52. says

    I think some people read “safe starches” to mean unlimited quantities all the time. I eat some starches – potatoes, rice, sweet potatoes, maybe even some corn from time to time – but they make up very little of my overall paleo diet. I still think I end up well under 100 – 150g of carbs most days (when I track) even with some chocolate indulgences. So you don’t have to eat like the Kitavans. Starches do not have to be a staple of your diet to be included in it. The other thing I have noticed just perusing the paleosphere web is that women seem to have more problems with the no-starch paleo design than men. No idea why that is – maybe it is the reason we have always been associated with the “gatherer” portion of the scenario. It would be interesting to research whether there is some hormonal requirement for a few more starches if you are female.

  53. kem says

    I eat about a hundred grams of carbs from our gorgeous, organic, home grown spuds every day. I’d feel a right dick getting those 400 calories taking more than my share of our (home grown/killed) beef.

    I’m sixty years old and can bike or ski the pants off most people one third my age. Bp spuds

  54. Christy Fox says

    I can also attest to being a female that went too low carb when I started eating a paleo diet, and after about 2 months I went off the deep end big time with cravings that resulted in eating bad food that I would normally never even consider eating. It almost felt like how I imagine binge eaters would feel…like I was doing something I shouldn’t but just couldn’t control myself-kind of scary actually. Anyway, I went back to focusing on eating starches from sweet potatoes, winter squash, white potatoes, and a little corn here & there, following the principles of the Metabolic Effect Diet where you limit your intake to bites-for me that’s 5-10 bites as a mixed burner-and I cannot tell you how big of a difference that has made for me. More sustained energy and mood, and less cravings. I also ditched the paleo ideal that you should be able to go hours upon hours without eating, and am now eating small meals every 2-3 hours, and that has also made a huge difference. I have figured out over several months of being my own ‘detective’ that I don’t tolerate starchy veggies well before 11am, so I stick to fruit, non starchy veggies, and protein/fat, with the starchy veggies later in the day. I highly recommend if you are struggling with paleo to pick up the Metabolic Effect book by the Teta’s b/c it has really helped put everything I’ve learned from paleo into perspective, and has really opened my eyes!

    • Galina L. says

      My well-being really improved after I became able to go COMFORTABLY for hours without eating. Such paleo-idea based not on some religious believe , it is a signal that you body is efficient with using fat as an energy source. Probably it is OK to eat every 2 hours during 8 hours of eating window, but eating every 2 hours while not sleeping seems wrong for me. It means being hungry all the time or eating out of boredom..

  55. Tom says

    Their argument is flawed because protein has the potential to raise insulin levels just as much as starches. If you eat something and insulin levels skyrocket and stay elevated for a long time, thats just a sign of insulin resistance, it’s not the foods fault.

    • Leaf Eating Carnivore says

      True, but as Mike Eades points out, this protein-initiated rise in insulin is compensated for by a concurrent and equivalent rise in glucagon, making the whole issue roughly a wash.

  56. Laura says

    I am not sure what to believe to be honest. I am an endurance athlete who ate moderately high carb and low saturated fat for years. I never bonked during a race and was able to see gains in performance into my 40′s. However my body fat was always a little higher than I wanted at 15%. So I read a lot about Paleo and cut out starch with the exception of an occasional sweet potato and took a much more liberal stance of saturated fat. The result was declining performance and lots of palpations. I was never hungry on Paleo but also never satisfied. A pound of bacon somehow doesn’t fuel my body as well as a little rice and chicken. AND my body fat remained constant at 15%. I’ve decided that my old Italian mother is tight…. Everything in moderation and know thyself! There is no one perfect diet for all!! Thanks Chris….you rock.

    • Galina L. says

      It took me a year to be adopted to exercising while eating LC diet. At the beginning my performance suffered, but them I noticed an unusual increase in my insurance.

  57. says

    Restricting starch into ketosis helped with inflammation, but then re-introducing safe starches at a lower level helped in other ways. Both were good and I intend to do both ketogenic and moderate-starch from time to time, but my balance point is around 100g starch (and some sugars) daily.

    Many of those higher-carb cultures are calorie restricted or follow intermittent fasting patterns. They also have flourishing microbiota which generate extra amino acids in the case of the PNG highlanders.
    A high rate of de novo lipogenesis is fine on low-calorie high carb diets under these conditions.

    The Irish before the 1850s potato famine did very well on a mostly potato diet; better than similarly placed English eating bread.

    One condition you do not want high-carb is Hepatitis C, as the viral life cycle is dependent on hepatic lipogenesis. http://hopefulgeranium.blogspot.co.nz/2012_02_01_archive.html
    The normal metabolic flux, carbohydrate => fatty acids => CO2 + H2O favours the virus; leaving off the first term of the flux equation sufficient to restrict lipogenesis tends to restrict it.
    This could also be achieved by constant caloric loss, were such a lifestyle sustainable. (not gain and loss, but constant loss). I have known anorexics and speedfreaks to clear the virus completely, and the almost complete (5%) suppression of lipogenesis in such states was the likely cause (they sure didn’t have enhanced immunity).

    • Honora says

      Very interesting post, George. I ground my way through the science and multitude of TLA’s and am sharing it with people I know with HCV especially the genotype 1 folks. I also sent your blog link to a clinical nurse specialist here at Christchurch who supports people with HCV for the gastrologists. Looks as though there’s been a lot of studies done investigating why what you suggest actually works.

      • says

        Somehow my cursor stopped here while skimming through the immense comment pile this issue generated (it’s telling that this is by far the most commented on of all Chris’s posts). I know of some studies into clearing fatty liver with high-fat diet, but are there any you know of on HCV replication?
        Post them to my blog if anything turns up.
        Animal PUFAs, especially DHA and AA, are suppressive of HCV, and I’m going to look at factoring them in soon.
        Thanks for the response.

        • Honora says

          Alrighty, I’ll ask. The director of our lab, Peter George, is also a lipids specialist so he might be a good one to make enquiries to and one of the gastroenterologists seems to have a lot of HCV positive patients, (as a phlebotomist, I call them my Tuesday morning chamber of horrors due to the tiny and grouchy veins) but as you know doctors know relatively nothing about nutrition.

  58. says

    I was always slim to begin with. Then a while back, I went Paleo (not to lose weight) but for better blood glucose control, gluten avoidance, and the other benefits. So I reduced my carbs. I found that I was getting “too thin” and needed to gain weight. So I have added back “safe starches” — rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes. I also consume sugar in the form of fruit, dark chocolate, coconut water, etc. But still avoiding “carbs with gluten” such as pasta, bread, processed food.

    I think safe starch is fine, just don’t do a whole bunch of them all at once. Spread them apart. However, I’m still struggling to gain weight. I eat a lot and about 4 times a day, including pasture raised animal fats, eggs, poultry, avocado, olives, and butter. Any ideas why I’m unable to gain weight? Metabolism too fast? Mal-absorption? Not able to produce insulin?

  59. Andrea says

    From what I can gather, most Anglo-Americans have healthy ancestors who ate quite a few carbs. Ever read Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder? The breakfasts they consumed were made up of lots of pancakes, doughnuts, jellies, and of course good animal products like butter, bacon, and milk. They also ate popcorn, bread, and potatoes. Of course, they worked their butts off too – at least during the summer. However, reading that particular memoir, I would estimate that those men ate close to 3,000 calories a day and I don’t think any of us are in danger of getting near that if we up our carbs a bit. During the “long winter”, Almonzo and his brother Royal lived mostly off of pancakes and syrup. Almonzo Wilder lived to a ripe old age of 92 despite a crippling bout of diphtheria and an extremely stressful life….and lots of sugar and white flour that crept into his diet during the later years. Carbs are not an obstacle to a healthy life. Toxins, pesticides,refined oils, flours and sugars are where the problems lie.

  60. John says

    I think that safe starches are fine. I’ve added a lot more potatoes to my diet, and I haven’t noticed any difference in weight. I think that Low Carb diets work well in genreral, because they cut out so many problematic foods, like refined grains, refined sugars, soy, and dairy (and I know that dairy is a gray area). But I also think a low carb diet based heavily on say, protein powders, high omega six oils, and artificial sweetners is going to be more damaging to the body than one that is based on poatoes.

    I also like potatoes quite a bit. Don’t know for sure, but I would say I eat about 100-150 carbs a day.

  61. Kelly says

    I thought this article and all the comments were very interesting. I, like most posters, went downhill when I cut out carbs. It was pretty bad for me – I had severe depression, panic attacks, and I could sit in a chair for hours with my eyes glazed over (after a month of VLC). And if you asked me what I was thinking when I was sitting there, I was thinking NOTHING. It was like my body had ceased to function – I truly believe it was a form of hibernation. I had experienced problems with the depression and low energy prior to VLC. Never did I think VLC would make it worse though.

    Now that I have re-introduced carbs, I am better but not nearly 100%. I am probably only operating at about 50% and have been battling my issues for 8 months.

    Recently, we went to China and spent a month there. It was such an eye-opening experience for me. We met an American woman and her husband and had dinner with them one night. This is a summary of everything we learned about them:
    Wife:
    -she is from Atlanta
    -she is African American
    -40 years old
    -her diet as a child and young adult consisted of processed and fried foods (mac n’ cheese and fried chicken is what she gave as an example)
    -when she moved to China she weighed 350 pounds
    -she married a Chinese man
    -she struggles a lot with the fact that he has so much energy and is always ‘go go go’. It is very hot where they live and they have to walk everywhere. (The part of China we were in is similar to a tropical rain forest. I personally found it to be miserable. My husband I would be walking out on the street and dripping with sweat, our hair and clothes plastered to our bodies, yet a Chinese person would have just a light sweat on their forehead and cheeks.)
    -1 year after living there, her excess weight started to just “melt off” (her words) and she now weighs 200 3 years later. She said she didn’t try at all.

    Husband:
    -weighs 120 (he is a very thin, willowy guy)
    -35 years old
    -grew up in a village in central China
    -he had no electricity as a child, all water was carried in the buckets with the pole across their back (including for farming).
    -diet as a childhood mostly consisted of rice (A LOT of it) and vegetables; he said the village had a huge farm that everyone in the village tended to so this is what their village ate. He had chicken occasionally growing up. Not much fish. No dairy. No wheat.
    -he said northern villages grew and ate wheat and they were much stockier people. Not fat, but stocky.
    -the husband has a RIDICULOUS amount of energy!! i was shocked and very envious. if Americans had that much energy, I can’t imagine all that we could accomplish. The couple had been walking and shopping all over the city all day. He carried all of the purchases because the wife was too tired. It was hotter than hot. They had walked several miles. The wife looked like she was ready to collapse. She said she was grumpy because she was so tired and hot. But it was his only day off in quite awhile, so he was ‘go go go’ (her words). While we were eating dinner he had to walk home (1 mile) to accept delivery of furniture and then he came back to the restaurant. He was sweaty when he returned, but didn’t seem tired. We then finished dinner which was probably another 2 hours.
    -I asked him what was the Chinese opinion of Americans and he said that Chinese think that Westerners are lazy. I could easily see this point of view after meeting him.
    -his wife said she went to his village when they got married and he was expected to work on the farm while they were there. She commented that the work was very hard and they worked a lot of hours.
    -they have no oven (most Chinese do not), no refrigerator (she said 50% of Chinese do not) and no clothes dryer (most Chinese do not).
    -she said when she cooks dinner, she walks through the market that is across the street from their house, buys meat and vegetables and then comes home and cooks that and rice and that’s what they eat. There are no leftovers, so no need for a refrigerator. She says all of the vegetables are bought from farmers and are usually fresh from the field that day. The meat is sometimes alive and the vendor will kill it right there and hand it to her or it will have been killed that day. She said everything they eat is very fresh. She said she never understood fresh until she started cooking and eating like this.
    -she says the meat in China is very different. It tastes different, it cooks differently. I agreed on the taste part. My husband and I would refer to it as “Chinese meat”. It just tasted different. I didn’t prefer the taste but I’m sure I could get used to it. Eating meat in China made me VERY skeptical of meat in the United States. We were eating 80% grass-fed meat in the US. Now it is all I will eat. I think there is something very wrong with grocery store meat here after having been to China. It is too fatty.
    -she showed me a bowl (what would be a very large cereal bowl – the ones with very tall sides like at Ikea) and she said that her husband eats FOUR (FOUR!!!) bowls of rice that size everyday.

    Ever since coming home from China, we have been eating a lot more rice (1 c. a day). Based on what I read in this thread though, I might have to increase that amount!

    • Galina L. says

      I grew-up in a different culture without any access to a fast-food (Soviet Union), we carried all our purchases by hands,walked everywhere, I used to live in an apartment without an elevator on a 4-th floor, my mom still lives in that place. Such life-style prevents extreme obesity in the population, children and young people were all lean, but there were still wide-spread Western deceases in population like CVD, diabetes, cancer. Yes, people look thinner, they are more energetic, but all it on a surface. My slender father died from a heart attack at 51, my naturally thin grandpa died from a liver cancer. My naturally plump grandma is still alive at 93, but has an Alzheimer. I convinced my mom to try LCarbing one year ago, her blood pressure immediately got normal and stays normal since, her GERD is also under control now.. She was not a junk-food eater, most of her carbs used to come from a sour-dough rye bread.
      Of course, it is ridiculous to say that all carbs are a poison, but different people have different safe dose.

    • fiona says

      Kelly.. you cannot compare what you would do compared to your friends husband… as you said he is ‘go go go’.

    • Chenzhen says

      The food quality in China is at least as bad as in the US. They use plenty of drugs and pesticdes and with all the corruption going on every single food category has plenty of disgusting scandals attached to it. Trust me, while I’ve never been to the US I’d rather eat your meat than the garbage I get in China.
      Also, many westerners who come to China and stay there for some time actually gain weight, the food is drained in cheap, re-used veggie oil.
      Your comparison is IMO quite unfair, poorer people in rural areas of China = lower calories, less unhealthy choices, lower food reward, higher activity level. Compare the Chinese in the coastal regions to America and you get a different picture. No offense, but I think you saw things a little bit through rose-colored glasses when you were there.

      • Kelly says

        Hi, Chenzhen. I apologize. I didn’t mean to offend. And you are right. They are many areas of China where the food quality is very poor and you see more than a few overweight people. I was just surprised to see so many people that could live off the land. I have always grown up in a city. Even where I grew up in the South, we lived in a city and I have never really seen anyone live off the land like the man we went to dinner with. It was such an amazing experience to me to meet someone that grew up without electricity eating a diet of mainly rice and vegetables. And it’s rice too – I was so surprised as I have been raised believing that rice was a “carb” and carbs made you fat. And here this skinny man eats 4 bowls a day!! Wow.

        I will say though that, when we were visiting, we were in Yiwu and Ningbo. I’ve been told that these cities are “mainland China”? I think these are more of non-major cities and we met many people from the countryside. We also had been to Shezhen, Hong Kong, and Shanghai and the quality of the food was very different.

        It was just so interesting to see this man who had come from a completely different walk of life. It left a huge impression on me.

  62. Alec says

    Rob Genova wrote: “Hundreds of groups all over the world consumed starch as a staple **prior** to the onset of the diseases of modern civilization. That is, before DIABETES EXISTED.”

    Diabetes has been known problem for 3,500 years. The ancient Egyptians documented it. It was documented in India about the same time period. Writings in Greece 300BC documented cases of Diabetes. There have been CAT Scans of Egyptian mummies that show they had onset of heart disease and obstreperous even though some of them died in their late 20s. This doesn’t mean that all carbs are bad but apparently the heavy consumption of wheat in Egypt didn’t prevent CVD or Diabetes.

    • Rob Genova says

      Poor wording on my part. I should have wrote the “epidemic of diabetes”. The disease was not widespread until the modern era. And, nobody is claiming that wheat (or carb) consumption **prevents** diabetes.

  63. says

    I think this is a matter of choice and paying attention to the body. For example, I notice when I eat white potatoes I have a tendency to bloat. I don’t have this experience when eating sweet potatoes. I also tend to do the same thing when eating rice. I put rice in the starch and grain category. Since I’m intolerant to gluten it may have something to do with it. I prefer to let my body be the deciding factor when consuming starches…I think most people should practice the same thing. Thanks for a great article and addressing this.

  64. says

    The question to me is, what kind of starch? Grain or something else? My experience is grains and sugars make me feel run down. Other kinds of starch are just fine.

    • John says

      The term “safe starch” comes from Paul Jaminet and the Perfect Health Diet. He lists potato, sweet potato, taro, rice, tapioca, and a few others. Most grains (rice being the exception) are not considered safe due to the phytic acid, lectin, and anti-nutrients like gluten and such. Soy also falls in this category, as it refined sugar. He does not suggest that all these starches would be safe for everybody (diabetics especially), but should be well tolerated, and even beneficial, for most people.

  65. Elyse says

    This is such a fascinating and frustrating topic for me. Like so many other women I have read here (and elsewhere on other paleo-ish blogs), I lost a lot of weight going “lowish” carb primal/paleo (under 100g of carbs). While amazing at first, I ended up with lower-than-low levels of thyroid hormones and sex hormones (and amenorrhea for years). So low, in fact, that my doctor stated he was surprised the lab even wasted ink on my levels.

    I began to include starches in the form of yams and sweet potatoes. (If I could invent a new diet of only this food, let me tell you, I would.) I immediately began to feel my mood lift and my satiety level rise; however, I would also feel incredibly guilty after eating these items because it has been somewhat ingrained into my cranium that starches are often reserved for athletes (which I used to be, but NO longer) post-workout or others who are quite physically active. In other words, I felt I didn’t “deserve” them. How creepy is that?

    The medications I am on have packed on the pounds, so there again, I am afraid of my beloved yams adding more weight. After a trial of a couple months of small, daily yam ingestion, I gained weight–but my mood was better. Hmmm. When I stopped, I didn’t lose, but I didn’t gain. And, I wasn’t so satisfied or happy. It truly is an individual issue, isn’t it? Perhaps I will have to settle being the overweight, cheery chick with her yams….

    Thanks, Chris, for this timely post. I enjoyed it and all the others’ input, too.

  66. Diane says

    Once again, so well done, informative and thorough. Thank you so much for taking the time to relate this information while you are so busy at the symposium! I really like how even-handed you are, providing information so we can make our own decisions. As a rehab nurse who checks the HgA1C on about 20 patients a month, all I can say is that the answer is in the blood sugar results for most people. They can determine for themselves so easily through self-testing glucose an hour after ingestion of starchy foods, and see what’s happening. Feelings of well-being are great, but you often don’t feel symptomatic from higher blood sugars, just low ones, so you have to be careful since hyperglycemia can be so insidious. Some people don’t even experience weight gain when they are in trouble.
    I would really appreciate it if you have time to report on your iron-overload talk- my husband has hemachromatosis

    • Will says

      Cathryn, “&” is an HTML character entity reference. Your browser should be replacing it with “&” when it renders the web page.

    • Will says

      Doh, I just realized you might not see that second character. “amp” is supposed to be translated into the ampersand character.

  67. Galina L. says

    To tell the truth, I don’t remember what else annoyed me so much as countless &apm,s in comments. It almost makes me to grind my teeth. I wish it would be dropped someday.

  68. says

    Thank you for this post Chris! I just recently started a blog to bring together people dealing with autoimmune diseases and I always find your information invaluable. Keep up the good work!

  69. Auntiegrav says

    The question in my mind is, “How many people are ACTUALLY healthy?”
    If starch is bad for people who are not healthy, we need to know who that is.
    My doc (a typical GP) thinks I’m one of the healthiest people she sees: because I don’t drink or smoke, and I’m thin. Fact is, I feel totally like crap all of the time. I sleep/wake all night, and cannot move without a struggle until late afternoon each day. I suspect it has something to do with either mold toxins (I’m a farmer) or some other fundamental environmental or mineral issue that the AMA avoids dealing with because it would mean an evaluation of our entire food and health systems. (Yes, I’ve had sleep studies, amalgam removal, lyme tests, h pylori tests, magnesium levels tested, blood chemistry tested, and I am not diabetic).
    So, when I hear a statement like “X is safe for healthy people”, I really wonder who the hell these people are, and who is doing the evaluation of them.

    • fiona says

      Auntiegrave..
      GREAT point you have made. I am sooo looking forward to Dr. Rosedale’s points that he is going to post on his blog about this topic, taking it much further. Just because one is ‘healthy today’ does not mean one should not do all you can do to maintain that. It seems silly to wait until one gets sick to then change your diet as Nora Gedgaudas put forth in her presentation. Also, like you have pointed out there are many people who might feel ‘healthy’ or their doctors tell them they are ‘healthy’ when in fact they are not. I believe it is not to categorize as Dr. Kresser has a diet for ‘healthy’ and a diet for ‘sick’ if one wants to maintain ones ‘healthy status’ but rather should the emphasis be that a healthy person might be able to cheat a little more and the body recover easier than a sick person, thus a sweet potato ‘treat’ once in a while.. but I do not believe that eating that way all the time is actually doing the body good, again for the long term goal of ultimate health. Diabetes is awesome (well not, but just for this point).. as it is a disease of accelerated aging as pointed out by Rosedale – THUS we are ALL aging to one degree or another it is just more easily witnessed in a diabetic with the results of what they have eaten. Don’t look at ‘them’ and think you are all so different, you are just aging at a slower pace, but keep doing what you are doing and you might soon catch up and ‘them’ might be ‘YOU’. Drs. Kresser, Rosedale, Jaminet, Whel and several others are all heads and shoulders above the ‘standard of practice’ and that is awesome that they are all showing up within Paleo. Their difference though might seem minor, is that last 8% of a tipping scale is where one might see a MASSIVE difference in longer term results. However, for the paleo, cross fit, muscle massed, organic god in your mid 30′s you might just be more focused on today and be clouded from the long term as you stand right now in your strength. Though, all in all… compare these diets with the SAD diet, OMG light years ahead as far as health and longevity. They have a lot in common, keep it healthy unprocessed, organic, grass fed, forget the grains, throw in some blackberries if you must, easy on the dairy.. and work towards the greater good and away from drugs when possible, be kind and respectful, and first and foremost, do no harm. I cannot wait for Rosedale commentary on this topic as it is always rich in supporting data/studies and just he just explains it so it makes common sense to me.

  70. says

    I eliminated wheat about 7 months ago, and I pay far more attention to good nutrition than I used to.
    Never deviated much from ideal weight, and when I lost 10 pounds years ago, then went back to eating whatever the heck I wanted to, it took me about 2 years to gain the pounds back. That alone is enough to convince me that I am well-suited to certain kinds of starches, so I would never dream of going VLC. My carb consumption varies each day, but is maybe 75 grams on average. I would like to get the level closer to 100.

    It is stunning to realize the incredible diversity among humans. Although I never dissected a cadaver in an anatomy lab, I remember reading in a book that no two humans have the same stomach shape. The shape of your stomach is as unique as your fingerprints. This leads me to wonder what that fact may have to do with the relative ease with which some people digest certain foods, while others suffer with the same intake.

    It helps to know your genetic heritage. After having studied my genealogy, I have concluded that I must descend from a long line of folks who have unbelievably strong pancreases. On the other hand, my skin seems to be my weakest organ, and if it was possible to inherit a problem from either side of the family, I did.

    You also have to think about early environment. People who were breast-fed babies have a huge jump-start on those who were not. I believe those of us who grew up during the 50′s/60′s also have it easier. There just weren’t any fast food places around then. My mother cooked three meals per day from scratch, and for hungry family members as well, especially for my father who ran a business from home and never missed a meal in his life!

    I appreciate the posts of the individuals above who recommend seeking out local and seasonal forms of produce. That’s what I do as well. I’ve practiced gardening for 3 years now, and I admit I’m not very good at it, but I have learned so very much. And about starches, though I wish I could grow my own crops of wonderful Yukon Gold potatoes (I’m space limited), I recognize at the same time that potatoes and rice are CHEAP and abundant sources of some good nutrition. I have decided that I must find some rice at an Asian market. I’ve only tasted sticky rice once, but I remember that I loved it.

  71. says

    I’ve been on Paleo, and watched my already low temperatures dropping. As they go lower, my weight goes up, my hair falls out, and my body aches increase. And my Total Cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides go up. Sure, Paleo is fine for many people, but it sure isn’t the whole story for me! I’m going to start increasing the good starches and continue to take my temperature. I have a feeling, this is the answer for my condition – and others with compromised thyroid function! (Hashimotos…)
    Thanks Chris, you are always presenting important information to empower us to take care of our health!

    • Kelly says

      Yep, Lianda. Same with me. You must be smarter than I am. I didn’t figure it out at first and continued going low carb for quite a bit longer. Things got really bad for me – I pretty much lost my will to live, rarely left the house, I couldn’t even lift my arms to wash my hair I was so exhausted.

      I now have to eat quite a bit of safe starches everyday. I eat a huge bowl of rice in the morning, usually a potato for lunch and then more rice or a potato for dinner (along with vegetables and protein). I also eat 3 pieces of fruit – one for each meal. Ever since I upped my carbs, my mood and energy level improved immediately. I do lose weight VERY slowly though.

    • Galina L. says

      My experience was quite different. I have no reason to join a whining chore of the people who seems to turn their bodies into starvation mode with a diet they thought was a Paleo. I went LCarbing at November 2007, at 46 years old. I have multiple health issues, my main concern are probably allergies(asthma, Hashimodo hyperthyroid, eczema, cat allergy, allergy to fish, citruses, strawberries, some more), also migraines. Everything got better, since I went on the diet I stopped requesting any asthma meds from my doctor, cats and fish allergies became less pronounced. If other allergies got better, why Hashimodo should be worse? I keep being asked by different people what I am doing for my skin and hair. I eat plenty of fat, especially grass-fed butter, coconut oil and eat organ grass-fed meats. I have not get a single infection or seasonal flue since I went on a LC diet, all hot flashes and mood-swings associated with pre-menopause stopped, my migraines are 10 times better. I also hanged the Synthroid on the Armour thyroid two years ago. Addressing thyroid issues could be tricky and require more than just silently taking any med you doctor prescribed. Problem with hair may be associated with inadequate medications.

      • says

        Galina,
        I think that people are looking for information to improve their health and not a “whining chore” of people. I have gotten a lot of beneficial help and suggestions.

        I’m really happy for your success with LCarbing. However, it doesn’t work the same way for everyone, as evidenced by the people who follow the recommendations of the “gurus” and find their symptoms are not responding the way they “should” be according to the “expert”. It’s a matter of being aware of your own body, how you feel, what you’re eating, and WHAT’S eating you: Stress!

        • Galina L. says

          I think it will be beneficial to figure out why you body decided you were starving. Often details make huge difference. Did you loose a lot of weight? Did you limit your calories, eat enough fat, protein? Blaming limiting carbs for Hashimodo looks quite ridiculous for me.

          • says

            I’m not blaming Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis – it’s showing me that the condition does NOT improve, but actually got worse eating a strict Paleo Plan. There is enough corroborating information from very respected Paleo and other health practitioners that explains the biochemistry that supports including more starches, not from grains, but from beans, rice, potatoes and other similar sources.
            If something doesn’t work for you, and other people say “It SHOULD”, that still doesn’t mean it is the right thing for your body. I believe in being observant and mindful to see how I get the best results and health.

            • Galina L. says

              There were populations of people living on LC diets without loosing their hair or getting allergies. BTW, I am not eating zero carbs, but often under 50 grams. I think Kelly’s diet contains an unhealthy amount of carbohydrates by the standards of any Paleo-bloger, more in the line with Dr. McDugal or Ornish.

  72. says

    In my experiences as a nutritionist starch has been an important piece of the diet i recommend to patients. This includes people with impaired glucose tolerance as well as athletes. For example, I had a 65 year old male that made the switch to paleo. He was losing weight, but had all the tell tale signs of a cortisol issue (inability to fall and stay asleep, fatigue, etc.) I had him to everything the same except add in about 8oz of starch a day and everything turned around, including his type 2 diabtes. As an athlete myself, I cannot function without adding starch into my diet. Recovering from workouts is brutal without it.

    • says

      Thanks Kevin & Kelly for your answers. Are you taking/recommending probiotics or thyroid meds? I’m waiting for an appointment with a new thyroid doc – What about the whole Gluten/ Leaky gut issue- that starches provide more problems with leaky gut?

      • Kelly says

        Yep, I am. I was having undiagnosed thyroid problems before radically changing my diet (8 months ago) and then Paleo really did me in. I was RIDICULOUSLY cold all the time, wasn’t having a menstrual cycle (I’m 35), felt incredibly depressed and all I wanted to eat was sugary foods. And as I read back over my symptoms, I feel like what I wrote is almost an understatement. I can’t even begin to tell you how bad I felt. It was the scariest thing ever. My husband was worried, my co-workers were worried. I could barely even leave the house. My mother who was 65 just died a year ago. She, in effect, drank herself to death and now, looking back, I strongly feel it was the same thing I went through. She had stopped eating and just lost her will to live. In Janurary (and even before) when things started to get bad, I went to doctors but they didn’t know what was wrong and would just send me home with prescriptions for anti-depressants. I was on Wellbutrin for over 5 years.

        So in January I started down a different path and tried several different things – BHRT was the first. It didn’t help. It actually made things worse for me. So I stopped both (BHRT and Paleo) for awhile. My next plan was to go back to my awful diet of high sugar as it did get be back to maybe 30% (previously, I was in a VERY bad place – probably operating at 10-15%) while I tried to find a thyroid doc. That took awhile and there were a lot of tears shed by me as they would just shrug their shoulders over and over and tell me my thyroid was fine. Doctors just do NOT understand the thyroid. I never did find a good one but I did discover, in the meantime, that I had an RT3 problem and found a Yahoo Support Group for that. Then, finally found a doctor who would prescribe Cytomel so I started that 1 month ago. I also started back on Paleo (no starches in the beginning) but started noticing the depression and energy decrease creeping back on so I started to experiment with starches too. The Cytomel was definitely helping but the high amount of safe starches made it even better.
        Even this morning I was thinking in wonder about how much better I feel!!! I am just not the same person I was 4 weeks ago. I typically am always busy – even on the weekends, but up until this month, it has been 7 long months of doing absolutely nothing. This past weekend was one of the first weekends I was almost back to my old self I am operating now at about 70% of my former self. Hopefully, things will get even better in the next month (I’m supposed to take the Cytomel for 12 weeks).

        This article and all of the comments has made me very emotional in the past week as it is the first time I have found other people that were having the same problem as me. Thank you to everyone for your comments and thank you to Chris Kresser too. I searched the web high and low for people like me for the past 7 months. It wasn’t until this article that I now have more insight into what is wrong.

        I currently take 100mg of Cytomel. There is a Yahoo Support Group on the subject if you end up having an RT3 problem. And my email address is kellystee [at] yahoo dot com if you need someone to talk to. I will admit that I was skeptical about whether or not the RT3 thing was really real and whether the Cytomel treatment would work, but I was desperate. So far, so good for me. I can’t decide if it is Cytomel or the safe starches that is helping or a combination of the two. I’m not sure and I was in such a bad place that I’m not ready to stop either. My gut tells me that it is the two combined (no pun intended). I’m only doing the high dose of T3 for 12 weeks, so I was going to wait it out and just see.

  73. PHK says

    so interesting to read how people are different.
    my experience is opposite to Kelly’s.

    i was always cold, always cold. did i mention i hate being cold?
    switching my diet to Paleo diet really made me cold resistant.
    (i’m still cold but more normal now)
    but then i never go long term VLC long cause i don’t need to loose weight.
    i’m doing pretty close to PHD w/ some Weston Price thrown in.

    regards,

  74. Roryk says

    I am curious as to whether people attempting VLC diets are adequately compensating with healthy fats? In particular short and medium chain ones.

    When I switched to VLC (I feel really good in ketosis), I had to drastically increase the total calories I was intaking, my total protein remained similar, but I had to make up the difference and surplus with fats. When consuming moderate to high carbs I would eat 2.5-3k calories a day to feel energetic and satiated. Switching to VLC I usually take in 4-5.5k calories now unless it is a really relaxed day. I eat loads of coconunt milk/cream, coconut oil and butter because I’m fairly active and recognize that to stay energetic I have to consume a LOT of them. I eat lots of other fats of course, but the aforementioned are key for energy levels.

    I just wonder because people I know that have attempted to eat like me often have it ingrained deeply to be fat phobic even though they say they aren’t. Thus VLC becomes a mix of low carb and low/moderate fat for them, which tends to be a bad combo. Or they aren’t conscious of short and medium chain fats they are taking in and then wonder why they feel run down.

    I do supplement with a decent multi vitamin, I know a lot of people are against them, but my n-1 of 3 yrs straight without so much as a sniffle traced back to the week I started using them religiously, whereas I was often sick prior, means it would be tough to take that away from me.

    • fiona says

      Roryk.,. well said. Most either do not have enough oil and/or are having way too much protein.. if you do both correctly you will not get the symptoms at all, it seems all are misunderstanding and adding in carbs (sugar) will give you a little feel good but it is not a long term health option. I feel great on a VLC, mod protein, high fat diet for over 4 years now… my skin is a lot better, nails have gone from flaky thin to very strong and grow like weeds! and I am a lot calmer… no mood swings and drama ;-)

      • Galina L. says

        Usually, when I describe many benefits from LC diet, I left aside small things like being asked repeatedly by several people what I do for my face and hair, why I have so much energy. I am 51 now, my pre-menopause symptoms stopped 5 years ago with the start of LCdiet. No mood swings, hot flashes, night heart pounding. I am still without wrinkles,my face is not sagging, my mid-section doesn’t have a muffin-top. I am sure that ample amounts of grass-fed butter and coconut oil work for my favor.

        • says

          Galina et al,
          Again, I say I am really happy for all your positive results from VLC, or LC. However it doesn’t work for EVERYONE. You are speaking from YOUR experience, and I speak from mine. Cutting out carbs (starchy) has resulted in many of the symptoms in my health that you say you DON’T have. My temps have plummeted, my hair is falling out, nails breaking, skin like an alligator. And yes, I did VERY low carb, no starches, limited fruit, pastured beef, only Omega 3 oils added (and a good amount) from quality, organic sources.
          Not everyone is the same, and not every one responds the same way to this Paleo Plan. We come with genetic factors, even the way our mother’s ate while we were in utero, if we had antibiotics, and so many other factors. The BIG dog, imo is stress factors; often pushed aside. Yes, even eating a “clean diet” can be stressful for some, when taken it to extremes.
          People have to learn to observe and pay attention to how their body “feels”, their emotions and any signs your body gives you. That’s the way to manage most things in life.

          • Galina L. says

            Linda, when it comes to diets, devil is often in details. According to your experience, your body thought is was starving or experienced stress. Unfortunately, no guru can tell anyone what exactly to do, we all have to observe and act on observations. It is not easy. I sort of have a life-long practice while managing allergies, being an engineer also gave me a particular set of mind, but I understand it could be hard to many people. The worst possible thing is to start from an extreme version of anything, than jump into another extreme. I started from 50 grams of carbs. Probably, people who experience problem with an adaptation to a new diet, should be starting with 100 or even 150 grams of carbs. The adaptation means body has an opportunity to switch on another source of energy.I remember the description of en experiment of using a ketogenic diet on solders after an observation how well Inuits were performing. Solders really straggled. Young fit people needed at least 3 weeks to be adapted to the new regiment. Now I can exercise without getting tired for at least 2 hours, but at the beginning of my diet, I felt like my legs were a concrete, then in 6 months I could get a migraine in 45 minutes if exercising in a fasted state. Then in a year, out of blue, bum!, it was like I can go for hours without feeling anything.

            • Will says

              Galina,

              I also have an engineering background. Have you taken a class in statistics? If so, surely you realize the myriad of pitfalls of relying on anecdotal evidence to prove a point.

              You could continue describing your N=1 in gory detail, along with the numerous ailments it has helped you recover from. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is still self-reported information, subject to confirmation bias, the placebo effect, confounding factors, and other problems. Even if we ignored all these issues, the sample size is way too small to even think about statistical significance and extrapolating to the human population at large.

              I recognize individual variation, and the possibility that certain people may be at the tail end of the bell curve. But this does not invalidate the science, and the evidence that a majority of people do well on carbohydrate-based diets.

              • Galina L. says

                Will, yes,of course, I took statistics, and in order not to think that N=1 is statistically significant would be enough to have just some common sense. However, sometimes a class in statistics is not enough to understand how well the information may get misrepresented when presented to public.(a good example – Denice Minger (a statistician) critics the “Forks over Knifes”) It seems to me that despite being well familiar with statistics you found research about the danger of red-meat to be convincing enough, for example.( “Red meat is associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension, gout, and arthritis.”) It is almost always possible to find some suitable research to support almost any point of view nowadays. Here is for example the article which may explain why I stopped having infections http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2010-01/uob-hig011910.php, here is scientific enough explanation why VLC diet is beneficial for a mental state http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2010/08/your-brain-on-ketones.html. My point is that while majority of people, especially young and healthy, can do well on diets with carbohydrates, especially if they avoid grains, sugars and industrial fats, many need to limit carbohydrates in order to get better because carb limitation is therapeutic for many conditions .

                • Will says

                  Galina,

                  I follow Denise Minger’s blog and I’ve already seen her critique. And you missed my point about red meat. I never said I was convinced that red meat is going to kill you; in fact, I eat red meat a couple of times a week. The point about red meat was to show that the same logic presented about carbohydrates and diseases also applied to red meat.

                  You’re right that that anyone can find a paper to support any position. Does that mean we should give up on science? No. What we’re looking for is the totality of the evidence, not cherry picking. There will always be a few papers to contradict any view, but a certain level of noise is expected and not enough to demolish a theory that can explain the bulk of the evidence.

                  Since you agree that the majority of people can do well on carbohydrate diets, we are fundamentally in agreement. Thank you for clarifying your stance.

                  I don’t think grains are a problem for the bulk of the population. I also think the fructophobia craze has been blown out of proportion. I realize these are minority viewpoints with this audience, but then again so is (was?) the pro-carb viewpoint.

                • Galina L. says

                  Will,
                  A little bit more nit-picking. Actually, the discussion on the AHS was about the “safe starches”, which means non-grain sources of starch, or at least grains very specially prepared to minimize plant toxins like phytic acid and lectins.

  75. Nigel says

    Your general thesis is helpful to consider Fiona and Roryk. Surely we have strong evidence that higher protein diets may cause hormone problems, such as elevated cortisol, which would indeed imply the importance of not increasing protein while engaging a low carbohydrate diet, thereby leaving us to make up a calorie deficit with fats. Yet the contemporary science of glycogenisis, and probably also our practical experiences if we are or have been athletes or physically active persons, illustrates that a low carbohydrate diet, whether or not accompanied by adequate or high fat, tends to leave us subject to relatively quickly depleting the glycogen stores in the muscle and liver. If we give credit to the inherent wisdom of the biological evolutionary-adaptation of our human anatomy this phenomenon of compromised physical performance on a low carbohydrate diet may be seen as a testimony that our muscle’s intended or natural primary source of fuel is glucose, rather then fat.

    Also of significance is that after physical activity, carbohydrates are, with priority, mobilized for glycogen replenishment in glycogen-depleted muscle rather than being stored as fat.

    When we are engage in a low carbohydrate diet, and especially if we are aiming to be physically active on the low carbohydrate diet, fatty acids stored in the adipose tissue (fat cells) are released into the blood and processed by the liver and some are turned into glucose (gluconegenesis) and some remain fatty acids and both provide ATP for muscle contraction. But the undeniable problem emerges that gluconegenesis (non glucose turned into glucose) provides fuel to the muscle less efficiently than glycogenesis (glucose).

    In my own humble experiences on a low carbohydrate paleo diet, I was able to 100% eradicate seasonal allergies that I’d suffered from for years, but the low carbohydrate diet failing to support my physical active lifestyle (no energy, damaged metabolism, visceral fat accumulation, hyper cortisol etc.), compelled me to return to consuming abundant carbohydrate’s, which was accompanied by the return of allergies. I now determine the quality of our carbohydrates or glucose source is an item we should be especially discerning about.

    • Roryk says

      I can only speak for myself, but I was extremely worried about my energy levels and endurance capabilities when I made the switch to VLC. I didn’t make the switch to lose weight, or due to any food intolerance, I just wanted to see if it would improve my life.

      Initially I lowered my exercise load considerable for about the first month of the switch when I went out to run my first 10k I was pretty worried I’d be slow as a turtle cause I was in deep ketosis. Surprisingly I was faster than ever and had no cramping at all (which I always seem to before) in my abdominals.

      I usually never run longer than 5k but I do the odd 10k when I feel stressed and just want to unplug from the world for an hr. Point being, in my life I never need more than an hr of intense muscular endurance before I have a rest and can reload as necessary. I don’t think it is particularly healthy to perform endurance feats for more than 30 ish min at a time and for that I personally don’t need carbs to power me through that. If I was a cyclist or doing 5+ hr grueling hikes (most of my hikes are just 1hr blasts to the top of a mountain) then I would probably have to change things up as being fat adapted might not be sufficient.

      Cognitively, I feel better than I have in perhaps ever. But I’m hoping to improve that even more because I just recently switched to a more keto epi-paleo way of eating.

      I wouldn’t pretend that VLC works for everyone, but I would stress that just like how you could be an oreo vegan and still claim to be vegan there are all different ways of approaching VLC. I would encourage anyone attempting it to carefully assess their lifestyle and their energy needs and then shoot considerably above that requirement in calories. At least until you are comfortable being fat adapted. Then you can scale back slowly. I don’t think you need to ever be in a calorie deficit to lose weight if you are doing VLC correctly for your body. But again I didn’t make the switch to lose weight; lowering my bf percentage was just a nice side benefit to feeling more optimized.

  76. fiona says

    I agree Roryk.. in addition if one wants to pump weights and win an olympic medel or an iron man then I know Rosedale recommends carb loading before a big race but that is to win not to the ultimately healthy those two do not go hand in hand. You can have a very fit, healthy body but for those that want to push the limits, athletes doing long races then they have to choose what is more important, winning or being healthy. Everyone I have met so far that did not feel great on a VLC diet were not doing it right, they did not go through the fat adapting as Rosedale states, so never got to enjoy the benefits. Once you are a fat burner, eating higher fat, and moderate protein, and VLC.. it works, and those that corrected where they were going wrong also got to that point. All I say is let your leptin be heard…. the rest will all fall in to place and the benefits will be very very clear. We are all most similar than we are different.

  77. FlipWilson says

    I eat a little starch in the form of orange sweet potatoes and white basmati rice. This kind of crap makes me want to just chuck it all and go back to fast food and soda. Stop trying to be “right” and realize that there are different people with different bodies and different needs (Sly and the Family Stone?) … anyway, a little disappointed in Chris and the commenters here for the lack of civility. It’s one thing to passionately argue your point, it’s another to belittle someone that either doesn’t agree or is just still trying to figure it out for themselves.

  78. fermented_truth says

    I wonder if climate makes a difference. I live in the northern hemisphere and it gets below freezing in the winter months. But we also have hot summers. During the summer I can eat less but during the cold winter months my body craves dense foods like fat. We can generate more body heat with fat than we can with carbohydrates and protein because fat has more calories per gram than carbohydrate and protein. (Fat: 1 gram = 9 calories. Protein: 1 gram = 4 calories. Carbohydrates: 1 gram = 4 calories.) The Kitovans however, are located on Island(s) in the Pacific. If the climate is warmer year round in the Pacific I would guess this is a contributing factor to the Kitovan’s ability to eat less.

  79. Rain Florence says

    I thought this might add some insight. This is from current research that my husband and I are doing on human origins. We can provide substantial scientific backing for every statement posted here. Some people think that we are omnivores, some think that we are herbivores. The truth may be surprising.

    We are actually neither. Chimpanzees are fruit eaters who eat figs as their preferred food and occasionally eat other monkeys and insects.
    We come from a common lineage with chimps and apes, but we were separated from the other monkeys when Africa was split by the great rift valley due to plate tectonics. We too had a main diet of figs and we soon co-evolved with the sycamore fig tree in Eastern Africa. At first the pre-human species did eat other things than just figs, but we were isolated in a desert environment with very few food options.
    We soon found the sycomore fig, but there were great distances between trees. The sycomore fig fruits at random about 4 times a year. It produces over 1,000 pounds of food and the trees can live for thousands of years. The distance between these trees is why humans developed an upright posture and the ability to run longer distances than any animal on the planet.
    Due to this isolated specific diet, through evolution, nature fined tuned our bodies. This gave us a much longer lifespan than chimps. During pregnancy, the female would have to run with the rest of the tribe. This caused the female pelvic girdle to expand and allowed babies with much larger brains to emerge. We traveled a route of about 6,000 miles from the southern tip of Africa all the way north to the Dead Sea.
    Our lifespan continued to lengthen and humans saw lifespans of over 1,000 years. But then something happened.
    Humans started eating the seeds of the cola nut tree. This caused addictions, because all seeds are highly addictive. Many humans stopped migrating and started farming grains, such as wheat and barley in the area we now know as Egypt.
    Egyptians realized that they would need to enslave the migratory people and they soon did. Due to amino acid imbalances in grains and seed, we developed viral diseases. Humans still to this day cannot eat seeds without developing disease.
    Humans started eating meat and dairy to balance the amino acids in seeds. This kept the viral diseases at bay, but caused the introduction of new diseases caused by animal hormones in our highly specific system.
    To make a longer story short, this led to insanity and wars and enslavement.
    We can only be human again if we all eat figs and reform our ancient migratory routes.

    I hope this helps!
    Love, Rain

  80. Joshua Hansen says

    I’m way late to this conversation, but found this article in research I have been doing lately. I started on a pretty strict “paleo” regimen about a year ago and for the most part I’d say I’m a textbook success story. I kept eating healthy, have lost almost 45lbs. (which has me down in the 12% body fat zone) and feel better than ever.

    When I started I was rigidly low carb. Two of the first books I had read when entering into this lifestyle were The Primal Blueprint and Protein Power and for the first six to eight months I kept my carbs under about 60g on most days. This worked really well… for a while. Eventually I stalled and as I started adding regular exercise into my routine (nothing crazy either, 4 days of bodyweight work a week) I was actually feeling worse. I figured it was a phase and it’d pass but a couple months in and it was still stuck.

    The answer? I started drinking milk after my workouts and added sweet potatoes back into my diet on days I worked out. Not only did I feel better but the weight started coming off again. That was about 12lbs. ago.

    The more reading I have done, really believe that low carb diets are really good when you want to shred weight and your looking to lose more then a few pounds. The other advantage is that you automatically cut out a lot of garbage. However, I think in the case of things like sweet potatoes (and even white potatoes for me, I’ve never had a detectable bad reaction to them) the baby is getting thrown out with the bathwater.

    Mind you, I’m in the 80 – 150g per day zone now, which isn’t exactly the pancakes and syrup for breakfast plan, but I have yet to notice any ill effects.

    Anyway, as a result of reading your blog it’s helped me become less dogmatic about what “paleo” is or even whether that should be the goal. The changes have been for the better and I’ve done a better job at monitoring my own reactions to things rather than deciding something ridiculous like, “CARBS R TEH EVIL!!!!!!!”

  81. Lelia says

    I think the main problem with carbs in the western diet is not so much in tubers like sweet potatoes, but in grains. Most people get the majority of their carbs from bread, pastries, pasta, etc. And of course, sugar. Ever since I have eliminated these from my diet I feel less sluggish.

  82. Rhonda says

    So…..very confusing……can I or can I not eat arrowroot and sweet potatoes. I am making Paleo bread with Arrowroot, thinking I am doing the right thing.
    GAPS says no Arrowroot, but you can eat hard cheeses….I thought cheese was a no-no. Other site promote the use of Arrowroot….I found genuine Arrowroot, not Tapioca. Is Tapioca OK?? Paleo is very confusing :(

    • says

      It’s confusing because the whole concept of a paleo diet is deeply flawed. It’s a diet built on a theory and the theory is failing. One idea is that we know what people ate a gajillion years ago, which I don’t think is true. Another foundation of the “paleo” diet is that it’s best for us to eat what our ancestors from some arbitrarily selected time ate, but I don’t think that’s a safe assumption. I’m surprised Chris and even most others haven’t abandoned the term and the whole concept yet. It seems more relevant to accept or reject foods on their merits and how our bodies run on them rather than a dogma that categorizes them into groups of good and bad. The idea that carbohydrates are dangerous and aren’t allowed on a “paleo” diet or must be strictly minimized is especially silly.

      • André Angelantoni says

        It’s far from deeply flawed — and we do know very how we ate before agriculture. See Loren Cordain’s published papers (http://thepaleodiet.com/published-research-about-the-paleo-diet). The evidence comes from carbon testing of human bones, piles of shellfish beside human settlements, understanding where we lived and the fruits available in season, the relative difficulty of obtaining “sweet” and the fact that grains and legumes were difficult to harvest in large quantities. We have yet to find evidence of Pop Tart trees, though.

        • Andre Angelantoni says

          Yes, that’s a decent article but in these things “being fair” (showing both sides of the story) can lead one astray because it leaves the reader thinking there is more doubt than there actually is. Despite everything he says in the article, the basic tenets of paleo are on very firm footing:
          - a mix of animal, vegetable, fruit and some insects
          - no processed food beyond cooking
          - 99% probability of no legumes or grains; 100% probability that if they were eaten it was a minuscule part of the diet
          - 99% probability of no dairy
          - significant fish and shellfish consumption where the population had access to it
          - 99% probability of no alcohol (but possibly some access to substances with similar effects from time to time i.e. mushrooms)
          - almost all vegetables and fruits were much smaller and less sweet (hadn’t been bred for taste and size yet)

          Does anyone seriously doubt any of the above for paleolithic man? Sure, I can’t “prove” every aspect but you’d have to be deliberately obstinate to assert that any of the above was less than “extremely likely to the point of certainty.”

          • Rhonda says

            Paleo…..for want of a better name….makes sense to me and I think I will just not get caught up in the small details and go with the programme on the whole. We are talking about primitive humankind and how they ate what they could find. I think we have evolved, maybe too far, we just have to take a step back and rethink what we put into our mouths, using the Paleo premise as a benchmark.

  83. David says

    Fructose is arty-handed sugar molecule that comprises 50% of table sugar. Watch out for that stuff. Glucose makes up the other 50% and is metabolized in every coll of the body. (Right-handed sugar molecule.). Dr. Linus Pauling explained this, and cited. Study in Norway that linked a high starch and coffee diet to increased risk for cancer. Drs. Roizen and Oz explain the ill effect of table sugar on the arteries. (Glycosylation.)

  84. David says

    Fructose is a left-handed sugar molecule that comprises 50% of table sugar. Watch out for that stuff. Glucose makes up the other 50% and is metabolized in every cell of the body. (Right-handed sugar molecule.). Dr. Linus Pauling explained this, and cited a study in Norway that linked a high starch and coffee diet to increased risk for cancer. Drs. Roizen and Oz explain the ill effect of table sugar on the arteries. (Glycosylation.)

  85. melanne says

    Many people like to share that they have found the”Holy Grail” of all diets and lifestyle eating….the best and only way to eat because….. it works for them personally.

    It is only the individual’s bio-chemistry that matters in such personal affairs! The discussion will continue.

  86. Michael says

    “These include the Kitava in the Pacific Islands, …”

    The Kitavans basically eat one big meal per day. That’s something most people who say that starch/sugars/carbs aren’t a problem because of the Kitavans’ diet carbohydrates % seem to constantly forget. When you eat one big dinner and not much else you can get away with eating pretty much what you want (on that island) and not get fat and sick, especially if your whole lineage going back thousands of years has never been touched by dirty 20th century industrial food products. These people have been on the equivalent of Ori Hofmekler’s Warriot Diet since the beginning of time.

    (One big meal per day that’s also the basis of Bert Herring’s Fast-5 diet – fast for 19 hours then eat what you want but slowly within a 5 hours eating window. It works well I like it. I like fasting anyways because it makes my day simpler.)

    So you can’t simply look at the Kitavans’ (or any other primtive peoples’) macronutrient ratios and compare those with the breakfast-then-lunch-then-dinner standard North American diet. What’s unhealthy in the long run is eating starch/grains/sugars all day long.

    It’s fascinating to see smart people ignore what’s under their noses because they think they have to ‘choose’ a ‘camp’ in a nutritional debate.

    • Christy says

      I really appreciate and jive with the what you’ve said Michael. When I fast I can even get away with eating ‘gasp’ gluten without any weight gain or other issues. I appreciate the ancestral health movement so much but ultimately I think people need to stop aligning with one way or another and just observe and experiment for themselves to find out what their own unique diet should be. After years of doing that myself I’ve found that high fat, high protein, moderate carbs from fruit, and starch from white potatoes, white rice, and wild rice a few times per week are the best for me. So what I’m not considered ‘paleo’?! These labels we feel the need to put on ourselves are just ridiculous.

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