Is Starch Good or Bad for You? You Be the Judge. | Chris Kresser
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Is Starch a Beneficial Nutrient or a Toxin? You Be the Judge.

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sweet potatoes
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As 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?

355 Comments

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  1. I really tire of hearing about the Okinawan diet of 1949. It was a privation diet after the war the lasted at most six years. I’d rather hear about the diet eaten for the other 94 years of a 100 year old person’s life. And that diet was documented in 1995 and was 22% fat and when protein was viewed as it should be on a per gram per kilogram of weight basis they were eating 1.06 gram per kilogram of body weight. Using percentages can be very deceiving when size (height and weight) aren’t considered. The Tamahumara men LOOK like they are eating a low protein low fat diet when viewed as a percentage of their calories but viewed on a gram per kilogram basis the men are eating 1.71 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight and a fat level of .71 grams per kilogram: hardly what would be considered low protein or low fat. Why? because at a average weight for males of 118 pounds at five foot, two inches they are eating 2818 calories on average.

  2. So I’m back… I have discovered that not only am I histamine intolerant, but fodmap intolerant too. DAOsin is saving my life atm and Prescript Assist helps with the IBS (much thanks to CK for writing about PS). But wondering how to get rid of the histamine intolerance when I am already on such a restricted diet… I was not always histamine intolerant, until maybe three years into doing Reg Paleo, out of the blue I get severe facial swelling, hives, runny nose etc. I’m guessing this means I’m not DAO enzyme deficient, as that is genetic and I would have suffered with histamine intolerance all my life then. I suppose my gut got leaky on Paleo, due to the nuts & seeds and nightshades and that’s what is causing histamine intolerance? If that’s the case, it would seem that AIP Paleo, along with low fodmap and low histamine diet would be enough for me to get better, but I’m still so ill. I’m not doing bone broth or fermented foods for obvious reasons… how am I supposed to heal? Anyone experiencing this? Almost considering fasting, because I react to so many things. But I hear that’s dangerous for people who have autoimmune diseases…

    • Watch a documentary on Netflix called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. He has an autoimmune disease and took ten different pills everyday. He gets rid of his autoimmune and the pills. Check out the video and decide for yourself. Do your research. Consult your doctor.

  3. my fellow humans…I am 70 years old, and my lifes experiances have tought that you can eat anything you want in moderation..so, get a good colon cleanse, take a swim in gods ocean for about an hour, and you will be surprised at how well your body can heal itself….love, johnny flytrap

  4. I have a quick question, in case anyone feels qualified to chime in. If I consistently get a healthy post-prandial reading (85-105) after eating a high starch meal, does that mean my insulin is probably good too, and I shouldn’t worry about eating safe starches regularly? Would love to hear some thoughts on this.

    • Just as an example, tonight I ate a pretty large amount of Japanese style white rice (at least 2 cups) with some stir-fried chicken and veggies. An hour later my glucose was at 86!

      • Robin, although I am not qualified, I have qualified sources. I listened to a lecture a while back (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM) that discussed issues of glucose digestion, it was incredibly interesting. This doctor claims that it depends on the form of the glucose, I have used this theory in my life and found great results.

        To sum up the video (because it is 2 hours long) it says it is safe to eat sugar when the sugar is still attached to fiber. For example, fruits have sugar attached to fiber which makes it digest properly, while fruit juice no longer has fiber so the sugar digests improperly, causing a myriad of problems. SO when I load up my plate with potatoes and people say they “turn into fat” or are “just sugar” I beg to differ. Because the composition of potatoes still includes fiber, therefore, they still digest the right way.

        • Good point Jessica. I think there is definitely something to that, but I think it’s more than fiber per se. White rice is not particularly fibrous, but it is pretty firmly clumped up in its grain, and I don’t think it breaks down as quickly as something made with a starchy flour. I’ve been having great success with eating white rice lately. Potato seems ok too, but I think the problem I was having before (I mentioned problems with potatoes in a separate comment) was that I wasn’t eating it with enough fat. When I think of fat as my primary food, with protein and healthy carbs as secondary, I can handle the carbs easily. At the same time, I’m less likely to overeat the carbs, because I’m filling up on fat. I’m overeating less in general and feeling much better than when I was low carb. Not to mention how good my food tastes. I’m really warming up to the Jaminet’s Perfect Health Diet.

          • The fiber thing is less about foods that are fibrous and more about foods in their natural form with the fiber still attached to the sugar.

            But I see what you’re saying. Nutrition is so complex! There are so many factors at play.

            I also agree 100% about fats in the diet! Most people on a standard American diet think I’m crazy when I say that I love eating my fats and starchy potatoes! It is so counterintuitive to what we’re taught growing up. But they’re so filling and so delicious.

    • Post prandial glucose? This does not tell you about Insulin . Insulin moves glucose out of blood into cells. So your reading may be saying insulin is sufficient to do that job. It may be saying that it is part of overall developing problem that is not yet fully fledged. I.e when insulin is high over time it is pre-diabetes and without change is progressing to diabetes 2. However long before diabetes is diagnosed there is already inflammation of the CV system…You simply do not want to get to end state disease like diabetes before u decide re starches. You need to consider all your current health attributes also. If overweight present that is already indicating that there is inflammatory processes at play. These need to be addressed first. Processed oils and sugars ( snacks/ juices / fried/ takeaways) out and get tested for gluten sensitivity. Then look at gut health and digestion to decide on starches etc. The overall picture with Starches need to be defined as the article said…

  5. Only thing that semi works for me is low carb (around 65 grams a day). I do not tolerate starch of any kind, or fruit. Fruit causes acne, inflammation and nausea, even when eaten with meat, fat and greens. Starch causes constipation and inflammation, even when eaten with meat, fat and greens. So I just eat meat, fat and greens. Also don’t tolerate high histamine. So I get probiotic from hyperbiotics pro 15 supplement. Only problem with no starch/fruit is I’m fatigued and I’ve lost my period. But I’d rather deal with that than constipation and acne among other symptoms. Tried fodmaps, gaps and aip paleo, enzymes, hci with pepsin, none work. Would kill to be able to eat starch or fruit. I have psoriasis, so for those with an autoimmune disease, it would seem there is a catch 22 and all we have is to choose the diet which is the lesser of the two evils.

    • The pan, i have issues with starch too. Not as bad as you though. You might want to consider getting a stool test to see what’s going on with your intestinal bacteria. I am exploring that for myself right now. You might have something in your gut that’s being fed by the carbs.

      • Thanks for the response. Yah, I want to eventually, with genova/metametrix but I’m not sure if it’s affordable, as my health keeps me from being able to work full time. Hardest part will be actually killing whatever it is… So many different and opposing approaches. Best of luck to you, and post your results 🙂

        • I could also mention I’ve done humaworm before, combined with no starch/sugar diet with zero reaction 0_0 So either I have the gozilla of parasites or that’s still not it… But like you, one of my first thoughts was parasites. Nothing makes more sense than that, when your body rejects an entire food group. Even heard of candida sufferers tolerating carbs/sugar easier, and some even curing themselves after reintroducing small portions…

          • For me it seems like it’s mostly wheat and sweet potatoes (I never eat enough white potatoes to be able to tell). I’m experimenting with white rice lately, because I hadn’t noticed problems with it in the past (other than weight gain if I eat too much). I’m actually getting results of a stool test this weekend. I will post results.

        • Hi the pan,
          I just thought I should throw in the idea of a Fast Track diet modified to whatever foods you may not include. It limits all foods that are fermentable by bacteria for a period of time, thus reshaping the flora, where the good guys more apt to survive on less carbs do so. This for a few weeks in combination with broth to heal the gut and oregano oil or another natural antimicrobial can really settle down and correct the flora, as it has for me (because they are only there BECAUSE there are leftovers to feed them). When the time seems right, reintroduce the good flora with probiotic foods and a supplement (don’t overdo it, there can be too many good guys). It seems like your pretty much on the diet already- it generalizes fermentable foods into 5 categories- resistant starch, fiber, lactose, fructose, and sugar alcohols. Basically, limit all carbs and only include some non-starchy vegetables. Avoid nuts too for the meantime, as they are high in fiber. Best of luck

          • I like your points as I’m in a similar boat…I cannot handle any veggie it feels BC of my issues of sibo,gastritis and crohns. I am eating more fat bone broth and meat but starchy veggies trigger me to retain fluid etc but the fiber in green veggies hurt too. I also have gained 15+ lbs in a year beating less….

            • Chrones, IBS and ph levels. Just read that most people have acidic systems, which is often a bodys way to balance low acid levels in the stomach. Food is not released from the stomach into the intestines until it reaches an acidic state, and will sit there to ferment and cause gas. Food that does reach the intestines will be course and difficult to digest, causing constipation, flora overgrowth and intestine disease. It goes against logic, but you really need to eat acidic foods to neutralize your system.

  6. I would like to note that fiber seems to blunt blood sugar spikes. Sweet potato although full of starch, is also full of fiber. The Okinawans it seems consume most of their calories from the purple sweet potato.

  7. “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.

    • 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.

    • A common theme with long lived peoples of the world is fasting, calorie restriction, and/or “grazing”. Seems some reduce how much they eat overall. Some fast a lot during the day then pig out (still usually less calories and amount than typical modern day diets). Some “graze” throughout the day like a cow would. A nibble here, a nibble there. Still overall less calories. The average American that I have personally encountered over the years consume in excess of 3000-5000 calories a day and are mostly sedentary. It is no wonder they get fat. From my years of research, if I had to sum up what I have found, it is thus: eat less overall, eat smaller amounts more often, go vegetarian or vegan (watch out for nutrient deficiencies!), do physical work, eat a lot of leafy green edible things, have a positive outlook on life. Do the above, and you may live a long time.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.)

  10. 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.)

  11. 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 🙁

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.”

          • 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!!!!!!!”

  14. 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

    • I find it really really strange to have someone say seeds are horrible for us and then say that we should eat figs, one of the most prolific seed bearing fruits on the planet. Remember, if you are told The Lies long enough and often enough, you begin to believe them.

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    • 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.

  19. 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.

    • 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 😉

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

            • 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.

              • 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 .

                • 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.

                • 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.

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