For the Love of Tubers

Welcome, Food Renegades!

Kristen Michaelis of the outstanding Food Renegade blog asked me to contribute a guest post. I wrote a defense of the “Paleo” nature of “safe starches” like tubers, roots, and corms, called  “For the Love of Tubers”.  Check it out! Especially if you want to know why I’m posting a picture of a Pandanus tree nut:

Pandanus nut. Source:  Wikimedia commons.

“For the Love of Tubers” will serve as today’s food-and-health post; I’ll also do an administrative post tonight about the book.

If this is your first time here, welcome! We are excited right now because our book, Perfect Health Diet: Four Steps to Renewed Health, Youthful Vitality, and Long Life, is about to come out; the proof copy arrived today, and copies will be shipped to buyers within a week or two.

Our belief is that everyone should and can become a healthy centenarian. Diet and nutrition, with occasional aid from antibiotics, is the key to defeating disease and postponing aging. 

If you have a disease of any kind, look for it in the categories list. I welcome requests for post topics, and am happy to explore the causes and cures of chronic diseases. My wife and I spent years figuring out how to cure our own chronic diseases; now we hope to help others, and in the process help shift medical practice toward natural healing methods based on diet and nutrition.

Welcome and please make yourselves at home!

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26 Comments.

  1. Hi Paul, I’m new to your blog and have found your site very helpful. I’ve got Lyme Disease and am going to try your diet and supplementation recommendations and see if they help. I’ll probably have some questions for you about this (assuming that’s ok) but in the meantime I’m concerned about a friend of mine who has Vitiligo. I’m wondering if you have any experience with it? I know it’s an auto-immune disorder but do you believe it stems from an infection of some sort? Do you think your diet and supplements would help somebody with Vitiligo? She’s taking PABA and Pantothenic acid, and I’m wondering if she should continue those along with your protocol? And if it does stem from an infection do you think antibiotics would help?

  2. Dear DeNon,

    I’m glad you found us. I had a chronic C. pneumoniae infection and the same principles apply to Lyme Disease. Questions are welcome.

    We don’t have experience with Vitiligo, but one of the purposes of this blog is to generate experience and see which diseases can be cured by diet and nutrition.

    Autoimmune diseases are generally the result of a provocation by an infection or food toxins, and they tend to fade away about 6 months after the infection is eradicated or the offending food is removed from the diet. We discuss the likely food toxins in Step Two of our book, and how to address infections in Step Four.

    According to Wikipedia there are other possible causes:

    – Oxidative stress. This is what causes hair to turn gray. I had a lot of gray hairs 3 years ago and nearly all have recovered their color. This is mainly cured by supplying antioxidants to melanosomes. Copper is important, thyroid optimization is important, glutathione/selenium/iodine/C are important. The relevant supplements are described in Step Three of our book.

    – Viral infections. This is aided by autophagy promotion and other immune-enhancing methods described in Step Four of our book.

    – Vitamin D is also likely to be important.

    I think the PABA is probably and Pantothenic acid is definitely harmless, so she should continue those if she thinks they’re helping.

    Antibiotics might help if it’s bacterial in origin, but since antibiotics can damage the gut and cause new infections, it’s best to fix diet and nutrition first even when the disease is known to be bacterial in origin. When the disease is thought to be viral or autoimmune in origin, it’s important not to try antibiotics until all the more likely causes have been explored. Fixing diet and nutrition will fix most autoimmune issues, and will usually clarify symptoms and help make a diagnosis of pathogen easier. So I would recommend against trying antibiotics until she’s been on our diet and nutrition for at least a year.

    Best, Paul

  3. Hi Paul,

    I love the opening of your article:

    When Is a “Paleo Diet” Not a Paleo Diet?

    When it excludes starch sources like the tubers pictured [above].

    Indeed! Your writings as well as the five-part “Primal Potatoes” series by Don Matesz on his blog, Primal Wisdom, is helping me to overcome my fear of carb/starch/tuber/tater consumption.

    See: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/search/label/Primal%20Potatoes

    I’m very curious as to what 200-400kCals starch will do to my rock-solid, low 80s bG. You can be sure I’ll be testing and then some, er…once I gain the nerve to “indulge.” It’s like a de-programming from all the Paleo, diabetes, lo-carb stuff I’ve been reading for years now!

    Eagerly awaiting the hardcover ~ your info on the benefits of high SaFA and MUFA consumption I find particularly well done.

    Best,
    KKC (who tried the VitC bowel tolerance test this a.m. Twelve grams did the trick.)

  4. Hi Paul,

    “Autoimmune diseases are generally the result of a provocation by an infection or food toxins, and they tend to fade away about 6 months after the infection is eradicated or the offending food is removed from the diet.”

    Would you say that your statement above applies to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I’m pretty sure I know the answer from the reading I’ve done here, but I just want to be sure.

    The reason I ask is that I am trying to decide which way to approach a thyroid problem, and I have three differing opinions in my head about how to do it.

    Background: I recently tested hypothyroid with a T4 to T3 conversion problem (high TSH, extremely low Free T3). Tests for C Reactive Protein, Tissue Transgluatminase Ab IgA, and Thyroperoxidase Ab didn’t turn up anything interesting. To complicate matters, I had been on a low-carb, relatively grain-free diet for many months prior to the testing. To further complicate matters, I had self-diagnosed with hypothyroidism, and had been supplementing with high-dose iodine (too abruptly) for a few months prior to the testing.

    Opinion #1: My doctor says, “Hypothyroid. Tests indicate NOT Hashimoto’s. No further testing for Hashimoto’s is necessary because it doesn’t change treatment. Treat thyroid directly with a lifetime on porcine thyroid hormone, supplementing with Selenium and L-Tyrosine and NOT Iodine.”

    Opinion #2: Drawing from his book, Dr. Kharrazian says, “Some of these tests show false negatives under certain conditions. 90% of hypothyroid cases are Hashimoto’s. Must determine whether or not Hashimoto’s. Then must determine whether or not TH1 or TH2 arm of immune system is dominant. Treat not the thyroid, but the immune system – through diet and supplementation – specifically avoiding iodine and L-Tyrosine.

    Opinion #3: Paul Jaminet says, “…?…”

    I’m trying to figure out where to go from here. Following Dr. Kharazzian’s advice would mean going back on gluten for a couple of weeks (would feel crappy, not ideal), getting re-tested for gluten and thyroid antibodies (costly, time consuming, not ideal), then re-wading through his book to determine the appropriate supplementation for my specific case (time-consuming).

    I feel like, if I’m hearing you correctly, your advice might be to just assume I’ve got problems with gluten, try and stay off grains for life, follow the rest of your diet and supplement protocol (the ketogenic variant?) for a year or so to fix up my guts, immune system, etc., then begin trying to diagnose and treat an underlying infection that may be causing the thyroid and/or hashimoto’s problems (and likely a host of other problems, as well).

    So…would you say I am hearing you correctly, or am I slightly – or not-so-slightly – off base?

  5. Hi Sam,

    Yes, that statement does apply to Hashimoto’s. In fact Hashimoto’s often disappears 6 months after grains and legumes are eliminated from the diet.

    Before I say more, let me say that I don’t claim to be a thyroid expert. I’m convinced it’s extremely important for health to address and cure thyroid issues, and I have some ideas about how that can best be done in most people, and the order of steps that should be followed. That’s partly based on my own mild infection-induced hypothyroidism experience. But in difficult clinical cases where the common/primary steps don’t work, thyroid doctors with lots of clinical experience, and fellow Hashimoto’s sufferers like our reader Mario, are more likely to be able to help you.

    Having said that, here is my opinion.

    First, I would stay completely off grains. If they make you feel crappy, you probably do have an autoimmune response, or at least a strong immune reaction. I think your doctor is right: the treatment is the same whether you have antibodies or not, and part of the treatment is staying off wheat.

    Second, I think your doctor’s supplement advice is sound … you should definitely take selenium and tyrosine shouldn’t do any harm … porcine T3 is very helpful while you’re sorting this out … the possible exception is the iodine. That’s a tricky one. It’s certainly possible that you developed a reactive hypothyroidism from the iodine. So I would stop iodine for a while — at least a month — and re-measure your thyroid panel. Then at some point I would re-introduce iodine starting at 1 mg/day. Stay there for a month and re-test the thyroid panel. Make a decision at that time whether to start working the iodine upward. Don’t go faster than doubling the dose once per month.

    In general you are right about my view. We don’t know all the causes of these diseases, you should fix everything in diet and nutrition, and then see what remains. It’s usually much easier to diagnose and fix what’s left. You should absolutely stay off grains for life: everyone should, but you have additional evidence of sensitivity.

    Infections can cause hypothyroidism but if you don’t have other symptoms it would be premature to suspect that.

  6. Paul,

    Great to read this article on tubers as I have been looking for a reason to bring potatoes back into my diet. May be off-topic yet Im wondering your thoughts on the SCD diet which my family has been considering trying in order to heal digestive problems–that diet specifically condemns tubers for those with digestive problems. I get confused with all of the conflicting opinions on such things.

    Thanks,
    Kayla

  7. Thanks very much for your advice, Paul.

    Two follow-up questions, if I could:

    1. Since I have other reasons to suspect a bacterial infection, would you then advise against the L-Tyrosine, as “tyrosine is another amino acid that bacteria crave”?

    2. My doctor has me on a porcine thyroid hormone which contains T4 and T3 in their naturally occurring ratios. Is this different than what you mean when you say “porcine T3”? I have heard elsewhere that normal Free T4 levels + a T4 to T3 conversion problem + supplementing with additional T4 can lead to detrimental buildup of T4 and/or Reverse T3. Do you believe this to be a concern?

  8. Hi Kayla,

    Well, the SCD was invented in the 1920s before we had a lot of knowledge of the toxin content of specific foods. Since grains and legumes are toxic, it was natural to generalize to “starches are toxic” and remove them. But I’m sure the tubers are actually beneficial foods.

    That said, people with bowel diseases may have transient symptoms when eating fiber-rich foods like tubers. In our book we have a discussion of fiber in which we don’t really come to a conclusion about whether fiber is good or bad for people with bowel disease. The fiber feeds both bad bacteria and good bacteria, and increases bacterial endotoxin levels which can enter the body through a leaky gut. It’s hard to say whether the fiber has a net benefit or not. I would try small doses of tubers and see how it goes.

    The SCD strategy of starving the gut bacteria may be a good one for some bowel diseases. The opposite strategy of feeding the probiotic bacteria (and the gut with fermentation byproducts like butyrate) may also be good in other cases. You may need to self-experiment with this a little.

    Regardless of which strategy you adopt during the disease phase, at some point you need to restore tubers and fiber to the diet to be totally 100% healthy.

    Best, Paul

  9. Hi Sam,

    Yes, that’s the risk of the tyrosine, is that it may feed an infection. Also bacterial theft of tyrosine could be one factor in hypothyroidism. This may argue for T3 rather than tyrosine.

    I do think it’s open to question whether you should be taking extra T4 if your T4 levels are already high. It could be harmful. However, you didn’t say your T4 levels are high, I presumed normal. Also, high TSH suggests you might benefit from more T4. This is where a thyroid doctor’s clinical experience could come in handy. The standard approach is T4+T3, but I’m not aware that the alternative approach of T3 only has been adequately tested. You might ask your doctor about this and self-experiment. There are synthetic versions of T3 you could try. I think there’s a good chance if you take the porcine T4+T3, the T3 will relieve your hypothyrod symptoms and the T4 will reduce your TSH. So the standard approach I think has logic to it.

    But the best thing to do, I think, is controlled experimentation. Do one regimen for a month, get your thyroid panel tested. Alter your regimen slighly, stay there for a month, and get your thyroid panel tested. Also monitor how you feel. This should help you grope toward a therapeutic regimen that works for you.

    Meanwhile, hopefully, your diet and nutrition changes are helping to fix some of the underlying issues.

  10. Paul,

    Thank you for your quick and detailed reply. I’m wondering if its the fiber content that the SCD followers are against in terms of tubers, the foods on that diet seem to be fiber-rich (acorn squash, apples, nuts), yet they state that these are easier to digest and do not feed bad bacteria. Wouldnt grape juice and applesauce feed bacteria just as much as tubers, or are the SCD foods actually easier on the digestion?

    Thank for the advice, Im going to try small amounts of tubers.

  11. Hi Kayla,

    My personal view is that fructose is highly likely to feed the bad bacteria preferentially, whereas tuber fiber is more likely to feed friendly bacteria. So I would definitely eat sweet potatoes or squash before applesauce or grape juice.

  12. Paul,

    Following this thread about SCD, what are your thoughts regarding GAPS, especially the intro diet? My family follows a paleo diet and we are seeing results, but there are some lingering GI and skin issues that has me considering the GAPS into.

    Thanks so much,
    Claire

  13. Hi Claire,

    Well, GAPS is a healthy “low carb Paleo” diet, and certainly reduces pathogen load in the gut for a time. I would say that the differences in our diets are partly a matter of sensibility, partly a matter of focus, and with a few bits of scientific disagreement.

    Sensibility – In general I find her program very healthy but over-detailed. I think my head would hurt trying to keep track of all the advice.

    If you’ve read our book you’ll see we’re more principles oriented, we teach the principles and you choose your food.

    Some of her advice makes me laugh. On this page, http://www.gapsdiet.com/The_Diet.html, “pigeon, fresh or frozen” is recommended. Does it really matter whether it’s fresh or frozen? Why not just say “Birds” or “Poultry”?

    Science – Some of her advice is mysterious to me — why is seaweed a food to avoid? We highly recommend seaweed.

    Also, as with SCD, I’m doubtful that the advice to avoid sweet potatoes and potatoes is correct in all cases. I think you should distinguish between foods that should absolutely be eliminated, like wheat, and foods that should be experimented with or included but at a low level, like sweet potatoes.

    I worry about a few things — lack of glucose from eliminating starch, leading to constipation short-term and long-term gut problems; lack of micronutrients from eliminating supplements; high vitamin A to D ratio. I think our diet is better in key respects.

    Focus – For sure, we don’t have her clinical experience in treating gut disease patients. And we are trying to offer a diet that works for everyone, rather than one targeted to people with gut disease.

    She has a lot of good advice, and a lot of helpful tricks. I think if you wanted to make a diet optimized for a gut ailment, synthesizing GAPS with our diet would be a good choice. I think some of the things in our diet would help refine hers, and some of the detailed steps and tactics in hers would be helpful to gut patients.

  14. Hi Paul,

    You presumed right on the T4 – normal.

    I will experiment as you suggest and monitor how I feel, TSH levels, basal temperature, etc.

    * “This should help you grope toward a therapeutic regimen that works for you.”

    I love a good turn of phrase, Paul, and this is an absolute beauty. I hope you don’t mind if I use it. It sums up my last two years perfectly – groping towards health – and I imagine the same goes for many others who have found your blog.

    Thanks much for helping us improve our groping techniques.

  15. Thank you Paul! Great advice! I passed it on to my friend with Vitiligo and recommended your blog and eBook. My boyfriend and I purchased your eBook and we love it. We’ll keep you posted with our results.

  16. Denon, Dr. BG at Animalpharm mentions vitiligo and says her’s and her daughters were cured on paleo (I think she specifically said it was the wheat-free that did the trick).

    SCD and GAPS people, how interesting are your questions. I have the same ones. I used my own version of SCD/GAPS and as long as we are on that diet, my daughter’s Asthma is gone, and my GI problems are gone…and my psoriasis is almost gone. That being said, I am taking this blogs suggestions about tubers to see how it goes.
    I do know one thing: both SCD and GAPS include probiotic use…and I really do think it is a key for a lot of people’s healing, but I also don’t think the amount/type of probiotic is the same for everyone, and I wish there was more info on it. (Paul, your post on the gut flora breakdown is a great one).
    You know, I could treat dd’s asthma attacks with mg and high dose vit c. Then I found that 1 glass of sourkraut juice (homemade/probiotic/not store bought with vinegar), has the same treating affect, by itself!
    If you all do some manipulating of SCD/GAPS, please post back your results.
    Thanks

  17. Thanks, Kriss! Very helpful. It would be great if we could get some kind of conversation going among all the people with gut ailments. That’s very interesting about the sauerkraut juice!

  18. Kriss, Thank you so much. I looked up Dr. BG at Animal Pharm and found a couple of articles to pass along to my friend with Vitiligo along with your message and she is so excited. I really hope we have stumbled upon a cure for her! Thanks again.

  19. Thanks for your reply regarding GAPS. I look forward to getting your book. I asked my question because we have been unsuccessful in treating my son’s skin rashes that flare up and down with no seeming rhyme or reason. We were looking into other dietary changes to help and the GAPS intro diet was recommended. What are your thoughts on persistent skin issues? FWIW, my son has no notion the rashes are present; they don’t itch, hurt, etc. His parents are, of course, the ones bothered!

    Claire

  20. I should add we do probiotics in the form of homemade kefir, kombucha, lacto-fermented veggies, and yogurt. I am thinking of adding in a store bought probiotic just to change up the little bugs we ingest. Any recommendations? With a mostly paleo diet, I am intrigued with the idea of adding tubers back in,and seeing how my son’s skin reacts. For now we have cut out all dairy and eggs to and it seems his rashes are slightly improved.

    Claire

  21. Hi Claire,

    I think skin rashes are often due to fungal infections and very low-carb diets impair the immune response to fungi, so I would first consider whether your paleo diet may be too low carb.

    If so you might add some rice, that is relatively low in fiber and may be the easiest starch to tolerate if he has gut issues.

    I’d also make sure his vitamin D levels are optimal, and follow the rest of our supplement program including vitamin C, selenium, iodine, magnesium, copper, chromium.

  22. Interesting. I had considered fungus. I just added up our grams of carbs per day, and it’s around 50-75. I didn’t realize it was this low. I might have guessed at 100-125. I don’t know what is optimal vitamin D, but he gets 2000 iu/day from drops plus what’s in food. That said, I have already added in some tubers. He does have gut issues, I believe, because he will sometimes get a stomach ache that often results in vomiting 1-3 times. The whole process resolves in 4 hours then he is done and perfectly ready to move on with his day. We have been trying to put this gut piece and skin piece together for several months without getting obsessive, but the more you read…

    Thanks so much,
    Claire

  23. Hi Claire,

    That’s quite a bit of D for a youngster and should be OK, but I would have his 25OHD checked next time at the doctor to make sure. Around 40-45 ng/ml is good.

  24. Hi Paul, I’m following GAPS/SCD diet so I can explain you a few things about them:

    “Well, the SCD was invented in the 1920s before we had a lot of knowledge of the toxin content of specific foods. Since grains and legumes are toxic, it was natural to generalize to “starches are toxic” and remove them. But I’m sure the tubers are actually beneficial foods.”

    SCD was firstly used to treat celiac disease, Dr. Haas, the doctor who pioneered SCD, spent years investigating which foods celiacs could tolerate. So potato are not allowed because the trials showed that them are not well handled and not because they thought “starches are toxic”. In fact butternut squash (a high starch vegetable) is allowed.

    Dr. Haas though that SCD works because celiac people have intestinal damage that let complex carbs incompletly digested so they feed bacteria more than they should causing problems.
    After SCD was found useful for Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s disease and a lot of other gastrointestinal disease.

    In a blog I remember I read a report of a person wich did SCD for 1 years and healed his ulcerative colitis. He tryed some white rice and after a day found blood in stools. this happens every time he tries small amounts of it.

    I hope this helps to clarify.

  25. Kratos: I have a client with the HLAB27 gene and cannot tolerate starch at all. As long as she is starch free she is pain free. I wonder if this person with UC has this too?
    Some of the starches are toxic experience could be from this gene issue (related to Ankylosing spondylitis)
    On the other hand Robb Wolf recently had a story on his blog where the woman got sick eating rice in the same way as other grains.(“Long Hard road out of hell or why fat girl went primal”) Interesting, but probably not so common that rice is an issue.

  26. Hi Kratos, julianne,

    Thanks, that is helpful. The anecdotes are fascinating.

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