So in some of the original Paleo books and sites that came out, there was this notion that potatoes should be excluded from your diet. Most notably, Loren Cordain (THE original Paleo guy) was cited as saying that there are inflammatory aspects to potatoes and that they should be removed to help heal the gut. He’s right to an extent in that potatoes contain relatively high amounts of glycoalkaloids, which are basically nature’s pest repellants. What’s interesting though is that most of the glycoalkaloids are concentrated into the skin of the potato, making it easy to reduce the content by peeling them…. simple enough it seems.
The question remains though, is there a good reason even bother eating potatoes outside of taste? Well, if you’re a very lean active person then they can be a great energy source of course… but not everyone is lean and active as we know.
However, I think there’s another reason to start getting interested in potatoes again, and its all about Resistant Starch which I’ll refer to as RS for simplicity sake. What is RS? Good old wikipedia defines it as “starch and starch degradation products that escape from digestion in the small intestine of healthy individuals. Resistant starch is considered the third type of dietary fiber, as it can deliver some of the benefits of insoluble fiber and some of the benefits of soluble fiber.” Interestingly, potatoes (and to some extent rice) are loaded with resistant starch.
A little bit of background:
RS was discovered in the 80’s and since then a TON of studies have been conducted on its affects on humans and other animals. Many of these studies correlated RS consumption with improved colon health, improved cholesterol, better glucose control, weight management, improved satiety, and better gut function as it relates to nutrient absorption. All good things!!!
Anyway, why are there so many studies linking RS to improved health markers? Biologically, we now know that there are specific bacteria in our GI tracts, most accurately the large intestine that use RS as a fuel source. As the bacteria grow on RS, they produce by-products. One of the by-products that gets produced by bacteria consuming RS is a short chained fatty acid called butyrate. Interestingly, epithelial cells of the gut use butyrate as an energy source in many of their normal processes which helps keep them healthy, which in turn keeps your gut intact. Its absolutely critical to have an intact GI tract to prevent microbial translocation of bacteria. To state it simply, “You want to keep your poo separate from you.”
If you’ve read my author description, you know I’m an immunologist by training and at heart. So when I came across this HIGH profile paper linking butyrate to the induction of regulatory T cells, I was ecstatic. Regulatory T cells are one of the immune systems most important ways of preventing autoimmune disease and overt inflammatory disorders. Remember my post from a few weeks back where I made the argument that obesity is linked to inflammation as well. Basically, at the end of the day, inflammation is connected to almost every disease you can think of. What this paper says is that butyrate, produced by specific bacteria in our guts is critical to the formation of these regulatory T cells which prevent inflammation…. AWESOME.
So what’s the take home message???? Having adequate levels of butyrate will likely be extremely helpful for maintaining a healthy gut and overall health. Most of your butyrate is going to come as a result of eating RS. I’m not convinced that this can be done with a diet using just fruits and veggies as your carbohydrate source. Potatoes and rice appear to be a great source of RS, but they require a very specific preparation. You have to cook them and then let them cool which is a little less than ideal so I’m going to try a couple of other options.
1) I’ve been taking a sodium butyrate supplement for the last 3 weeks or so. I’ve noticed some subtle changes (less gas, more energy, clearer thinking). Side note: the pills smell like butter… which isn’t surprising because butter is a great source of butyrate! One more reason to love Grass Fed butter.
That said, the results could be better still in my opinion so…
2) I’m going to try taking 4 TBSP of Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch every day and see if I can get even better results. I’ve read several other successful stories using this exact approach so I’m excited to see how it goes.
Anybody else want to give it a try???