Optimal Health Does Not Include “Safe Starches”
This is a long article, even after I have condensed it, but it is well worth the read as it discusses the benefits of a ketone-producing diet and the dangers of most types of carbohydrates, including “safe starches.”
Paul Jaminet, PhD. in his book, Perfect Health Diet, claims that those on low-carb diets who add [so-called] “safe starches” such as white rice and potato back into their diet will usually improve their health and improve insulin sensitivity.
Dr Jaminet uses the term “safe starch” to refer to starchy foods that lack protein toxins, regardless of their starch content. UK-based senior nutritionist Emily Maguire argues that terming any starch foods as “safe” could also result in a very misleading impression.
She especially questions potatoes and white rice being included as “safe” foods in any form of low carb recommendation, as their high glycemic index shows that these foods cause the greatest spike in blood sugar levels.
Dr. Ron Rosedale’s approach is even more carb restrictive. According to Dr. Rosedale:
“Eating starch will raise blood sugar to some extent in all living beings that do so, and that will cause some degree of harm in everybody. Therefore, the term ‘safe starch’ is an oxymoron. ‘Tolerably harmful’? Perhaps for some.”
Do You Really Need Starches?
Some nutrition experts with a long history of treating patients with diet, such as Dr. Rosedale, disagree with the premise that these so-called “safe starches” are beneficial in the long term for most people.
One of the risks of promoting the idea of “safe starches” is that it grants “permission” to consume them, when most people probably shouldn’t. Dr. Rosedale points out that while glucose is certainly not toxic in and of itself, foods that raise your blood sugar levels essentially are “toxic” in that they set in motion a cascade of detrimental health effects. The same can be said for fructose. It’s not a toxin in and of itself, but when consumed in excess (anything above 15-25 grams/day for most people), its effects are toxic to your system and will surely have a negative impact on your health.
The sheer fact that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and one-in-four American adults have diabetes or pre-diabetes tells us that the majority, probably well over two-thirds of the U.S. adult population, needs to be very careful about eating foods that will raise their insulin levels—as starches like potatoes and rice certainly will.
Why There’s No Such Thing as a “Safe Starch”
Dr. Jaminet had previously boiled down the debate [over “safe starch”] into two key points:
- On low-carb diets, is it better to eat 100 grams (= 400 calories) of carbs per day, as Perfect Health Diet argues, or some lower number of carb
- Are “safe starches” the best source of carb calories?
Dr. Rosedale is adamant that there simply is no such thing as a safe non-fiber starch. Why? Because consuming starches, especially potatoes and rice, will raise your blood sugar to some extent, which ultimately means that it will be detrimental to some degree in everybody.
This is because when you raise glucose levels, you raise your insulin levels, which in turn increases insulin resistance—and insulin resistance is at the root of virtually all chronic disease, and speeds up the aging process itself. Dr. Rosedale also points out that contrary to Jaminet’s speculation about a threshold for blood glucose that predicates whether the carbs you eat will be beneficial or detrimental, such a threshold does not exist.
In his words: “Very simply, the higher the blood sugar rise, the more damage is done in some linear upward slope. This seems to be quite clear.”
Since there is no threshold for blood glucose below which it will not do some level of harm (as it’s simply a sliding scale of harm), Dr. Rosedale states that the question of whether or not “safe starches” are the “best” types of carbs becomes moot.
Sugar is Not an Essential Nutrient
Most of you probably know that your body does need, and uses, glucose for energy. Without it you wouldn’t survive. The question is do you need to supply your body with sugar from your diet, or is gluconeogenesis (the metabolic pathway that generates glucose from non-carbohydrate substrates) the ideal mechanism.
Dr. Rosedale dispels the notion that sugar is a necessary dietary component (barring a hypoglycemic crisis).
“There is no known need to eat sugar or starches. If there were, it would be an essential nutrient, which glucose is not. It is not listed on any list of essential (or even conditionally essential) nutrients (that we must obtain [from our diet] because we cannot make them sufficiently ourselves), that I’m aware of. Whether or not “glucose deficiency symptoms” exist, they would not be due to a lack of glucose.
… [Jaminet] is correct to refer to so-called “glucose deficiency” as a symptom. However, it is not symptoms that we must treat. As much as possible we need to get down to the underlying disease. Even if the symptom had to do with glucose, the disease would not be due to a lack of glucose but rather to wrong instructions about what to do with it. Just consuming more of a nutrient or building block without the body properly knowing what to do with it is likely to cause more harm than good. Osteoporosis, for instance, at least in this country, is rarely due to a lack of calcium.
There is a strong positive correlation between those with osteoporosis and those with coronary calcifications. The calcium is there, it’s just in the wrong places.
… A disease is never a disease of the individual part. Diabetes is not a disease of blood sugar, osteoporosis is not a disease of calcium and heart disease is NOT a disease of cholesterol. A disease is caused not by the breakdown of the part itself, but corruption in the instructions to that part, a disruption in the unity of the whole.”
Why You Don’t NEED Sugar [Carbs] in Your Diet
When you “starve” your body of sugars and starchy carbs, your body starts to acclimatize itself to burn fatty acids and ketones (also known as ketoacids, or ketone bodies). Ketones are what your body produces when it converts fat (as opposed to glucose) into energy.
As an example, let’s look at your brain. One of the primary fuels your brain needs is glucose, which is converted into energy. But does that mean you need dietary sugar?
The mechanism for glucose uptake in your brain has only recently begun to be studied, and what has been learned is that your brain actually manufactures its own insulin to convert glucose in your blood stream into the food it needs to survive. When your brain becomes insulin resistant—meaning, when its response to insulin is weakened to the point that it stops producing the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugar—it begins to starve and atrophy, causing many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Fortunately, your brain is able to run on more than one type of energy supply, namely ketones. Ketone bodies may even be able to restore and renew neuron and nerve function in your brain after damage has set in, as Dr. Mary Newport’s research on coconut oil as a treatment for Alzheimer’s suggests (coconut oil naturally contains 66 percent medium chain triglycerides, which are a primary source of ketones).
So, even when it comes to something as essential as providing fuel for your brain, there’s actually little or no evidence that consuming sugars is necessary, as long as you provide it with the proper—or likely preferential—fuel, which is healthy fat.
Dr. Rosedale writes:
“It takes at least several weeks to fully adapt to extremely low sugar intake, such that the body can effectively burn fatty acids and ketones…
“… An approximation for clinical use is that if a diet contains over 100 grams carbohydrate, there is no ketosis. As one decreases dietary carbohydrate, ketogenesis begins…Glucose administration to fasting normals reverses starvation metabolism rapidly…”
Therefore, Dr. Rosedale summarizes:
“[U]nder a fully adapted, zero carbohydrate milieu, one only needs approximately 80 g (~320 cal) of glucose daily, the vast majority of which could be derived from fat and non protein sources. Only 15 to 20g need come from proteins, and likely less if one was actually eating fat that would allow for greater glycerol production and protein sparing.”
Dr. Jaminet acknowledges that some level of ketosis is desirable, but this, he says, can be achieved even with consumption of 100 grams carbohydrate daily if coconut oil is consumed, or transiently during the latter parts of the overnight fast.
Calorie Restriction for Longevity
Calorie restrictions has repeatedly been shown to be one of the most effective strategies for reversing disease and extending lifespan.
First, sugar (whether it’s glucose or any other sugar) glycates, and glycation is one of the most devastating molecular mechanisms there is. Glycation is in large part responsible for the signs of aging. Second, ketosis, which is needed for gluconeogenesis (creation of glucose), will not occur if you consume more than about 100 grams of carbohydrates a day, according to Cahill’s research.
KEY to Calorie Restriction is Understanding Which Calories to Restrict
Specifically, calories from carbs are the ones that need to go first, and need to be restricted the most.
The detrimental impact of sugar applies to everyone, without exception, to some degree. So while the health effects may be less noticeable in some than in others, it’s simply a matter of scale. Then, it’s a matter of time until your particular body “gives up” after having compensated and adjusted to the insult over a period of time. In this case, once your body loses its ability to compensate for the continuous influx of daily glucose consumption by spiking insulin and leptin (even if it’s moderate; remember it’s like a sliding scale of harm that is dose-dependent), you eventually develop insulin and leptin resistance.
Dr. Rosedale includes a number of relevant studies showing the harmful effects of carbohydrates. For all of them, please see the original article. Here are just a few:
- PLoS Genetics 2009: “[E]xcess of glucose has been associated with several diseases, including diabetes and the less understood process of aging. On the contrary, limiting glucose (i.e., calorie restriction) slows aging and age-related diseases in most species…The pro-aging effect of glucose signaling on life span correlated with an increase in reactive oxygen species and a decrease in oxidative stress resistance and respiration rate. Likewise, the anti-aging effect of both calorie restriction and the Dgit3 mutation was accompanied by increased respiration and lower reactive oxygen species production.”
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2000: “Blood samples were drawn from 14 normal subjects prior to, at 1, 2 and 3 hours following ingestion of 75 g glucose…We conclude that glucose intake…increases oxidative load [in leukocytes] and causes a fall in a-tocopherol [vitamin A] concentration.”
Starches Raise Glucose which Contributes to Chronic Disease
So, to sum it up in the fewest number of words possible, know that Raising blood glucose raises insulin, which increases insulin and leptin resistance.
And avoiding insulin and leptin resistance is perhaps the single most important factors if you seek optimal health and longevity. Therefore, consuming more than about 80 grams of carbs per day, based on the research, cannot be recommended.
That said, are potatoes and rice, specifically, a more healthful choice than, say, bread or pasta?
No. As explained by Dr. Rosedale, these foods, or any other type of non-fiber starch, will result in the following adverse consequences, regardless of your current state of health:
- They will quickly be converted into glucose, which will raise your blood glucose
- As your blood glucose rises, your insulin- and leptin levels rise in response. While this mechanism is designed to optimize short-term survival, it’s not healthy for a long lifespan. The immediate effects of spiking your insulin levels are now well known and include vasoconstriction, inhibited fat burning, and reduced production of glycerol substrates to make glucose, just to name a few. For more information, please read Dr. Rosedale’s article, Insulin and its Metabolic Effects
- Repeated elevations of insulin and leptin eventually lead to insulin- and leptin resistance, which are hallmarks of poor health.
If you are looking for a new and solid eating plan based on solid science I would strongly recommend Dr. Jaminet’s book Perfect Health Diet. Your goal will be 50-70% of your diet as healthy fat which will radically reduce your carbohydrate intake. Most people will likely notice massive improvement in their health by following this approach as they are consuming FAR more grain and bean carbohydrates in their diet.
If you are already healthy and seeking to take it to the next level and are willing to experiment then give Dr. Rosedale’s suggestions a try and eliminate nearly all non-fiber carbs. They will be very challenging to implement but may provide outstanding results.
Health-e-Solutions comment: Dr Jaminet’s diet may be perfect for the average non-diabetic, it is far from that for diabetics, especially type 1 diabetics. Dr. Rosedale’s diet comes much closer. We believe the diabetic-alkaline diet and lifestyle is the optimal diet for all types of diabetes and that you would do extremely well to live as close to this diet and lifestyle as possible.
The information about how switching from burning carbs to burning fats only happens when you are consuming very few non-fiber carbohydrates is important. Best results require a radical shift to a high-fat, low carb diet. It was our experience that it took up to 3 months to fully acclimate our bodies to burning fat instead of burning carbs.