For The Love Of Tubers


Have you ever heard of The Perfect Health Diet? Scientists Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet have written a book and a blog by that name. I’m a fan and regular reader. Dr. Paul Jaminet graciously agreed to share a guest post with you all defending tubers.

Why, you ask, would tubers need defending? Mostly because of the low-carb phenomenon. Dr. Paul believes that real, nourishing starches are a healthy part of the ancestral diet of most humans. (And, of course, he’s right!)

He writes:

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

When it excludes starch sources like the tubers pictured above.

Sweet potatoes, yams, potato, taro – these starchy storage organs were staples of the Paleolithic diet.

Popular “Paleo” Diets Have Starch-Phobia

Many of the popular Paleo diets teach fear of starches. I don’t have to name them – if you’ve read a Paleo diet book or been around the blogosphere, you’ve probably learned to think of fruits and vegetables as the only true “Paleo” plant foods.

But Human Ancestors Relied on Starches – Especially After Inventing Cooking

Anthropologists believe that ancient hominins 2 million years ago, including Australopithecus – probably not our direct ancestor, but more closely related than chimps or gorillas – ate starchy tubers. The digging stick had been invented, and in-ground tubers were an easy source of calories.

Starchy foods tend to have a lot of toxins, to discourage animals from eating them. However, the toxins in tubers, rhizomes, corms, and bulbs are mostly destroyed by cooking. Cooking also makes starches more digestible. Thus, the invention of controlled fire and cooking must have made starches into a dietary staple.

Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human argues that the invention of cooking occurred 1.8 million years ago, and that cooked starches fueled the rapid growth of our ancestors’ brains.

Most anthropologists, however, believe that cooking was invented later, about 250,000 years ago when hearths proliferate and become standard items in human settlements.

Whoever is right, it seems certain that starchy tubers, roots, and corms have been a major part of the human diet for at least 250,000 years.

Horticulture Was Practiced on Starches 40,000 Years Ago

By the start of the Upper Paleolithic about 50,000 years ago, when a more advanced culture that used boats, throwing weapons, and other new technologies spread “Out of Africa” across the globe, people were doing more than just eating starches: they were farming them.

A recent archaeological report [Summerhayes et al. “Human Adaptation and Plant Use in Highland New Guinea 49,000 to 44,000 Years Ago,” Science 330 (2010): 78-81.] argues that early Upper Paleolithic settlers in New Guinea were clearing large tracts of land of native plants in order to replant starchy food sources – yams and Pandanus nut trees.

pandanus nut

Starches Are Healthy Foods

Starchy foods have many benefits:

  • They provide glucose, a useful macronutrient. Our bodies consume about 600 calories of glucose per day.
  • Unlike fruits, they have no fructose, a toxic sugar.
  • When cooked, tubers, rhizomes and corms are low in toxins, unlike most grains and legumes.
  • They are nutritious. Potatoes, for instance, provide sufficient nutrition that the Irish could remain healthy on potatoes alone in the 18th century.

In the Perfect Health Diet, we consider these “safe starches” to be a core part of a healthy diet. Our recommended meals almost always have a starch, and look like this:

perfect health diet

Salmon, sweet potato mashed with coconut oil and butter, and roasted vegetables.

Do stay away from legumes and grains (except rice), which are toxic foods. But don’t be starch-phobic! “Grok” ate starch. You should too.

(photos by Wikimedia Commons, and Paul Jaminet.


  1. says

    You know I love this post! I’m a big fan of potatoes. They have to be one of the most health-friendly starches. I know I need my carbs if I want stable energy and balanced moods. Now that I’m on RRARF for 30 days potatoes take center stage in my kitchen: I eat them at least once a day!

    • KristenM says

      Potatoes are definitely one of my comfort foods. I love them mashed with tons of butter, sour cream, salt, pepper, and caramelized onions.

  2. says

    I also LOVE mashed potatoes with loads of butter! (Love my sweet potatoes and carrots, too…) Obviously tubers are a very traditional food, and they have some important nutrients. Most people they can eat them with no problem, but don’t you agree that going easy on tubers is smart if you have blood sugar issues?


    • Renaee says

      Hi Kelly,

      Have you checked out Matt Stones blog and e-books that Elizabeth above refers to? If anything, someone with blood sugar issues should be increasing their consumption of complex carbs like tubers, not staying away from them.

      I would also disagree with the authors suggestion that grains and legumes are ‘toxic foods’. Legumes especially provide a very important kind of starch know as ‘resistant starch’ which is excellent at controlling blood sugars and providing energy. Legumes also create butyric and propionic acids in the digestive track, the same type of short chain fatty acids found in coconut and butter. Head on over to MS to check is out…


    • says

      Hi Kelly,

      Even if you have blood sugar issues, it’s hard to overdose on tubers. Potatoes and sweet potatoes have only 300 calories per pound, and I don’t know about you, but after a pound of potatoes I don’t want any more!

      So diabetics should keep to a half-pound or so per meal, but the rest of us don’t have to worry.

      Best, Paul

      • Davida says

        As a diabetic, I have to disagree with this. I cannot eat potatoes……no more than 1/8th-1/4c. at a time, even loaded with butter, sour cream, etc. My blood sugar shoots up very high, very quickly. Sweet potatoes are easier for me to eat, but even then 1/2c. is an absolute max- and only if I have watched my carbs very closely for the rest of the day. I usually have to add in an extra walk or something, too. A half-pound per meal is extremely excessive and would shoot my blood sugar up beyond belief. A small amount, in a meal that has a good-sized piece of protein and lots of fat, and no other starches, twice a week, is the most my body can handle.

  3. snoop911 says

    @Renaee: I agree, legumes are great.. but if you happen to be an American with wheat (lectin) allergies, then soak the beans overnight and discard the water. BTW, I say American because you don’t see non-rich countries complain about wheat or peanut allergies.

    Regarding the word “toxic”, I think Pefect-Health-Diet just likes to throw the word around alot… They said fructose is ‘toxic’ (as compared to regular sucrose or glucose I suppose), but of course there’s no study that supports that distinction.

    Anyhoot, what I’ve wondered about is tubers in general.. stem tubers (ex. potatoes) vs. root storage tubers (ex. sweet potatoes).. is one type considered more nutritious in general than the other?

    • says

      Hi Renaee & snoop,

      “Toxic” just means that a compound does biological harm. Legumes have a lot of toxins, even after cooking; they’re detailed in our book. Tubers, corms, and root storage organs have all the benefits of legumes, but without the toxicity. You can get resistant starch just as well from tubers, corms, and roots as from legumes.

      There are plenty of “studies” supporting a difference between glucose and fructose. Glucose is an essential nutrient used by the body in over a million compounds, whereas fructose is disposed of by the body as rapidly as possible.

      I think the variations in nutritive value from the different in-ground storage organs are pretty modest. All are healthful, and some variety is beneficial.

      • Renaee says


        I would be very interested to know how you explain how millions of traditional or peasant people around the world have not only survived but thrived on diets high in both grains and legumes? Can a billion Indians eating lentils, chickpeas and rice daily be wrong? I understand that these foods need to be prepared according to traditional methods to eliminate their anti nutrients – do you think that even after such preparations methods these foods are damaging for everyone, or is your book geared mainly to westerners recovering from terrible diets in the first place? If this is the case I can understand, as you need a pretty robust constitution and good digestive fire to handle legumes and grains together.

        would also agree that fructose is bad news and best avoided,


        • Nathaniel says

          Just because people can survive on beans and grains doesn’t mean that they are thriving. Just because population is rising doesn’t mean that people are in optimal health.

          India has plenty of serious public health problems, and the highly vegetarian diet and its plant proteins and plant oils are a major contributor, I bet.

          In terms of usable, available nutrients, plant foods in general are second rate. Peasant food indeed; it is unfortunate that some people cannot afford anything but beans.

          • says

            Nathaniel, I’m with you. Thriving isn’t true health. Legumes cannot be eaten in their natural state, therefore, Grok wouldn’t eat ’em.

            Again, I think they’re fine in small amounts, but certainly not on a regular basis.

  4. Pogonia says

    This is useful information to me. I worry about my blood sugar that keeps rising, and am happy to know that tubers (and legumes) are, in fact, not the culprits. I have so much to learn about all this and appreciate all the knowledge so freely shared. Thank you.

  5. Jane Metzger says

    I like beans. I like rice. I like good bread. I like good meat. I love vegetables. I have been learning how to treat my legumes and grains to make the nutrient more available. I am married to a man who is a carboholic. I have done everything under the sun to change that to no avail. However, I can change the quality of the carbs he eats. That is the best I can do for now. Sometimes you have to choose whether or not you are going to be completely healthy or completely happy. The balancing is difficult.

  6. says

    Roasted red potatoes with olive oil, sea salt and pepper.

    Out. Of. This. World. I could eat the whole pan full!

    I don’t have a problem with tubers. But Conventional Wisdom Eaters tend to really love their ‘meat ‘n potatoes’ and do not eat much else in the way of vegetables. We need balance. Add a heaping side of wilted buttery greens to dems taters! Hoo-yah! Now that’s some awesome eats!

  7. Shane says

    Greetings, novice here. My wife’s totally asian and I’m… western? I’ve been told our digestive tracts are differing in length. Wow. It’s meant to explain why she adores the green leafy stuff and veggie stir fries and why I’m starving 60′ after a meal, yet I can’t drop the spare tire. Anyway, I’m often craving legumes & tubers along with red meat. I’ve been avoiding filling up on bowl after bowl of white rice like she and her family do. In the article when cautioning on legumes & grains they excluded rice, so it might be okay? any advice… on rice? BTW I came here as I just feasted on mashed potatoes (she’s not a fan), baby carrots and a bit of beet root and wondered if I’d just blown my low carb attempt for the day. Thanx for all the info everyone.

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