Stay Away From What, Now??
Step away from the potatoes, they tell us.
Your grandmothers boiled them, your mother mashed them, and you made bakes out of them. Often, you didn’t even cheat with packet flavourings with ‘cheese’, you made them with fresh garlic and cream — and real cheese.
Whether you’re eating Low Carb, Keto, Paleo, Whole30, Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) or any of the healthful eating plans, you will know that potatoes are a big no-no. So while your bread-and-potato-eating friends and family members keep eating the tempting spud, you don’t.
They don’t want to hear that their favourite vegetable, with all its starch, is spiking their blood sugar and insulin levels, which leads to inflammation, weight gain, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
Potatoes are hard to wrench out of the hands of those who love them. But is there even a person on the planet who doesn’t love them?
Nevertheless, you’re determined to regain your health, so potatoes are a small sacrifice.
At social gatherings — even work functions — the table always holds a few tempting flavours of potato chips (to Australians, crisps to others).
The salty, crunch factor makes an impressive bid for your attention; a craving that’s hard to quench.
Luckily, there are alternatives. But are they better?
They’re in the health food aisle of the supermarket, so they must be healthier, right?
I chose the healthiest sounding ones and looked more closely.
What’s the worst of it?
Our parents and grandparents ate butter and lard, yet stayed lean and subsequently healthier. The only meats available to them were pasture-raised, and hormone and antibiotic free, which meant their sources of cooking fats were, too.
In short, foods weren’t messed with through processing.
We can’t blame ourselves for this catastrophe.
Dr Mark Hyman also says we can blame industrialisation, and that as the scientists learn more, they keep changing their story. It’s a bit hard to keep up.
He explains that refined oils increase our Omega 6 fat intake. Omega 6 fats cause inflammation, reduce the availability of healthful Omega 3 fats, and are linked to mental illness, suicide, and homicide.
That’s pretty intense.
He goes on to say that Dr Joseph Hibbeln, from the National Institute of Health, has conducted research that clearly shows the imbalance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fats significantly increases:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome
- macular degeneration (leading to blindness)
- rheumatoid arthritis
- psychiatric disorders
- autoimmune diseases
Again, that’s pretty intense. The worrying part is that 99% of processed foods use refined vegetable oils of some sort, whether the source is corn, sunflower, rice bran, canola, safflower, sesame, soybean, cottonseed, or peanut oil.
Other than the chemical processing that produces a rancid oil which then needs deodorising so we don’t notice it’s rancid, when cooked at high heat, these oils ‘release toxic chemicals called aldehydes that have been linked to dementia, cancer, and heart disease’. Professor Martin Grootveld of De Montfort University Leicester concurred, and conducted research that showed that these aldehydes were ‘at levels 20 times higher than recommended by the World Health Organisation’.
You can read more about these highly unstable, highly inflammation-causing oils here and here.
I would put them back on the shelf because there’s also the problem of the added sugar, yeast extract, maltodextrin, and corn starch. But I’ll come back to those.
Chickpeas Are Good, Though, Aren’t They?
What’s the worst of it?
The long list of ingredients.
I counted 23.
Two out of the top three are potato. The other is sunflower oil.
Seed oils — except linseed (flax), chia, and hemp — are high in Omega 6 fatty acids which drive inflammation in our bodies.
The average diet, which includes processed foods, tips the balance of Omega 6 to Omega 3 (ideally 1:1) to more like 15:1.
You can read more about this here.
If you’re still not sold on the evils of industrial oils, as they’re commonly referred to, check this out to see how they’re made.
I’m not sure what ‘lite side’ these healthy looking crisps are on, but I’m guessing they’re meaning fat — saturated fat, which has been misidentified as the harmful one.
In 2010 a study was published called the “Meta-analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies Evaluating the Association of Saturated Fat with Cardiovascular Disease.” This investigation analyzed 347, 747 subjects. Its conclusions were: “A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.” In fact, their results demonstrated that a diet moderately high in saturated fats is actually very protective against stroke.
Another Issue is the Chickpeas Themselves
Unfortunately, legumes contain phytic acids which bind to the nutrients in the food, preventing your body from absorbing them. This makes the trusty chickpea a lot less nutritious than it’s said to be.
Legumes are also on the Low Carb, AIP, Paleo, FODMAPS, and Keto’s Do Not Eat lists because of the carb count, and because they often cause digestive troubles.
They contain lectins, which cause damage to the digestive tract, therefore can lead to leaky gut, and even autoimmune diseases.
You can read more about it here.
Again, I would put them back on the shelf. This time because of the corn flour — and maize is another word for corn.
What’s Wrong with Corn?
Corn is potentially pretty bad for your body, especially if you have existing gut issues.
Like all grains, corn contains prolamins, which are a class of proteins that your body can’t properly break down and which can lead to or exacerbate leaky gut and the growth of bad bacteria in your gut. In addition, almost all corn grown in the US is GMO. (Being GMO is actually less of a concern than known toxins like prolamins, but still.)
In the end, the small amount of nutrition that you get from corn just isn’t worth the potential problems it can cause your body, and that’s why it’s not considered Paleo.
What About the Maltodextrin?
It’s made from corn, rice, potato starch, or wheat, and is used to thicken foods — and body lotions and hair care products. Hmmm, sounds nutritious ?
And yes, it does make up some of the carb count.
Another reason to limit maltodextrin is to keep your gut bacteria healthy.
According to a 2012 study published in PLoS ONE, maltodextrin can change your gut bacteria composition in a way that makes you more susceptible to disease. It can suppress the growth of probiotics in your digestive system, which are important for immune system function.
The same study showed that maltodextrin can increase the growth of bacteria such as E. coli, which is associated with autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease.
How About Lentils?
What’s the worst of it?
Lentils are also legumes, then there’s the sunflower oil, and the potato starch, but for this crispy option, it’s the carb count.
The thing about chips is that it’s really difficult to stop at just a handful. The serving size is 20 grams. Here’s what 20 grams of chips looks like:
That’s more than a handful for me, but I have small hands. And I know for sure, that in the course of a chip-fest, I would eat more than that in one go. And here’s our issue. Say we managed to eat the whole bag — rare, I know — but just as an example. Five large handfuls.
That’s 69.4 grams of carbs. All carbs eventually break down to sugar (except the insoluble fibre type), which in the above packet might be all or only part of the 2.5 grams listed.
Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say the whole 2.5 grams are insoluble fibre — none soluble. That leaves us having eaten 66.9 grams of carbs. For a visual, we divide that by 4 to give us teaspoons of sugar.
That’s 16.7 teaspoons of sugar.
You could have a ham and cheese toasted sandwich for less than that (the last bread packet I checked would make said sanger for 10 teaspoons). And if you did eat the sandwhich, you wouldn’t feel ready for the steak and salad that’s still to come at this BBQ where you just had a sampling of all the chips on offer.
Just for comparison, the whole packet of Hummus Crisps is 11.5 teaspoons of sugar, and the Vege Crisps, 12.5.
Now Hemp and Kale ARE Healthy. But …
What’s the Worst of It?
Other than the corn and canola oil, what has me stumped is that only 72.3% of the ingredients are accounted for. (Someone please check my maths.)
Ingredients are listed in the order of quantity, so the percentage of Canola oil is somewhere between 59% and 5%. Surely, it can’t be the missing 27.7%…
But what I really wanted to check out was what exactly is the deal with yeast extract and natural flavour, considering the only nutritional content in these chips was the 7.5% in the hemp seeds, linseeds, and kale.
The net carb count comes in at 11.45 teaspoons of sugar, but at least there is a much higher fibre content.
Don’t be fooled by the packet size, where my thumb is is where the chips were.
So anyway, yeast extract. What is it?
The glutamates naturally occuring in foods such as cheese, meat, seaweed, and mushrooms provide the umami — the meaty flavour we love. Yes, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the same substance, but it’s highly concentrated.
Yeast extract is a different form of glutamate, and way less potent.
Therefore, it’s considered safe, unless you are sensitive to glutamates, which can also be found in fermented or slow-cooked meats. Even if you are sensitive to MSG, you may not necessarily be to yeast extract.
Well, that is good news.
You can read more here.
What About Natural Flavours?
When compared with artificial flavours, natural flavours did start as a plant or animal source, but have undergone an equally intense chemical process to produce the end result.
Are they healthier than artificial flavours?
Because sometimes artificial flavours contain fewer chemicals and are produced under stricter guidelines.
Shall We Just Eat the Bloody Potato Chips, Then?
It seems so.
Ingredients: Potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt.
Okay, so the oil is poison as Dr Jason Fung explains — but the ingredient list is short and easy to interpret, and with the carb count at 11.45 teaspoons of sugar, the lack of additives makes these the winner by a whisker compared to the ‘healthy’ alternatives above.
What Is All the Fuss About Potatoes, Anyway?
Other than the starch which we know breaks down to sugar, and the pesticides that marinate most of our fruit and vegetables whether we like it or not, potatoes are also a source of lectins and another contributor to holes in the gut lining — solanine.
Nature created the toxic glycoalkaloid saponins, a-chaconine and a-solanine to protect the tuber from microbial and insect attack.
Therefore, their concentrations are higher in the skins. And higher again in green skinned and sprouting potatoes. And no, peeling them doesn’t fix it.
This is why potatoes belong to the group of vegetables known as the ‘deadly’ nightshades. If you’ve ever noticed how much less painful your joints are when you avoid tomatoes and peppers, also keep an eye on egglants and potatoes.
What About Just a Teensy Bit?
While people have died from toxic concentrations of potato saponins in their bodies, it’s not that many — only 30 have been recorded.
And while you are consciously reducing your intake of industrial seed oils, the occasional handful of potato chips won’t hurt you — if your gut permeability is intact and you have a healthy balance of gut flora. Those are both difficult to prove, though, aren’t they.
An Easy Alternative
I’ve heard plantains are available in Australia, I just haven’t searched widely enough to find them, but I have tried to cook — disappointingly unsuccessfully — other vegetables (sweet potato, celeriac, and daikon radish) just like you would potatoes.
I will keep trying.
But I raced back to the supermarket when I remembered seeing green — really green — bananas there, because they are very similar to plantains that are widely used in low carb and AIP recipes in seemingly every other country on the planet.
I sliced them with a mandolin, so they were evenly thin. And then…
I deep fried them in lard.
I was amazed with the result. They didn’t taste sweet or starchy — and had that satisfying crunch we crave.
However, as a Type 1 diabetic, the 11 grams of net carbs (2.75 teaspoons of sugar) for 20 grams, is still too high for me to eat as a snack because my goal is to minimise my need for insulin. If it was a serving — as the only carb on the plate — with my main meal of the day, definitely okay carb-wise.
An Even Better Alternative
These are so easy to make. Just mix your seeds (above is linseeds/flax, chia, sesame, pumpkin and hemp seeds) with salt and water to cover plus a bit more. Let them sit until they start getting goopy, pour the goop onto a lined tray, and bake them low and slow in the oven. Even just one cracker will give you your daily requirements of the form of Omega 3 called ALA.
Just Because They Offer It, Doesn’t Mean We Want It
When you know what’s behind the misleading packaging, it becomes much easier to make choices that serve your body.
Food manufacturers are in the business of selling their product, not looking after you.
You have to look after you.
And it’s difficult to navigate the choices, especially when you’re starting out on this journey. The trick is to inform yourself. And plan ahead.
Each week, decide what it is you need to help you stick to your quest for better health, and you will look forward to creating nourishment.
The exciting part is that the more you know, the less you’re even tempted. And the alternatives become way more enticing than the ‘foods’ we’ve grown up with — and the ones they are now trying to make us believe are better alternatives.