The White Answer

Had a great weekend with The Man replete with yoga, long walks up the Riverwalk, sunshine, and amazing food.  I can’t tell you the last time we actually went out for a swanky dinner-date, but last night we put on some nice clothes and headed over to Biga on the Banks.  It’s one of those ambient-lit places where even the least dressed up guys are wearing a collared shirt and the music is loud enough to enjoy but not loud enough to interfere with intimate conversation…as The Man put it, “This is the exact place I wish I could’ve taken a girl on a grown-up first date.”

And oh, by the way, my meal was so good I could have died afterwards and my life would have been complete.

Duck two ways–braised leg and pan-seared crispy breast, served with parsnip puree, roast endive, and jus, seasoned sweet and savory with just a hint of spice from what I’m guessing was just a pinch of cinnamon and cloves.  Perfect.  Please excuse the shit photo…I had to use my phone to avoid nasty looks from the other (much classier) patrons around us.

Today we spent the morning just being lazy, then The Man headed home and I went down to the hotel gym and walked with my Kindle for a while.  I wasn’t feeling anything too vigorous–I have some longer metcons planned for the week ahead and figured I could use the rest.

So, now I’ll turn to today’s main topic, which is something The Man and I mused about at length over the weekend (yes, this is our idea of a romantic weekend getaway…deal with it).  This isn’t a new discussion in the Paleo community by any means, but I wanted to give my take on what I like to call The White Question…what about potatoes and rice?

The argument in favor of rice and potato consumption usually comes in some form of, “They’re neutral starches and aren’t bad for you.”  OK, cool.  Robb Wolf posted an article a while back that basically OK’d peeled white potatoes for otherwise healthy people who were “lean, hard-training athletes,” and it seemed like a lot of people took that as a one-way ticket to Potato-ville.  Mark Sisson has a thoughtful post on rice in which he calls it “nutritionally bereft” but also notes that if you’re “lean and active,” it may not be so bad.

I will note here, as I often do, that I am not a health professional and by no means should you take my word as dietary gospel.

There are certainly worse things you could be eating than rice and potatoes.  They’re not going to kill you–at least not as fast as something like wheat or soy.  If you end up with some mashed potatoes or rice on your plate as part of a holiday meal or a 20 Percent occasion, I wouldn’t worry.  I also understand that rice and potatoes are cheap and relatively sustainable food sources, and if you have no other option, go for it.

However, most people are not “lean and healthy,” and even those who are may not be a “hard-training athlete” to the degree which would justify a high starchy carbohydrate consumption from rice and potatoes.  And even if you are a lean, healthy, hard-training athlete, why would you opt for these foods for extra starch when you could get sufficient glycogen replenishment from much more nutritious sources like yams, sweet potatoes, or starchy fruits?  Personally, I avoid rice and potatoes not because I don’t like them but because I get nothing out of them but a full belly.  You may as well be eating dirt.

Let’s take rice.  Brown rice–so loved by the vegan crowd as a “healthy whole grain that oh btw is gluten free because GF is cool nowadays”–contains phytin in the bran, which binds to minerals and prevents their absorbtion.  White rice doesn’t have the phytin levels of brown rice, but most of the vitamin and mineral content is removed with the bran.  It’s empty calories, plain and simple.

OK, potatoes.  White potatoes contain a host of antinutrients–glycoalkaloids, lectins, phytates, ect that can mess with the gut lining and contribute to systemic inflammation.  Potatoes are also in the nightshade family and can cause serious problems for people with autoimmune issues.  Most of those antinutrients, however, are contained in the skin…so if we peel them they’re healthy, right?  I honestly don’t know.  There are studies that support both ends of that argument.  I don’t eat white potatoes for a couple of reasons–one because I’d rather eat a sweet potato any day of the week and two because “gray areas” make me uncomfortable…if I’m not sure whether or not something is going to cause me harm in the long term, I figure it’s best to avoid it.  (For more info on the potato issue, Google it or look here, here, and here)

Because I get this question a lot, I want to quickly address the relationship between white potatoes and sweet potatoes.  Yams and sweet potatoes are not the same thing…not even close.  They are in a completely different botanical family than white potatoes.  Sweet potatoes have a significantly different nutritional profile, do not contain nightshade alkaloids or antinutrients, and taste a hell of a lot better.

As you know, I’m all about experimentation, research, and finding what works for YOU.  I believe the basic premise behind the Paleo diet and lifestyle is the ideal framework for all of us, but you have to work at the individual level to really figure out–beyond just getting rid of grains, legumes, dairy, and vegetable oils–what optimizes how someone looks/feels/performs.  For example, I used to think I was OK on a higher ratio of carbohydrates to fat and protein because I run a lot…it turns out that wasn’t true.  I’ve also found that high consumption of nuts and nut butters really slow me down.  The Man pointed out to me this weekend that he’s fine with fermented dairy and heavy cream, but straight milk makes him nauseous.

The best way to find out how anything really affects you is to pay attention to your body and do a little research.  Cut it out for a while a la Whole30 and re-introduce it into your routine and see if you actually do or don’t tolerate it and how it affects your performance.  Do some digging of your own…Google is great like that.  Know that just because something doesn’t send you into digestive distress doesn’t mean it’s good for you, and just because someone suddenly say something is “safe” or “unsafe” doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.  The short answer to the potato/rice quandary might just be, “Find out what works for you.”  

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