The Great Starch Experiment

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The Great Starch Experiment | Phoenix Helix

“The only way to figure out what an optimal diet is for you is to experiment and observe.” ~ Chris Kresser

Where I Started

Before doing the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), I spent 6 months on the GAPS Diet. It’s very similar to regular paleo with one major difference: it eliminates high starch vegetables, based on the belief that they are difficult to digest and end up feeding harmful bacteria in the large intestine. The GAPS diet took me out of crisis. I went from rheumatoid arthritis flares daily, to flaring just a few times per month. When I plateaued in my healing, I jumped into the AIP and my flares stopped altogether. However, I never stopped doing the GAPS low-starch protocol. I figured it was working, so why mess with it?

Fast forward to this year when I participated in the American Gut Project and got my microbiome analyzed. It showed that not only was I missing harmful bacteria (yay!) I was also missing some beneficial bacteria. That’s because bacteria doesn’t get fed in isolation – what feeds one feeds another, and by starving out some of the bad bugs, I starved some good ones, too. I decided it was time to test the starch theory. Did I really need to avoid it, or was I doing this unnecessarily?

A Quick Starch Primer

  • So, what is starch anyway? It’s how plants store excess energy. In dietary terms, it’s a long chain of sugars that takes time for our bodies to digest. There are two kinds of starch: amylopectin and amylose. Amylopectin is easier to digest (although ability varies from person to person) and amylose is difficult to digest for everyone and therefore known as “resistant starch.” Most starchy vegetables are a combination of the two, but the ratios vary.
  • Non-starchy vegetables. Not all vegetables have starch. Cauliflower, celery and asparagus are just a few examples of non-starchy vegetables. Starch is most commonly found in root vegetables, legumes and grains. Since legumes and grains are usually excluded on the paleo diet, it’s automatically lower starch than a Standard American Diet.
  • Low-starch vegetables. The GAPS diet isn’t a no-starch diet, but rather a low-starch diet. It allows some vegetables that have a small amount of starch in them, such as carrots, winter squash, green beans and green peas. I went out of my way to eat these every week, because I didn’t want to accidentally go low carb and risk adrenal fatigue and hormone imbalance. Some people accidentally go into ketogenosis on GAPS. The scientific evidence doesn’t support ketogenosis for RA, so I intentionally avoid it.
  • High starch vegetables are forbidden on the GAPS diet, but eaten freely on the paleo diet and include sweet potatoes, parsnips, arrowroot, tapioca, taro, plantains and unripe bananas. There is also one high starch nut: chestnuts.
  • Different starches digest differently.
    • Simple starches like cooked white rice and cooked white potatoes digest easily into 100% glucose. For this reason, diabetics are advised to steer clear, because it can spike blood sugar. But Paul Jaminet recommends them in his Perfect Health Diet. He says that a healthy body needs glucose to function, and white rice and potatoes are a good source of this nutrient, especially for people who have difficulty digesting more complex carbs. Note: you can cook and refrigerate these to convert some of their starch content to resistant starch, but it’s a relatively small amount that gets converted.
    • Complex starches like sweet potatoes go through a more complex digestive process. Whereas white potatoes convert into ready-to-use glucose, sweet potatoes break down partly into fructose, which needs to be converted into glucose by the liver, before being accessible to the body.
    • Resistant starches like green plantains are basically food for our microbiome, rather than food for us. They travel largely intact through our small intestine and feed the bacteria in our large intestine (both the good and the bad).

Paleo Starch Controversy

Opinions in the paleo community vary. Loren Cordain and Robb Wolf, two fathers of the paleo movement, both list starches on their “foods to avoid list”. Terry Wahls slowly transitions people off starchy vegetables through her 3 phase protocol, with her top level being a ketogenic diet. Representing the other side, you have Paul Jaminet, one of the strongest advocates for “safe starches”, recommending people eat one pound per day. You have Sarah Ballantyne who recommends people eat starchy vegetables freely. And finally, you have Chris Kresser, who believes starch tolerance varies from person to person and should neither be forbidden, nor universally recommended. He’s a big believer in the self-experiment. So am I. And to be fair, the people I listed above in the pro-starch or anti-starch categories know there are exceptions to every rule. When it comes to the paleo community, self-experimentation (n=1) is recommended by almost everyone.

Resistant Starch Craze

I can’t talk about starch in 2014 without addressing resistant starch (RS). This is the form of starch that is indigestible, meaning it’s food for our gut bacteria and not food for us. Supplementing unmodified potato starch (the densest form of RS) is the latest craze in the paleo community, largely fueled by the passion of three people: Richard Nikoley, Dr. Grace Liu and Tim Steele (aka Tatertot Tim). They believe it preferentially feeds beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria specifically) and can therefore help a myriad of health problems. Not surprisingly, there are people in the paleo community who disagree. Jeff Leach (from the American Gut Project) and Dr. Sarah Ballantyne (author of the Paleo Approach), both endorse eating a variety of fruits and vegetables that naturally feed a diverse microbiome, and warn against supplementing with anything that preferentially feeds certain bacteria over others. Just because bifidobacteria is more heavily researched doesn’t mean it’s more beneficial than the hundreds of species we know less about. Then there are people who specifically warn against resistant starch, such as Dr. Norm Robillard and Dr. Allison Siebecker, experts in SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth). They got concerned when RS leaders started recommending RS supplementation as a cure for SIBO, when their experience is that it can greatly worsen the condition. So, what to think? You can browse the comment sections on any of the resistant starch articles (here are a few.) You’ll find people are self-experimenting with resistant starch and results vary greatly. The more complex your medical issues, the more likely you are to have trouble with resistant starch. Update 2015: Grace Liu has changed her opinion and now warns people against potato starch supplementation.

N=1: My Starch Self-Experiments

  • What is N=1? In scientific experiments, n=the number of people being studied. N=1 is slang for self-experimentation, a practice strongly promoted in the paleo community as a way to learn what our unique bodies need.
  • My Process: I used the same process I learned reintroducing foods on the paleo autoimmune protocol. I introduced one starchy food at a time, eating a normal size portion and then waiting 72 hours to monitor my body for a reaction. If there was no reaction, or it was too subtle to know for sure, I ate some every day for a week to confirm the results one way or the other. The most important thing for me, as someone with rheumatoid arthritis, is to avoid any increase in inflammation. I had been on the GAPS diet (avoiding these starchy foods) for 18 months.
  • Simple Starch – White Rice: In the starch primer above, I mention that there are two forms of simple starch which digest easily into pure glucose. One is white potato and the other is white rice. I’m nightshade-intolerant, so potatoes aren’t an option. Since rice is a grain, and I’m on a grain-free diet, you might think that’s not an option either. However, it’s the hull in grains that contain the anti-nutrients and enzyme inhibitors that make grains unhealthy. White rice has had all of this removed, making it an easily digested form of carbohydrate, and some of my friends on the Perfect Health Diet swear by it. Sarah Ballantyne even includes it as a Stage 4 Reintroduction in her book, The Paleo Approach. I decided to give it a try. Result? My body digested it easily with no inflammatory response. (Yay!) However, I experienced no beneficial results either. In fact, even though I cooked the rice in bone broth with added fat, I still experienced a blood sugar crash followed by sugar cravings, which is typical for a pure-glucose food, and something I haven’t experienced in the 2 years I’ve been paleo. For this reason, It’s not a food I would choose to eat regularly, but convenience foods are hard to come by on an autoimmune diet, and I’ll take any I’m allowed, even if just occasionally. I just need to eat it with a full meal to moderate the blood sugar effect. It also gives me another option on the restaurant menu those few times I eat out. Update 7/25/15: I wrote a detailed article on white rice including all the pros and cons and the best way to maximize its nutrition: What’s Up With White Rice?
  • Complex Starch – Sweet Potatoes: This is a favorite starch in the paleo community, and many people eat them daily. They have 17 grams of starch per cup, and only a tiny amount is resistant. Sadly, I had an immediate inflammatory response to these. I had full-body stiffness within 24 hours.
  • Resistant Starch (RS) – Green Plantains: While unmodified potato starch is the most common form of RS supplementation. I can’t have that due to my nightshade-intolerance. Green plantains are a good whole-foods source of resistant starch (and I’m a whole-foods girl any way). When I ate it the first time and waited 72 hours to monitor for a reaction, I did feel some mild changes, but not strong enough to be certain it was the plantain. So, I did my second test: eating it daily for a week in the form of dehydrated green plantain chips (to preserve the RS, which becomes more digestible during cooking). Results: insomnia, brain fog, painful bowel movements, and a slow ramping up in joint stiffness and inflammation that resulted in a flare by the end of the week. Interestingly, people who benefit from RS report better sleep, improved digestion and mental clarity. RS has the exact opposite effect on my body.
  • Resistant Starch #2 – Sprouted Lentils: This is another Stage 4 Reintroduction in the Paleo Approach, and a good whole-foods source of resistant starch. Typically, legumes aren’t recommended on a paleo diet, but recently, there’s a softer stance being taken – essentially that they might be beneficial occasionally, if well tolerated. I decided to give them a try. The result was fast and furious: within a few hours of eating just 1 cup, I got extreme fatigue, bodywide stiffness, and felt a cloud of depression descend that I couldn’t shake (for the record, I have no history of depression. The gut-brain connection is fascinating.)
  • No-Starch: Since I had a strong inflammatory response to both complex and resistant starch, I wondered if eliminating starch altogether might be the key to eliminating my remaining inflammation. (My RA symptoms have improved 95% through a combination of GAPS and AIP, but I still have a tiny bit of inflammation remaining). I again made sure that I didn’t go too low-carb while doing this experiment. I continued to eat fruit and non-starchy vegetables, alongside plenty of healthy fats, meat and seafood. However, my body responded with symptoms typically attributed to going too low-carb: intense fatigue until I eventually became intermittently dizzy and almost fainted. Simultaneously, my inflammation actually increased. Reintroducing the GAPS low-starch veggies eliminated these symptoms within a day. Apparently, my body does need some starch.
  • Starch Summary: It turns out that I’m lucky I entered the paleo world through the GAPS doorway, because through my n=1 experiments, I confirmed that I do best on a low-starch diet.
  • P.S. One more experiment – Bifidobacteria Supplement: The inspiration for my starch self-experiment was my microbiome analysis, which suggested I had starved beneficial bacteria alongside pathogenic bacteria through my low-starch diet. When it comes to beneficial bacteria, bifidobacteria is one that is associated with a lot of health claims, and the two strongest ways to increase its population in your body are (1) eating fermented dairy (which I can’t do because I’m dairy-intolerant) and (2) eating resistant starch (which I can’t do because I’m starch intolerant.) So, the next logical step was to try a bifidobacteria supplement. I researched online and found one that was dairy-free and contained 5 strains of bifidobacteria. Results: insomnia, moodiness and increased inflammation. My body responded as if I had eaten an intolerant food. I find this fascinating, because all along, I assumed starch fed pathogens in my gut, which caused the increased inflammation. And while that may be partially true, I also appear to have an inflammatory response to this supposedly beneficial bacteria, and that may be the reason I’m starch and dairy intolerant – because it increases the number of bifidobacteria in my body. Have you ever heard of molecular mimicry? It’s an important facet of autoimmune disease, where one molecule closely resembles another, and the body can’t tell them apart. For example, maybe a virus looks like the lining of my joints, and my body attacks my joints, thinking it’s a virus. The way my body responds to bifidobacteria shows me it sees it as harmful and mounts an inflammatory defense when its numbers increase in my body. In autoimmune disease, our immune system is easily confused. Which is why healing is a journey, and n=1 (self-experimentation) is so important. It doesn’t matter what works for someone else. What matters is finding what works for you.

Random Control Group – Other People’s Starch Experiments

I’m a big believer in n=1, not n=everyone. What do I mean? Just because I don’t do well with starch doesn’t mean everyone should avoid it. So, I interviewed some of my peers to see if they had ever tested their starch tolerance. The results varied widely:

  • Charles Comey has ankylosing spondylitis and found a no-starch diet was a key to his remission. His pain returns even if he eats a very low-starch vegetable, like carrots. Unlike me, he doesn’t have fatigue with this diet.
  • Katy Haldiman has seronegative inflammatory arthritis and Crohn’s disease. She came to paleo through GAPS, like I did, and combined it with AIP. It took her a year of healing to successfully reintroduce sweet potatoes (after a few failed attempts that brought on digestive distress). She’s now attempting to reintroduce white potatoes, but since they are nightshades, it’s trickier. If she eats them in large quantities, or too many days in a row, she gets digestive distress and increased joint inflammation. However, if she eats them in small amounts, just occasionally, she does fine. She also tolerates them better when they’re peeled. She hasn’t reintroduced any other starches at this time.
  • Amber Husten has Crohn’s disease and lupus. She came to paleo through the SCD doorway (a low-starch diet very similar to GAPS). Since that time, she has done her own self-experiments regarding starch tolerance, and this is what she found: (1) White rice: pain/bloating/discomfort/diarrhea within an hour of eating. (2) Sweet potatoes: tolerates well and eats multiple times a week. (3) Green plantains: can eat in very small quantities (maximum 5 chips); any more than that leads to severe digestive distress. (4) Sprouted lentils: tried them twice, once successfully and once not. (5) White potatoes: tolerates them occasionally, but generally avoids them due to her concern over nightshades.
  • Angie Alt has celiac, endometriosis, an autoimmune skin condition, and a history of SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth). Here are the results of her starch experiments: (1) White rice: can tolerate occasionally in small amounts only. (2) Sweet potatoes: tolerates well and eats regularly. (3) Green plantains: cause painful bloating and abdominal distension. (3) White potatoes: tolerates peeled, cooked fresh potatoes well. Refrigerating them and reheating them (which increases their resistant starch content) causes intense joint pain. (4) She has no plans to reintroduce legumes.
  • Mickey Trescott has celiac and Hashimoto’s. Here are the results of her starch experiments: (1) White rice: tolerates well occasionally. (2) Sweet potatoes and green plantains: after being treated for gut pathogens, she tolerates them both very well. (3) White potatoes: tolerates them well in both their fresh cooked (simple starch) and cooled (resistant starch) forms. (4) Legumes: these are the only starch she doesn’t tolerate; when she eats them she gets instant pain and IBS (irritable bowel symptoms).
  • My husband has no autoimmune disease at all. When I tested my microbiome, I tested his as well, out of curiosity about our differences. Interestingly, his was the one that showed a large amount of pathogenic bacteria. He tolerates starch well in all forms, and found resistant starch (in the form of unmodified potato starch) to help his chronic constipation. He now supplements with RS daily. His hope is that over time, it might also help correct his gut dysbiosis by increasing his beneficial bacteria and driving out the pathogens. However, he hasn’t noticed any other benefits associated with RS supplementation: no improvements in sleep, mental clarity, energy levels or satiety. Nor has it affected his other health symptoms one way or the other (rosacea and acid reflux). Update 2015: My husband stopped RS supplementation after 6 months. He found the benefits were short-lived and his overall digestive problems seems to worsen.

Should You Experiment With Starch?

  • As you can see above, starch tolerance varies widely from person to person. If you came to a healing diet through the GAPS or SCD gateway, and never tested this hypothesis on yourself, it’s worth seeing if you really do need to avoid starches. Autoimmune diets are naturally restrictive, but we should all eat as diverse a diet as possible, for the greatest nutritional benefit.
  • If you have been following the paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP) for at least 3 months and are still experiencing autoimmune flares or digestive distress, this is one experiment you can try. This article includes a chart of the vegetables you can eat, and the ones you should avoid, for 30 days. Then slowly, reintroduce one starch at a time, and see how your body responds. Follow the same reintroduction process recommended in this AIP article.

This post is linked to the following blog carnivals:
Natural Living Monday, Fat Tuesday, Allergy Free Wednesday, Wellness Wednesday, Paleo Rodeo,

The Great Starch Experiment | Phoenix Helix
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95 thoughts on “The Great Starch Experiment

  1. Pingback: The Great Starch Experiment | Paleo Digest

  2. My room-mate and I are in the middle of our starch try-outs. My main health issues are pulmonary sarcoidosis (diagnosis over 35 years ago) and chronic fatigue syndrome. After 3 years of paleo-type low carb, then strict AIP/Paleo Approach for 5 months, I am generally feeling much better after adding more nutrient dense starches and resistant starches to my diet, more in line with Paul Jaminet’s recommendations. I am also taking a ‘soil’ probiotic with lots of species and it seems to be helping. My lifelong chronic severe constipation has FINALLY changed. I had been sensitive to all nightshades, and hadn’t eat a white potato in years, but now am not having issues at all (happy surprise)! No sweet potato issues either. Haven’t tried the rice yet, that’ll be next week.

    My roomie’s biggest health issues are rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and parathyroid tumors. After years of low carb, then very low paleo carb (in efforts to keep her glucose in good control), her glucose readings are better with higher carbs (a very big surprise), she’s in less pain and her severe depression has lifted. (She never had nightshade intolerances.)

    We both still have a long way to go to health, but this is an interesting experiment hey!?! I’m grateful to all you Paleo AIP bloggers for your support, the education, and your personal experiences, thank you.

    • Hi. You are the first person doing Paleo for CFS that I have come across. I have had ME for 25 years (bed bound now) but this year added a Coeliac diagnosis to dairy intolerance, and a tomato allergy to a long-time pepper allergy and so discovered Paleo. I am struggling to discern improvement separately from the ME symptoms and today had a bad ME day – is it connected to pushing my carbohydrate down to 60g/day this week? How have you measured improvement due to Paleo changes, please? 🙂 Jt

  3. I continueto be amazed by the individuality of both the disease and the diet! I have lately been on a fried yellow plantain kick, which I considered to be my semi permissible guilty pleasure under the AIP/Paleo Approach, but am I doing more harm than good? You didn’t mention yellow plantains as a form of starch and I don’t understand the transformative properties of ripe/unripe whole foods.

    • The main thing I’d like you take from this article is that we are all individuals when it comes to starch tolerance. If you are eating plantains with no negative effects, continue to enjoy them. They’re delicious!

      To answer the second part of your question – ripe, cooked plantains are a complex digestible starch (similar to sweet potatoes). Unripe green plantains are largely resistant starch.

  4. I’ve been doing the the diet for SIBO and at the same time did the ALCAT tests. Now that I am reintroducing some foods back into my diet I am starting to get some of the SIBO symptoms back. I have a difficult time with many starches (especially anything with fructans) and I am casein intolerant. You have given me some ideas about testing out some of these starches. I will have to try the plantains (I have a mild intolerance to bananas so I don’t know what to expect) and I can handle rice (more so in protein form). I have had breast cancer and hypothyroidism due to goiter removal (non-Hashimotos). Thank you for sharing your results!

    • Thanks for sharing your results, too! One thing that’s helpful to know about SIBO healing is that often starch tolerance improves with time. For example, in another 6 months, you might tolerate them better.

  5. Oh my gosh! I just feel so overwhelmed by this whole adding food back in, I guess Im just not as in tune with my body as other people are. My ND just expects me to know how my body feels after adding foods and right now I can only tell by anxiety, but when you commented on depression and brain fog that makes sense to me. It makes me rethink what I have added and that I should try this again. Its been over three months and I still have a lot of pain in my arms, which I just spent last week I thought recovering from my massage? but now have I truly understood what my body can eat? Do I need to re start until pain free? This is such a hard road and I love to be able to find people who explain. I wish we could hook up with a person as like a buddy system and run things by them. I guess I just don’t trust myself.

    • Hi Sue, I relate so much to your comment about not being in touch with your body. I just can never seem to get a handle on how my body is reacting to different foods or elimination of certain foods. It amazes me that people can detect noticeable differences in mere days! I just keep plugging along! The fact that I’m in remission (generally a wonderful thing) doesn’t help much with this stuff because I can’t measure against any symptoms. I haven’t committed to doing the hard work of an elimination diet yet for this reason, but I imagine as I get more into this stuff (I’m a newbie), I’ll probably realize that I have to. I probably wouldn’t be the best partner for you. We probably both need buddies who are in touch, but I wanted to let you know that you’re not alone. I’d also love to hear from others who are following these eating protocols even though they are not experiencing symptoms on a daily or regular basis.

      • Thank you Susan!! I do feel alone because I have no idea what I am doing and Im trying so hard and keep second guessing myself. This is a horrible disease stealing all the joy from our lives. Thanks!!!

      • Susan, I wouldn’t recommend an elimination diet like the autoimmune protocol for you. They’re for people still experiencing symptoms, who are looking for the cause of those symptoms. Since you’re feeling good, that’s a troubleshooting step you don’t need. I know you’re planning to buy Terry Wahls’ book, and and it’s full of great information on how her program promotes continual health. She offers different levels of healing diet, and level 1 or 2 would be very beneficial for you, with no need to take it further at this time.

    • Hi Sue. It gets easier with practice. When I first started reintroducing foods, the reactions had to be stronger before I noticed. Now, I’ve been doing this long enough that I pick up on subtler signs. I can’t remember if you bought my reintroduction guide? If not, I recommend it, because it’s like I’m holding your hand through the reintroduction process, guiding the way. I also think your buddy system is a great idea. Here are two places to find such a buddy (or a whole group of them!) (1) The Paleo Approach Community on Facebook or (2) The Paleo Mom Community Website (NOT connected to Facebook.)

      • Yes I have your book and as I was again re reading , I did notice one thing I had not seen was the time frame for re-introduction. If my body isn’t ready for the process I should stay where I am? I did take out the rice and added sweet potatoe as we talked about earlier. So Its ok for me to just stay here and not hurry the introductions if there is still pain and swelling? I think that’s what I am reading. And I do believe my body is not ready for massage 🙁
        I think you should write a book LOL because it would be specifically about RA 🙂 you are a God send!

        • There’s absolutely no rush. Wait until you are ready. Some people reintroduce after the minimum 30 days, but I have friends who waited 6 months to a year before doing their reintroductions.

          • I would like to do your bone broth and your chicken soup but we are now into the 100+ and everything makes me hot 🙂 Bad timing for me. anyway they would be good for my stomach? I do eat a lot of things cold this time of year haha! Also I haven’t added any of the onion, garlic or celery or carrot back into my diet ? Would these be “safe foods”?

          • Soups and bone broth are excellent for healing the gut, and I have them year-round. As for your other question about onion/garlic/celery/carrot, those foods are always allowed on the autoimmune protocol. If you’re doing a more restrictive elimination diet with your doctor, you’ll need to ask them about reintroductions. My advice is to avoid staying too restricted for too long, though, or your body won’t get the nutrition it needs to heal. Reversing autoimmune disease isn’t just about the foods we avoid, it’s also about giving our cells the nutrition they need to rebuild.

  6. Thanks so much for this article! As I was reading it I realized that in the winter I would feel better on days that I ate starchy veggies and that I have quit eating them here as the spring warmed up. I have been feeling the last couple of weeks that my healing has stalled a bit, and this could be why! It also makes me want to try soaked lentils. Thanks for all the work you do on this blog!

  7. Thanks for a really helpful post on this controversial subject. You summarized the major points of view really well. I also appreciated the n=1 examples with specific health problems. I think=1 is profoundly useful since everyone reacts differently. This post is great evidence that the latest “great thing” needs to be analyzed by each person to determine whether it’s really great or not. Thanks for this thoughtful, well-written piece.

  8. Thank you so much, Eileen. I came to this article through your newsletter today, which was very serendipitous. I was just thinking today that I might need more carbs in my diet. I have intense chocolate cravings, and when contemplating what my body might be needing, I realized carbs could be the answer. I have IgA nephropathy and vitaligo. I have been Paleo for 1.5 years, and AIP since January. I am good at getting a balance of protein, fats, and greens, but I do not always mix other veggies in, especially the starchy variety. I resonate with those of you who say this path is challenging. There just seem to be so many factors. It is hard to stay on top of it all. Best of luck to us all!

    • Chocolate craving can be a magnesium cravin. Most of us are deficient, to varying degrees, in this important major mineral. If it were me, I’d try a little magnesium supplementation before giving in to the craving for chocolate. I’m off chocolate entirely now but let me be clear, I am a lover of dark chocolate and cocoa!

      • I’ve been on magnesium supplements for many years—capsule and liquid. I also take epsom salt baths every night. I adjust my supplement intake mostly based on my stool, so I believe I am getting enough magnesium. I feel like I eat chocolate for the energy and mood lift. That is why I thought it might be a carb deficit.

  9. I have been suffering with very bad rheumatoid for three years . I also have Hep c so I am limited to very few drugs for ra because of the liver. I am taking 12-15 mg prednisone a day and hydrocodone and ibproffin for pain. Living in humid Florida it is pain 24/7 hard to tell flairs from regular constant pain, except for when a weather front is approaching and then I really can tell.
    About 5 weeks ago I read about resistant starch in free the animal and started researching resistant starch and the microbiome. I have been doing an elimination diet since January 2013 when I heard of green smoothies. I ate only green smoothies made with milk kefir for six months and greatly reduced the flairs but it got verging boring and I started sliding by eating crackers for snacks but didn’t notice to much increase because I was living in California for awhile with lower humidity. Moving back to Florida the pain starts again even with the smoothies so I became discouraged and started eating potatoes and even sandwiches. I have been a vegetarian for 38 years.
    Back to free the animal and resistant starch. While reading about the microbiome I came across an article about antibiotics in cow manure and one of the antibiotics was one of the medications to treat my RA. For the past year of trying to get a healthy gut and microbes I had been taking an antibiotic. I originally checked out the drug too see how it played with hep c and some studies said it my reduce chirrosis in the liver so I stopped looking .
    I stopped the antibiotic the Dr prescribed for me five weeks ago, and started tasking hi maize corn starch, three soil based probiotics, I believe it is called great northern hydroslate gelatin. About ten days into this the difference in my pain level is incredible.
    Very little morning stiffness and throughout the day not too much pain. I am now going to very slowly start reducing the prednisone and see how I feel .
    I still cheat with popcorn for a snack and my other foods are smoothies and fish and sweet potatoes and plantains. I should have twenty two pounds of shredded coconut on Tuesday when the post office opens to start making my kefir with so I can drop the dairy.
    I want to thank you Eileen for your blog and your personal story about your trials with RA. Reading about your success has reinspired me to eliminate what I do not need in my diet. Sometimes in the fog of all the pain off RA you lose track of where you want to be.

  10. Have you looked into histamine intolerance? People with HI have problems with most probiotics. There’s also a connection between histamine and SIBO I believe.

    • Hi PC. I’m not histamine intolerant. I thrive on fermented foods and bone broth (super high in histamine) and have none of the symptoms associated with HI. If anyone else is curious about histamine intolerance, here’s a good article.

  11. Great job compiling these reports. I really like where the ‘RS movement’ has gone. All I ever wanted from the very start was to highlight that RS was proven to modulate the gut biome, the implications of that have been staggering in real life for people with different levels of gut dysbiosis.

    Also, don’t underestimate the value of RS found in foods…it’s easy to get 20-30g per day from potatoes, rice, beans, and greenish bananas.

    I’d like to see future experiments revolve around increasing RS from food sources. I have been trying to get 30-60g per day from food alone for the past 45 days, no raw starches, and have noticed no difference than when I was supplementing with raw potato starch. I’ll be sending in samples to three different gut-biome testing labs shortly just to see the differences in reports from the exact same sample (UBiome, AmGut, and Genova Labs).

    Here are a few tips: 1 cup of Uncle Ben’s Coverted (parboiled) rice contains about 20-30g of RS if you cook it, freeze it, then reheat quickly in a hot pan with a bit of oil.

    1/2 pound of potato ( a big potato) contains zero RS when eaten just-cooked and hot. Allow it to chill in fridge over night and reheat before eating, and it has 10-15g RS.

    1 cup of beans (pinto, black , etc.) cooked, frozen, and reheated has 20-30g RS.

    A large banana, with green tips and some yellow, has 20-30g RS. When all yellow, 5-10g. With black spots–zero RS.

    Also, as this is basically a gutbug issue, don’t forget the synergy with probiotics! If people have tried probiotics in the past with no real results, try them again while eating foods high in RS. Try different types and brands, look for Lactobacillus Plantarum in particular, it has a very special relationship with RS and will break up hard to penetrate biofilms in the small intestine according to many studies.

    Thanks for the great follow up! Hope to hear more.

    • Thank you for your work with RS Tartertot. Your information I have read inspired me to go the RS and in only a few weeks the pain level for my RA was very noticeable reduced. While researching the RS and reading how it helps produce butrate, whose big function is healing the mucus layer that in a healthy person is impenetrable but when damaged will cause leaky gut it all made perfect sense.
      I also use the three type off soil based probiotics that are mentioned in Free The Animal but I am partial to AOR Probiotic 3 which has Clostridium butyricum which is a microbe that produces butrate. I honestly feel that RS feeding healthy microbes is the key to healing. One day in the not to distant future a person will go to a microbiologist instead of a Dr. for many illness. There is a noted Dr. In New York City who is into the microbiome who published a paper in November of 2013 linking rheumatoid arthritis to one variety of microbe. Also there is some thought that rheumatoid arthritis is a new world disease because before 1490’s there is not much evidence of RA in skeletons in Europe.

      • It’s exciting that you’re having such positive results. I just want to caution others reading this thread that it isn’t universally true. RS causes my RA to flare. But this is where self-experimentation comes into play (which is what my whole article is about). For each of us to discover what works for our unique healing. Wishing all of us optimal health!

  12. Thanks so much for your wonderful blog, Eileen. You do so much research and experimentation. I find your blogs so interesting and informative! Thanks for doing the RS experiments. I’ve read about it too but aren’t game to try, thinking adding SCD illegal starches won’t help my gut bacteria and Crohn’s Disease. I can’t have dairy either, but have found a way to make coconut milk yogurt and sour cream. There’s recipes on my blog if you are interested.
    Thanks again 🙂

      • Thanks Eileen. It’s great to read what you say about N=1. I tried to convince myself that I could tolerate caffeine even though my body was telling me otherwise. So many studies say that it’s good for you (e.g. prevents Parkinson’s etc) but my N=1 experience finally persuaded me I am better off without it (it gives me bad muscle tension) and so I have finally committed to leaving it behind. Amazing how hard it can be to listen to your own body. Thanks so much for your helpful blog.

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  15. Hi Eileen,

    This article is fantastic!! You offered such important information, some I have never considered. I’m going to reread and take down some notes…several things to consider with my ongoing flare! Thank you for including my starch introductions. Enjoyed reading about others too. I’m featuring this post on AWF this week. Excellent!


  16. You, mi-lady, are a rock star! Thank you for this informative article. AIP, and autoimmune disease in general, can be difficult to navigate, especially if you’re not used to categorizing “healthy” food as a possible trigger. Thanks for getting this word out there to our community.
    So helpful and so well done. Of course. I would expect nothing less from you. 😉

  17. Wow I loved this post!!!!!! I have been wondering about a lot of these things….I think that I don’t do very well with green plantains, and sweet potatoes seem OK, but I am not as in tune with my body as of yet to know exactly how the different starches are effecting me. I will definitely be starting my own starch experiment….and I look forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

    • It’s a fascinating experiment, and I hope it provides one of the keys to your healing, Mikaela. P.S. I’m following your blog as well!

  18. I have been noticing that when I try three to four tablespoons of the high maize resistant starch I get a not sick but a just a quesy full kind of feeling I do not care for.
    There is a lot of mention of residual fullness with resistant starch, maybe that is what I am feeling but I am going to go back to two tablespoons a day for now.

  19. I started with paleo-diet four weeks ago und simply noticed that I start feeling really week when I only rely on veggies, eggs, nuts and meat. So I decided to add a few starches to my daily routine, like rice and white potatoes. I simply cannot eat that much fat, because my liver without gallbladder still has to learn to handle it, but with a little starch at every meal I feel satisfied. Luckily I only have a little neurodermitis and hayfever. Since many people stand sweet potatoes very well, I should give them a try, I think.

    • Stacy at Paleo Parents is without a gallbladder and feels exactly the same way. She says she digests her meals better with starch than without. Feel free to try out a wide variety of starches. They all have different micronutrients, and the more diverse your diet, the better your nutrition. In addition to the sweet potatoes, try plantains and also winter squashes (butternut, acorn, kabocha, spaghetti, etc.)

  20. Years ago I met Elaine (promoter of SCD, Dr. Haas was the inventor) and she was very particular about avoiding the Bifido family of microbes. That is why she exclusively recommended Lactobacilicus Acidopholis. I realize she was trying to be a purist and was focusing (at that time) primarily on IBS and colitis (Yes, before autism, imagine!) But she said Dr. Haas insisted the Bifido strains were opportunistic and would crowd out other strains and should never be supplemented. He went on to warn that using FOS as a prebiotic would create over populations of Bifido strains. I know research has moved on, but it is interesting to look back at the pioneers.

    • Hi Dan. I took the powder and started with the tiniest dose possible. Just because I reacted negatively, though, doesn’t mean others will have the same reaction. I clearly don’t do well with bifidobacteria in general.

  21. The primary strain in GutPro is Lactobacillus plantarum and is a very powerful strain. Some people start with a “pin-point” of powder and build up from there.

    I just wanted you to understand that you likely experienced die-off due to L. Plantarum and that you may or may not have a problem with bifidobacteria.

    We recently launched GutPro Infant which removes L. Plantarum completely and has Bifidobacterium infantis as the primary strain. It is really the product that you had initially sought out. The majority of the product is bifidobacteria. This is geared toward the most sensitive individuals, young and old.

    I would be happy to replace your GutPro Powder with GutPro Infant at no charge, if you are interested.

    • Hi Dan. Correct me if I’m wrong, but sauerkraut is dominated by L. Plantarum, right? I eat that daily and have never had a negative reaction. It’s home-fermented for 30 days, with extremely high counts of beneficial bacteria. That’s one of the reasons I suspect bifido. to be the problem. My body rejects all foods that contain bifido or feed it in the body (dairy and starch), whereas it embraces the lactobacillus foods.

  22. Eileen, indeed L. Plantarum can be found in fermented veggies like sauerkraut (hence the name “plant”arum). However, from my personal experience, I never experienced “die-off” from traditionally prepared sauerkraut. It wasn’t until I tried sauerkraut that was made with Body Ecology’s culture starter (which contains L. Plantarum) that I experienced a reaction. It was so profound, that I ended up becoming a Certified Body Ecologist (trained with Donna Gates). And then I ended up formulating GutPro, which features Plantarum.

    So, while I cannot speculate on your unique situation, I do feel pretty strongly that the Plantarum in GutPro was too much/too strong for you to handle, and it really wasn’t the bifidobacteria in GutPro. (that’s not to say you do not have a problem with bifidobacteria, I really don’t know). The smallest spoon on the GutPro measuring set is really not small enough. That’s why we offer capsules. It’s a lot easier to consume a small dose via the capsules. The smallest spoon size is roughly the equivalent of about 3 capsules.

    • Well, it would simply be stubbornness on my part if I didn’t take you up on your offer of the GutPro Infant formula. That’s the only way to really know, right? So thank you for your generosity and taking the time to comment on this thread. I’ll email you my mailing address.

  23. Thank you so much for all you are doing, Eileen! Every time I visit your website, I find something that resonates with me deeply. By sharing all that you have learned along the way, you enable the rest of us to heal ourselves all that much faster! Keep being a blessing~

  24. Hi Eileen,
    This is very speculative, but RA is usually a Th1-dominant disease. Certain probiotic strains, including bifidos, increase the Th1 response, while others (such as S. Thermophilus) are known to induce Th2 response. Perhaps your experience with resistant starches and bifido supplementation represent upregulation of Th1, thereby increasing your inflammation? It would be interesting if you tried S. Thermophilus and you found a benefit. Or, for that matter, tried clostridium butyricum miyairi 588 (have to buy it from Japan, though), which is a known Treg booster (probably beneficial for most autoimmune sufferers).


  25. Well I just added back in Plantains looking for a nice chip like food and within 24 hours severe pain in my arms 🙁
    So very sad because I so miss the crunchy foods !!!

    • I’m so sorry – it’s always sad when a food reintroduction fails. Don’t give up crunchy though. Believe it or not, I ate some dehydrated apples that were crunchy last week. The key was dehyrdrating them an extra long time. And there’s always kale chips!

  26. Tx for your advice.I am 51 and was mis diagnoses for yrs.I have RA that has gotten worse.For several yrs I eliminated 1 food group at a time,tried Paleo and gluten free.I lost wt( I don’t need to).I felt hungry and weak.My Dr.,she takes me seriously, said it is not for everybody.I will refer your book and website to others.You know what you are talking about.I started on methyl trexate in April and Enbrel 2 weeks ago.Not happy,but some diet changes help or hurt me,not overall help.I am 51,live alone with my 2 old dogs.I had to do something.I will follow your blog.I am also going to try some of your great receipes.


    • When you switch to a new diet, it’s easy to lose weight accidentally, because you don’t often trade calories for calories. Instead, you just give up foods without replacing enough of the ones you can eat. I actually counted calories when I switched, to be sure I was eating enough (I made the goal 2000 calories daily and had to work to meet it). While I lost weight at first, it was all inflammation (which can weigh a lot), and over the next few months, I slowly regained the weight, but it was healthy weight instead. So that’s something to consider. As for the medications, they definitely have their place. Many people find the combination of diet and medication is what works best for them. The important thing is to feel better. Gentle hugs to you, Diane.

  27. Eileen, Thanks for a great article and such in-depth research (including on yourself)! I, too, am experimenting with adding in some carbs after 2.5 yrs on SCD. Thanks for the pointers to point me in any direction; it’s so easy to feel lost!

  28. This is such a great article Eileen. I’m 6 months into AIP but my ulcerative colitis symptoms never went away. I don’t have the typical intestinal pain (thankfully) either which is odd because my stool and urine tests came back showing I have SIBO. I’ve started to reintroduce foods anyways because I’m actually pretty concerned about long term restrictions and I’m also having a lot of trouble keeping in this headspace when I don’t see any real improvement. Your reintroduction book and this article are so helpful. Thanks

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  30. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Eileen! Your journal is so informative, validating, and valuable for my own self-evaluation. The mirroring of symptoms, and responses to the same foods, is amazing. Fact: For some folks, starches trigger inflammation and chronic symptoms. Thank you for being so thorough, and for the time you spent journaling for the benefit of others. God bless, Rena

    • You’re welcome, Rena! These kinds of self-experiments are so helpful for personalizing our healing diets. It looks like you and are starch sisters, in terms of tolerance.

  31. Dear Eileen,

    I am SO glad I found this post; I hope you can give me your thoughts on a resistant starch / probiotic /AI issue I have.

    I had been doing a mostly GAPS diet for 1 1/2 years. I do include 24 hour yogurt. This winter, I researched pre and probiotics and started experimenting by adding back in starches. I had no problems with adding in more starchy vegetables. However, after I had ramped up to 2 Tbs of raw potato starch I began to notice mild joint pain (not an issue for me usually). I also experimented with different probiotics (single-strain bifido bifidum yogurt and/or single-strain bifido infantis yogurt. Infantis is reputed to help with tryptophan production in the gut.)

    I also began making plantain chips and eating green bananas and adding things like jicama, jerusulum artichoke, chia seeds and cooked/cooled potatoes.

    At some point after starting these things, I developed a severe and large swelling of my dominant hand middle finger (where the finger meets the hand). I immediately stopped the raw potato starch. I have gone back to the SCD bacteria for my yogurt and stopped taking any probiotic pills. I stopped cooked/cooled potatoes.

    I still do eat fermented foods; something I did well with on GAPS: sauerkraut, kombucha, water kefir…

    The swelling remains and it is large. I am a classically- trained musician and I am deeply worried that this is permanent. BTW, I am in my late 50s.

    I am fairly sure the potato starch was bad for me. But now I wonder if the bifidos contributed.
    Did I start an auto-immune cascade with these pre and probiotics?

    BTW, my auto-immune issue is cognitive/mood issues and joint pain/ swelling / arthritis was not an issue.

    What do I do next?
    Is this swelling permanent or will it respond to lowered inflammation in my body through diet?
    Did I inflict an auto-immune thing (arthritis) on myself by jumping on the pre / probiotic bandwagon?
    What can I do to reduce this swelling?

    Thanks so much for your blog! I could find no better source on the Internet to help me with AI issues while also trying to improve my biome.

    It is most frustrating to me that most conversations on Paleo / pre & probiotic blogs don’t understand AI and assume anyone can eat things like raw potato starch with no difficulty.

    Thank goodness you are posting about this for those of us with AI who want to “hack” our guts.

    • Hi Laura. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I’m not qualified to judge whether it’s permanent (hopefully not!) I recommend making an online appointment with Anne Angelone from The Paleo Mom Consulting. She’s a functional medicine practitioner and will hopefully have some solid advice.

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  33. I was dxd with RA but had horrible SI Joint pain, so I joined a support group online for people with AS. Some of the folks at were on a NSD, no starch diet, they tested their food with iodine and if it turned black they did not eat it. If it stayed brown then it was ok to eat. This was the first diet that helped my joint pain. I have had RF ablation on my si joints twice, so I needed some relief. The NSD helped me but I could not eat certain food like dairy, nightshades, beef in addition to the starch. I was glad to find other people like myself that are starting to heal using diet modifications. AIP is what works for me too, I was doing it before I had ever heard of the word AIP. I like your blog, it is informative and helpful. Take care!!

  34. Hi Eileen, I tried today jerusalem artichokes and I liked them a lot. They taste like potatoes but have no starch. They also contain inulin. And I don’t believe they belong to nightshades. Have you ever tried them? Also I thought you may find this article about allergies and self experimenting (N=1) interesting. As one of the commenters above says, anytime I visit here I learn something new and useful (this time I read your Kombu tea and want to try).

    • Thanks for the tip Ahmet. I didn’t know those were starch-free. I love trying new foods, and I do well with inulin fiber, so I’ll add them to my list.

  35. I see that you wrote this in May of 2014. I’m wondering if since then you have seen the published study that was done on cooking and cooling rice to make it a resistant starch and tried again. The researchers cooked rice with coconut oil equivalent to 3% of the weight of the rice and the regular amount of water and let it cool for at least 12 hours, I think. The process also lowered the carbs, and maybe calories, by around 50% if I remember correctly.

  36. You have it backwards. Dr. Grace Liu is not a huge fan of resistant potato starch. She says it fuels “bottom feeders” and can crowd out more beneficial bacteria. She favors Inulin, Acacia, Psyllium and Arabinogalactan.

    • Hi Tuba. At the time this article was written, Grace was aligned with Tim and Richard and pro-potato starch. You are right that she has since changed her recommendations. Anyone who wants to follow Grace can do so through her new website: That said, people with autoimmune disease often have trouble with the resistant starches Grace recommends also. It’s an area where people need to tread slowly and carefully.

  37. This is all very interesting to me! I am HLA-B27 positive and have been suffering from joint pain (left ankle, right knee and left and right shoulders) on and off for 3 years, but have only had two major flares. I also have cystic acne, hormonal imbalance, mild hair loss and a general feeling of tiredness and bleh. My anti-thyroid antibodies are way off the charts (350 and 182 instead of 5 and 4 respectively), but my thyroid TSH is still within normal range. So I’m coming to the realisation that I have non-specific autoimmune disease associated with HLA-B27. I have no doctor assisting me as I have been unable to locate a functional practitioner in Spain, but I do have a good acupuncturist who is good to talk to.
    I recently completed 30 days of a leaky gut protocol, I felt much better. I then introduced some gluten free grains and potatoes and, voilà, I have all sorts of problems again. I will now look into GAPS and Paleo AIP.
    I am particularly interested in the effect the different probiotic strains have on me. I started to take Primal Defense probiotics 3 weeks in to the Leaky Gut protocol, but stopped when the flare ups returned alongside the introduction of other grains and starches. I stopped because something instinctive told me that the probiotics may be part of the problem too.
    Research has shown that people with HLA-B27 do not do well with Klebsiella due to mimicry, and Klebsiella in turn comes from dietary starch.

    Here is a link for anyone else reading this who may have the HLA-B27 antigen.

    And I totally agree with n=1 experimentation. It can be a long, confusing and difficult process but I’m confident I will win this battle and reverse my symptoms.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your story, Frances. Probiotics are interesting, because they are immune system stimulants. Sometimes they help balance an autoimmune body the right way; other times they exacerbate autoimmune systems. You were wise to listen to your intuition. Wishing you success on your healing journey!

  38. Wow, thank you Eileen. I spend so much of my mental life thinking about all of this. I did the Gaps diet back in 2011/2012. I had contracted a virus in 2009 and couldn’t get rid of the IBS. I also had terrible stomach pains. In retrospect, the Gaps diet worked well, but I wasn’t able to proceed on with many of the fruits and developed a sensitivity to acidic foods. To this day, foods like apricots, berries, even avocados cause IBS symptoms. Acidic foods and pepper seem to produce the stomach pain. I’m experimenting with starch, also. My main symptom these days is edema. If I stay off the above mentioned foods, my GI troubles are OK. I have a hunch that starch is involved with the edema. I have a glucose monitor and would like to compare the glucose results between say fruit and starch. I’ll eventually post this on my own blog. Although this is the topic that drove me to the internet in the first place, I kind of got sidetracked. I’m so glad I found your website from Chris Kresser’s site. The starch issue and how it intersects with gut health and blood sugar has been kind of an obsession of mine. I’m sure that I’ll be eventually referring my followers to your posts. I appreciate your approach in that it’s not simplistic.

    • Hi Laura. Thanks so much for sharing your story. With all of your research, you’re probably familiar with SIBO – Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth. Your symptoms of IBS instigated by a virus, along with an intolerance to starch and FODMAPs (avocado, apricots, blackberries) are classic SIBO symptoms. I did a podcast you might find interesting: Episode 29: SIBO with Dr. Melanie Keller. Wishing you well on your health journey!

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