How To Cook A Paleo Thanksgiving | The Paleo Diet®
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How to Cook a Paleo Thanksgiving

By The Paleo Diet Team
February 27, 2014
How to Cook a Paleo Thanksgiving image

Dr. Loren Cordain: I'm Loren Cordain Founder of the Paleo Movement.

Shelley Schlender: I'm Shelly Schlender. This is Paleo Diet Podcast for November, 2013. Coming up, what does Loren Cordain have for Thanksgiving. We'll find out about his low glycemic, low gluten, low saponin Thanksgiving and all the delicious thanks he's eating. Loren Cordain, what are you going to have for Thanksgiving?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Wow, I haven't talked to my wife about that, but we're probably going to have Turkey with all the dressings, and our children are all going to come on.

Shelley Schlender: Well what about all the dressings, are you going to have Paleo dressings that you used? Or are you going to use bread stuffing?

Dr. Loren Cordain: We're pretty much committed, and have always being committed to the notion of Paleo Diets, and I think Thanksgiving is a very easy meal to do Paleo. Lorrie ordered up an organic turkey, and even if you can't get an organic, Turkey would be better. That's still works, because they're very high in protein and low in fat, and in terms of the stuffing we do a wild rice stuffing that's been traditional in our family.

Wild rice has a very low glycemic index. You can chop in a bunch of celery, and onions, and garlic, and grain and a little bit of black pepper and you got a really delicious dressing for the turkey. Then beyond that, we have cranberries that Lorrie cooks up, we have sweet potatoes. It's basically a Thanksgiving dinner with just a few minor considerations to ensure that everything is low glycemic, low load salt.


Shelley Schlender: Can I come over for dinner?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Shelly, you've been with us forever, and you're such a friend. Thank you, and you're absolutely welcome.

Shelley Schlender: Can all of your listeners come over for dinner?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yes, they can. We certainly don't have a large enough venue for everybody that wants to do this. The concept certainly is open to everybody.

Shelley Schlender: That's a good point that what you're describing here is not a difficult Thanksgiving dinner to make, it stirs clear some of the traditional food that are really more problematic if somebody has any leek it got, or grain intolerance's and it's delicious.

Dr. Loren Cordain: You know what, you pretty much nail it here Shelly. Clearly there are parts of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner that we really need to avoid, and those parts are white bread, mash potatoes, peas, those are probably the biggest issue that we see in traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

Keep those out of your diet.

Shelley Schlender: Now how about the fact that you're having wild rice stuffing. Is wild rice a grain?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Wild rice actually is, the deal with wild rice it has a very low glycemic load. Some people could potentially be allergic to it. I'm not getting at a complete, all right, it's okay. But because of its low glycemic load, because we are at this point unaware of any adverse effects that may have upon to immune system. Wild rice at least at this point seems to be okay.

Shelley Schlender: You know what it sounds like, it's not a food that you eat, day in and day out, like people tend to eat wheat. Your body is less likely to have an adverse reaction to it anyway, because it's not a frequent food for you.


Dr. Loren Cordain: That's a good point it's that foods that we eat on a daily basis, that seems to cause adverse, auto immune and allergic reactions are foods that we eat daily. Something like wild rice and food that's consumed irregularly. My point is that, in the scientific literature we know that wild rice maintains low glycemic loads, it doesn't have adverse effect on glucose, and insulin metabolism and we have no information that adversely affects the immune system.

Who eats wild rice, except at Thanksgiving or Christmas. The point is, is if that a food that you may want to use for the holidays. There really is no evidence to suggest that it is, has adverse health effects.

Shelley Schlender: It's so delicious, it's got that wonderful nutty flavor and it's that dark rich ebony color. It really adds to any meal that it's part of.

Dr. Loren Cordain: We're on board with this, its nonagricultural food, it's a food that hunter gatherers in the northeastern part of the United States ate seasonally. That's cool, the big deal is, the main meal, and the main meal is we eat turkey. If you can get turkey, if you can get a turkey that's been organically grown, or produced via non grain feed lot, produced procedures.

Shelley Schlender: Now how about those sweet potatoes. First of all you don't recommend mashed white potatoes, because they're totally different food family from sweet potatoes. You think of white potatoes is one that can cause irritation to people's bodies, in many cases. Sweet potatoes are less likely to do that.


Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah, that's our working hypothesis. What we believe is that, regular white potatoes. We know that they have high glycemic loads, high glycemic and disease. They're not good in terms of the way they affect our blood sugar and our blood insulin levels. If we look at sweet potatoes, and we examine their physiologic characteristics.

They tend not to increase blood sugar nearly to the level that regular potatoes do. They also do not contain high levels of compounds called saponins. Saponins tend to increase intestinal permeability. Sweet potatoes and yams, don't have this nutritional characteristics that increase intestinal permeability.

They tend to be moderate to low in terms of their glycemic load. That's why we indicate that they're okay on contemporary Paleo Diets.

Shelley Schlender: When it comes to the white potatoes, you mention saponins as an irritant that can be hard on people's digestions, and hard on their guts.

Dr. Loren Cordain: I think when people look at potatoes, they're such a major part of the US diet, we find them in French fries, we find them in bake potatoes, we find them in mashed potatoes. They're everywhere. People really don't ever even give them a second thought, that potatoes might have, potential adverse effect on human health and well-being.

Yet the scientific literature shows otherwise, what it tells us is that potatoes contain at least two compounds, alkaloid, we talk about saponins, but they're alkaloid. There is a compound in potatoes, called alpha-solanine, and a second compound called alpha alpha-chaconine.


These alkaloids are able to penetrate the gut barrier meaning that they can increase intestinal permeability. These compounds are known to be toxic in all mammals not just humans, but in cows, and sheep whatever. If you feed green potatoes to cows, it potentially can kill them, and so the agricultural industry is completely aware of this.

The United States Department of Agriculture tightly controls the amount of these alkaloids that can be put into potatoes. There are certain cultivars or varieties of potatoes, that are required to have a low level of alpha-solanine, and alpha-chaconine. The government is very much interested in keeping these levels low.

Shelley Schlender: Now Loren Cordain, you did mention that a raw potato that has high saponin levels can kill a cow, if the cow eats too many of them. Does cooking white potato get rid of the saponins when you make mashed potatoes or baked potatoes?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Actually not, the saponins and the alpha-chaconine and alpha-solanine that are the toxic compounds in potatoes, are not reduced by cooking. They're actually increased. If we look at potato skin which is a popular side dish, bars and you know what have you in restaurants. The most concentrated source of these compounds are found in potatoes skin.

When you cook them, you dry them up, and so you're in essence are concentrating alpha-chaconine and alpha-solanine. A number of scientific studies have shown, that the potential to cause health problems in potato skins is huge.


Potatoes skins are something that you don't want to eat. I realized that most of us don't eat potato skins for Thanksgiving and we eat mash potatoes.

Shelley Schlender: Yes, and so if somebody doesn't have health problems, perhaps it's not so much of an issue. If someone has achy joints or they have a lot of sniffles or they catch cold frequently, then there goes the white potatoes, and put in the sweet potatoes. When they put in the sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, do you guys in your house put on marshmallows?

Dr. Loren Cordain: The recommendation is kind of like a triage. Let's help people that are in the worst shape, then let's go and see who's in the worst shape. When we look at food in our diet, it's like potatoes are a potential hazard for causing health effects. Are they the major hazard, no we have multiple hazards.

Potatoes tend to promote intestinal permeability which increases inflammation, and inflammation underlies cardiovascular disease, cancer and autoimmunity. If people have as risk for those three diseases which most of us do. Then potatoes really are not good idea to consume except very occasionally.

Shelley Schlender: That's the white potatoes. I'm still wondering about your sweet potatoes, for Thanksgiving do you put marshmallows on them?

Dr. Loren Cordain: You know what, it's like, if you want to have a few marshmallows or a glass of wine, with dinner or champagne with your Thanksgiving dinner, do it, it's not going to matter. Don't put marshmallows, or drink champagne every night.

Shelley Schlender: You go everything in moderation and some nights are for celebrating. For your Thanksgiving, are you going to have any pie?


Dr. Loren Cordain: It's like I'm not really into sweets, and I haven't been for decades. On a personal level, pie is not an issue with me. Just like I said with the champagne, or the marshmallows on top of your sweet potatoes. If that something that you want to do on a celebratory dinner it's like, it really won't affect it. Don't eat the entire pot of marshmallows.

I don't have a problem with that. People with autoimmune disease need to be very, very careful. I can tell you this from my colleagues, Alessio Fasano, MD and others around the world. You can't just have a little bit of wheat or gluten. If you've got celiac disease, you can't have any of it.

I think that people with autoimmune disease is need to be very, very careful about the foods that they are including in their diet. The foods like potatoes that have high concentration of saponins that adversely affect intestinal permeability should be avoided.

Shelley Schlender: You and Alessio Fasano recently were stars of a summit about gluten foods and what the latest research is about.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah, we were we both participated in a very popular online venue that discussed the issues about gluten free diets. Alessio approaches it from an experimental basis, from his evidence at the University of Maryland that is Celiac Center, our group approaches it from an evolutionary basis on how and when humans would have ever consumed grains, that contain gluten. That's how we dovetail is that his randomized control trials, in clinical work dovetail nicely with the evolutionary basis that we set forth over the last 20 years.


Shelley Schlender: Your guess is that if gluten cause people some problems. There could be people out there were just eating a small amount of foods, that contains saponins, whether they're potatoes or quinoa.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Well Shelley that's a very good point, and I think that's the point that our listeners need to understand, what Alessio's group has identified is that increased intestinal permeability is an environmental trigger for autoimmunity. That information now seems to be unassailable. We in a scientific literature have mention that perhaps a decade before Alessio's group did.

We had suggested that way back in 2000, in the British Journal of Nutrition is that increase intestinal permeability was a major factor in autoimmunity. His group by about 2005, said the same thing. We're basically on the same page. They worked primarily in gluten, gluten containing grains, wheat, rye, and barley.

We have actually extend that to a variety of foods, that are commonly consumed in the Western diet. Although, the experimental evidence is not at as conclusive as it is in wheat, rye, and barley. We now know that saponin containing foods also increase intestinal permeability. Going back to the potato issue.

Potatoes contain two glycoalkaloids that increase intestinal permeability, alpha-solanine, and alpha-chaconine. We also know raw green tomatoes contain a compound called alpha-tomatine that also increases intestinal permeability.


Shelley Schlender: Tomatoes are another high saponine food?

Dr. Loren Cordain: In their green state.

Shelley Schlender: When they're red, the saponine content is lower?

Dr. Loren Cordain: That's right. As tomato ripe and we see a normal red ripe tomato. It tends to contain very low concentration of saponine. Green tomatoes, tiny little yellow tomatoes and the red tomatoes that we buy, and put in salads, all have high concentrations and alpha-tomatine, which increases intestinal permeability.

Forsano's group hasn't got into this yet. Other scientist and other labs around the world have, there's a compound called capsaicin that's found in chili peppers in other words that hot spicy peppers that also increases intestinal permeability. People that have autoimmune diseases need to be very wary of any food that increases intestinal permeability.

Obviously gluten containing grains, potatoes, tomatoes that are unripe, spicy peppers. If you have an autoimmune disease. The first thing you need to do, is to get intestinal permeability under control one of the major ways to do that is to remove those nontraditional foods out of from our diet.

Shelley Schlender: Well, Loren I gather from what you're saying that you're not going to have a green tomato salad with your Thanksgiving meal. How bad are you going to have some kind of vegetables or greens?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Hey, Shelly, that's a really good question. No one in our family has this up to build autoimmune disease, nor allergy. It's really not an issue as our most people. If we slice a few tomatoes into our salad, that's not going to be a problem.

Shelley Schlender: Especially if they're nice and red, and ripe.


Dr. Loren Cordain: Nice and red, and ripe that's exactly right. If we have a little bit of spicy peppers here and there, it probably will increase intestinal permeability. We don't eat hot spicy peppers every single day. If you do have somebody in your family that has autoimmune issues then that something you need to be aware of.

Shelley Schlender: Good luck with your Thanksgiving. You certainly have given many other people reasons to give thanks for better health, and so I hope the same for you all, over this holiday.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Hey, Shelley thank you so much, and I wish my readers and listeners the best. Go out and do what you normally do, and just don't eat those foods that are non Paleo.

That's all for this edition of The Paleo Diet Podcast. Visit my website for past episodes and for hot links, to the experts and studies that we talked about today.

Shelley Schlender: Our theme music is by Chapman Stick Soloist Bob Culbertson.

Dr. Loren Cordain: If you want to send me questions or comments, place to go is

Shelley Schlender: For The Paleo Diet Podcast. I'm Shelley Schlender.

Dr. Loren Cordain: And, I'm Loren Cordain.

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