I’m not a big fan of starchy foods. I think the evidence is pretty clear that the healthiest diets minimize carbs and starches.
But there is one starchy food whose anti-cancer benefits are looking so impressive, I’m convinced it could be an exception to my distrust.
The food that’s got me adjusting my point of view: the purple potato.
I know, the name sounds like the punchline to a joke. However, the cancer-fighting power of the purple potato is nothing to laugh at. Keep reading to get the facts. . .
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A study at the Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute1 shows that natural substances found in purple potatoes can kill the stem cells that grow into colon cancer cells. These are the same stem cells that are implicated in spreading cancer around the body.
As I’ve pointed out before, the persistence of cancer stem cells is often the reason that even after surgeons cut out every bit of cancer they can see, and oncologists then bombard the patient with chemotherapy, the cancer can bounce back months or years later.
“You might want to compare cancer stem cells to roots of the weeds,” says researcher Jairam K.P. Vanamala, who teaches food science at Penn State. “You may cut the weed, but as long as the roots are still there, the weeds will keep growing back and, likewise, if the cancer stem cells are still present, the cancer can still grow and spread.”
Baked Potato Power
An interesting aspect of the Penn State studies: The researchers looked at the properties of baked purple potatoes. They didn’t just take material from raw potatoes and test them in the lab to see how cancer cells reacted. They wanted to see if eating baked potatoes – and baked is one of the most popular ways to eat potatoes — could help the body fight cancer.
And they found that a baked purple potato is a pretty awesome tool for dealing with cancer.
In their lab tests, the Penn State scientists quickly established that extracts of baked purple potato hold back the spread of colon cancer stem cells and facilitates their destruction. Then, when they fed the baked potatoes to animals who had colon cancer, they found that it worked at reining in their tumors, too.
The natural substances in the potatoes that the researchers think are particularly potent in fighting cancer include chlorogenic acids, resistant starch and anthocyanins.
A Different Kind of Starch
Resistant starch is a peculiar type of nutrient.2 Unlike normal starch, which your digestive system quickly breaks down into sugars that can be absorbed, resistant start is indigestible.
But the helpful, probiotic bacteria in your intestines ferment resistant starch and make what are called short-chain fatty acids out of it, in particular a fatty acid called butyric acid.
“The butyric acid regulates immune function in the gut, suppresses chronic inflammation and may also help to cause cancer cells to self-destruct,” says Vanamala.
Along with helping these bacteria produce health-promoting acids, the resistant starch speeds the elimination of wastes from the colon. That can be helpful, because the longer potentially toxic waste products stay in the intestines, the more likely they are to warp the function of the cells lining the digestive tract. Plus, this type of starch decreases the pH of the bowel, making it more acidic, which some researchers also believe helps cellular well-being in this part of the body.3
Hot and Cold
A unique characteristic of resistant starch is the fact that it can come and go in various foods. For instance, raw regular potatoes as well as purple potatoes all possess a portion of resistant starch, but it can be destroyed by cooking.
But not irrevocably destroyed. If you cool the potatoes off, the resistant starch reforms. Consequently, if you consume potatoes – both white potatoes and purple – in a cold dish like potato salad, you are taking in resistant starch (albeit, there’s a good deal more in the purple potatoes).
According to researcher Janine Higgins who has studied this type of starch at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, “Resistant starch is found in peas, beans and other legumes, green bananas, and also in cooked and cooled starchy products like sushi rice and pasta salad. You have to consume it at room temperate or below — as soon as you heat it, the resistant starch is gone. But consumed correctly, it appears to kill pre-cancerous cells in the bowel.”
Higgins’ lab tests show that resistant starch reduces the size and number of colorectal cancer lesions while stimulating cells to produce more of a protein called IL-10 which limits intestinal inflammation that can make cancer spread faster.4
Higgins thinks this type of starch can help protect you from other cancers, as well.
“Resistant starch may also have implications for the prevention of breast cancer,” she says. “For example, if you let (lab animals) get obese, get them to lose the weight, and then feed half of (them) a diet high in resistant starch – these (animals) don’t gain back the weight as fast as rats fed a regular, digestible starch diet. This effect on obesity may help to reduce breast cancer risk as well as having implications for the treatment of colorectal cancer.”
The chlorogenic acid found in purple potatoes belongs to a class of compounds called phenols that are produced in many different forms by fruits and vegetables. A great deal of research has shown that chlorogenic acid can fight tumors, although no one is precisely sure how it works in the body.
Studies in China point to chlorogenic acid’s influence on the immune system as the source of its anti-cancer benefits. Lab tests at Sichuan University indicate that it stimulates T cells, natural killer cells and macrophages to go after cancer cells and destroy them.5
But the benefits of chlorogenic acid may go beyond that. Yongjie Ma, a researcher at the University of Georgia who has studied how cholorgenic acid can offset the inflammatory damage caused by obesity, points out that this phenol is a “powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation.”
Anthocyanins’ Anti-Cancer Potency
The pigments that give purple potatoes their unusual color belong to a class of natural substances called anthocyanins. They have been shown to protect DNA from oxidative damage and slow the growth of tumors (although much of this research has been done on the anthocyanins in berries and other fruits).6
For instance, the anthocyanins in tart cherries have been found to restrict the spread of colon cancer cells.7 And studies show that anthocyanins can help reinforce the strength of cell membranes so that cancerous cells encounter increased difficulty when they try to invade healthy organs.8
All of these compounds, as well as others that may yet be discovered, make purple potatoes a power to be reckoned with when it comes to cancer. Probably the best way to eat them is in a potato salad, since resistant starch is most prevalent in foods that are refrigerated or at room temperature.
Slip some berries and other colorful fruits and vegetables into your potato salad, and you can consume a dish that can give you a much better chance of giving cancer the slip.
Even considering the possible health benefits of purple potatoes, I’m reluctant to add more starch to my diet. If you’re like me, you may want to consider other ways to get the valuable purple potato nutrients. Our sister company, Green Valley Natural Solutions, offers a capsule form of the richest source of anthocyanins yet discovered: aronia berries.
And how about chlorogenic acid? It’s in green coffee bean extract, a popular weight loss supplement.
As for resistant starch, we covered this thoroughly in chapter 23 of our book Defeat High Blood Sugar Naturally, because it’s a highly effective way to do exactly that. You can buy a powdered product online called Hi-Maize Resistant Starch (www.Hi-maize.com). Add it to smoothies or shakes, or stir it into yogurt or oatmeal. It’s even non-GMO. You can also put it in baked products like muffins, but obviously that doesn’t avoid starch.
I can’t be sure these workarounds will have exactly the same effect as purple potatoes did in this research study, but I suspect they will.
Our last issue talked about a treatment I would insist on if I had cancer myself. If you missed it, you can read it now, just below.