Dear Mark: Potato Diet, Lean Gains, EVOO/Butter/Ghee, Exogenous Ketones, and Early IFing

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering several questions drawn from the comment board of last week’s post on fasting vs carb restriction. First, how do I square my recommendations with the successful reports of potato dieters losing weight on a high-carb tuber diet? Second, is Leangains optimal for mass gain? Third, how do I use extra virgin olive oil, butter, and ghee? Fourth, could exogenous ketones help a man with dementia, MS, and seizures? Fifth, how should a woman with stalled weight loss integrate fasting?

Let’s go:

Walter Sobchak asked:

If “carbs” are so bad, how do people eat only potatoes and lose large amounts of weight? Andrew Taylor ( and Penn Jillette (Penn & Teller) are two high-profile people, but there are lots more. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend an unbalanced diet of only one food, but the point is that potatoes are a natural food and are not inherently detrimental.

I agree that potato-only diets are a quick weight loss hack.

Potato-only diets work well because they’re so monotonous. When your only option is a plain potato, it’s extremely hard to overeat. It’s the combination of fat and carbohydrates that’s so easy to overeat, and that causes the most metabolic problems.

Potatoes are surprisingly nutrient-dense. They have complete protein, containing all the necessary amino acids. You won’t be bodybuilding on all-potatoes, but there’s enough protein in there to stave off muscle loss for a week or so.

Cooking and cooling your potatoes converts some of the glucose into resistant starch, which feeds your gut bacteria and cannot be digested by your body. This lowers the effective glucose load.

I could recommend the potato-only diet, ditch the keto/low-carb/Primal talk, and people who listened to me would still lose weight. But they’d miss out on all the other benefits, not least of which is the delicious food. In short, the potato-only diet isn’t the worst thing out there, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a long-term strategy.

Check out what I’ve written about potatoes in the past. You might be surprised.

Mattias Carlsson asked:

I have a question for advice if someone know. According to most sources I find the so called anabolic window persist at least 24 hours after resistance training. How can then an intermittent fasting with 8 hour eating as in lean gains, from what I understand, be optimal on training days. It seems to me that a bit of overeating on carbs and protein during all this time would be most beneficial?

I don’t know that it’s optimal for sheer mass gain. But it does seem to strike a nice balance between “gains” and “staying lean.” You may not bulk up as quickly as you would cramming food in your gullet. You will gain lean mass without gaining so much of the squishy mass that normally accompanies what passes for “gains.”

Michael Levin wondered:

Question: EVOO, Ghee and grass-fed butter–which to use when and for what?

EVOO: salads, marinades, sautéing. It’s actually far more resistant to heat than most people think; the polyphenols protect against oxidative damage.

Ghee: Indian cooking, Thai cooking, high heat searing.

Butter: Cooking eggs and other breakfast items, melted with broccoli/shrimp, finishing steaks and reduction sauces.

Beth Olson asked:

What are your thoughts on exogenous ketones? My dad has MS and dementia and seizures way too often. Should we try adding these?

I can’t give your dad any medical advice. You can talk to his doctors, however, and show them this study where exogenous ketones reduced seizure activity in mice. You can show them that coconut oil and MCT oil—two other routes for generation of ketones—have shown efficacy against cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

I suspect exogenous ketones can help. I also suspect they’d be far more helpful on top of a low-carb, high-fat diet with plenty of healthy lifestyle modifications.

That’s the thing with dementia: there isn’t a pill that fixes everything, or even a single intervention. In the one study that actually got major results, researchers had Alzheimer’s patients undertake a dramatic diet, exercise, and lifestyle shift. Here’s what each subject did:

  1. Eliminate all simple carbs and follow a low-glycemic, low-grain (especially refined grains) diet meant to reduce hyperinsulinemia.
  2. Observe a 12-hour eating window and 12-hour fast each day, including at least three hours before bed.
  3. Stress reduction (yoga, meditation, whatever works for the individual).
  4. Get 8 hours of sleep a night (with melatonin if required).
  5. Do 30-60 minutes of exercise 4-6 days per week.
  6. Get regular brain stimulation (exercises, games, crosswords).
  7. Supplement to optimize homocysteine, vitamin B12, CRP levels.
  8. Take vitamin D and vitamin K2.
  9. Improve gut health (prebiotics and probiotics).
  10. Eat antioxidant-rich foods and spices (blueberries, turmeric).
  11. Optimize hormone balance (thyroid panel, cortisol, pregnenolone, progesterone, estrogen, testosterone).
  12. Obtain adequate DHA to support synaptic health (fish oil, fish).
  13. Optimize mitochondrial function (CoQ10, zinc, selenium, other nutrients).
  14. Use medium chain triglycerides (coconut oilMCT oil). You could possibly use exogenous ketones here too.

Bring that study to your dad’s doctors and see what they have to say. If they aren’t blown away by the possibilities and open to give it a try, I’d be shocked. Hopefully your dad is game. I’d love to hear how it works.

Lisa Chupity asked:

I went Primal/Paleo back in March of 2012. I lost the 15 pounds I wanted to lose. In 2015, 7 pounds crept on, and for the life of me, I can’t lose ‘em! April of this year, I went Keto. I track my macros, and do my best to keep my carbs to 20 grams per day, tho I don’t beat myself up if I have 24. I haven’t lost an ounce! I’m going to have to do the IF thing, I’m sure. As it is, my breakfast is bone broth (1 1/2 cups) and a mug of Coffee with Brain Octane in it. Lunch is yer basic “Big Ass Salad”. Dinner is good, too, and within Keto guidelines. I try to keep my caloric intake to ~1600 calories/day.

To add to the mess, I have Multiple Sclerosis, so stuff like Cross Fit is outta the picture. I can manage some stationary cycling, and some Pilates, with lighter modifications. Any advice?

If you try IF, do the “early restricted feeding” rather than late. You’re already doing a kind of “fast” in the morning, just drinking broth and coffee with MCTs, and it doesn’t seem to be working.

Eat some fat and protein for breakfast with a few carbs. Eggs and bacon with a side of cantaloupe or berries. An omelet with spinach and onions and cheese. Steak and greens and half a banana. Emphase whole-food fat and protein. Have coffee and broth, too, if you like. This and lunch should be your biggest whack of calories.

Eat your Big Ass Salad for lunch. Drop dinner, or make it really light and no later than 5 or 6 PM.

Terry Wahls has a great Primal-friendly MS protocol. Check out her Ted talk and go from there if it interests you.

Good luck and keep us apprised of your results.

That’s it for today, folks. Take care, be well, thanks for reading and writing!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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12 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Potato Diet, Lean Gains, EVOO/Butter/Ghee, Exogenous Ketones, and Early IFing”

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  1. Although exogenous ketones might have value in managing episodes in some ailments, people contemplating them need to watch out for some additional factors beyond efficacy and safety.

    With ketone esters, watch your wallet.

    With ketone salts, mind the minerals. Some contain calcium (needlessly) and/or way too much potassium for routine use. Also make sure you know exactly how much BHB is in a portion. Some brand don’t really reveal that.

  2. Wow, great questions. Lisa’s caloric intake seems pretty low. I like the idea of starting the IF in the evening. I’m finding that some days I just naturally do that and feel pretty good. Hope it works for her!

  3. It supposedly is better to eat earlier; it causes less insulin response, for instance. See:

    It’s not easy for me personally to do, though. I don’t get home until 6-7pm, so I get dinner (assuming I’m eating at all that day) fairly late. The last couple of weeks, I’ve eaten dinner after 9pm, due to school events and the like.

    Today, for instance, I ate “blunch” (usually don’t eat breakfast) at about 12:30pm, but I won’t get home until after 6pm. So, if I want to eat dinner, the earliest I can finish is about 7pm.

    I’ve tried exogenous ketones, and they are the only thing that makes my mind very sharp and gives me energy. Then again, I’ve been low carb/keto (primarily keto) for about 4.5 years now, so maybe I’m just too used to ketones. I typically don’t have high ketones, though. Below 1.0 BHB, usually. In fact, I find it very difficult to maintain ketosis, as too many veggies or sauces will kick me out of ketosis. I have to be near zero carb/carnivore.

  4. Use ghee anywhere you would use butter. It’s incredible on all vegetables and meats. We have fresh sweet corn once a year and ghee on that is a revelation. Do yourself a favor and buy some Kerrygold to make your own, any other pre~made ghee will pale.

    1. I’m in Aus. Recently two ghees from India appeared in the oils section at the supermarket. Subsequently browsed the Indian section and on the bottom shelf, Maharajah’s Choice ghee…in fine print on the label, Made in New Zealand. Packed in Australia. Bought one!
      My mother had tinned ghee on the farm in the 50s. Guess she used it when the dripping was low

  5. Hi Mark,
    Every time you answered the questions asked by anyone is so simple and understandable too. I think the post completely clears all the doubts of people. I appreciate your post and habit to answer or clear the doubt’s of peoples. Thanks for sharing the article.

  6. You didn’t answer the question – if carbs are so bad…

    Eating just potatoes should have dire consequences if you believe in the insulin hypothesis and the ‘carbohydrate curve’. Perhaps there’s a flaw in the hypothesis.

  7. I don’t think NUSI failed. Here’s a spreadsheet with 70 low carb studies:

    Here’s a different take on one of the NUSI studies:

    Personally, I find (after wearing a continuous glucose monitor, CGM) that even small amounts of potatoes cause my blood sugar to skyrocket. Now, I’m primarily very low carb, which means I have a physiological amount of insulin resistance, and this will exacerbate this effect. But I don’t see why I would eat something that raises my blood sugar by a ton, when I can eat meat, which raises my blood sugar by–zero. I’ve done many tests with my CGM of high meat intake meals, some with very high protein, and experience little to no blood sugar rise. I ate one pound 80/20 ground meat and one can anchovies and had ZERO blood sugar rise — even I couldn’t tell when I ate. By contrast, ate some potatoes with breakfast and the blood sugar rise was shocking.

    Since I have carbohydrate (in)tolerance issues, why would I eat something that gives me those issues?

    If you want to eat potatoes, do it. Just don’t let the fact that you can do it mean that everyone else can do it, too.

  8. For Lisa, I would suggest also making sure she actually has MS! We were dealing with my mom’s for almost 25 years only to find out it’s pernicious anemia (can’t digest B-12) while studying family history. MS is a diagnosis of “well, the symptoms fit” but there’s no blood test or specific confirmation. (Even if you’ve had some kind of a brain scan that revealed lesions, it doesn’t matter. Turns out B-12 deficiency can do it too.)

    A few years of heavy B-12 has changed all kinds of things for the better.

    I obviously know no details other than the question here but I’ve been trying to make the suggestion far and wide because treating the wrong condition for years is pretty terrible.

  9. The discussion about potatoes is an interesting point. In a similar way, people can lose weight on a carb heavy diet. In practice, there are many different ways to lose weight – but some are healthier than others.

  10. One of the best ways to lose weight is to detox . Once you detox your body , Then it is easier to lose weight through dieting and exercise. Drink plenty of water. Eat 6–7 small meals a day. I lost 10 pounds of fat in three weeks after I drank Red Tea everyday. Detoxing with Red Tea will energize you and flush all toxins in your system. Give it a try.