Carbohydrates on the Paleo diet

The Paleo diet is not necessarily a low-carb diet, but it does contain fewer carbohydrates compared to the standard American diet.

Your carb intake should be adjusted
according to your physical activity level
and personal weight goals.

The current dietary guidelines, whether they are presented as a food pyramid, a plate or rainbow, recommend that over half of your calories come from carbohydrates, grains, dairy, fruits, starchy vegetables and even sugar.

Yes, carbohydrates can be used as a source of energy by every cell in your body, but it is NOT the best source of energy. Actually, the glucose derived from the digestion of sugar and starches may provide a quick, BUT NON-LASTING source of energy.

On the other hand, fats provide a more sustained and lasting source of energy. The Paleo diet is lower in carbs and higher in fat compared to the standard American diet.

 A high carbohydrate intake can:

  • destabilize your blood sugar levels;
  • increase your insulin levels;
  • make you gain weight;
  • make you hungry;
  • make your energy levels fluctuate;
  • increase your triglycerides;
  • lower your HDL cholesterol;
  • raise your blood pressure;
  • make your LDL cholesterol small and dense
    (= more atherogenic = stick more to your arteries);
  • worsen gut/GI issues (IBS, fructose malabsorption, SIBO, inflammatory bowel diseases…);
  • contribute to hormonal problems (i.e. PCOS and infertility);
  • lead to acne and other skin problems;
  • contribute to myopia;
  • encourage male pattern balding (alopecia);
  • promote cancer growth; and
  • make you age faster. (1-4)
Carbohydrates digestion and metabolism 101

When you eat carbohydrates, whether it is in the form of starches or sugars, your body break them down into glucose and fructose which then enter your bloodstream to be used as energy. Your body doesn't distinguish between carbohydrates from refined sugar and whole grains. Previously called simple and complex carbohydrates, sugars and starches are digested and metabolized the same way and end up in the form of glucose in your blood.

Sugar cannot stay in your blood for too long because it is very damaging to your body. To get this sugar out of your blood, your pancreas produces insulin, which has the role of helping your cells open their doors to let glucose enter.

Because most people have a fairly sedentary job or are not very physically active, your cells only burn a small amount to get the energy they need. Some of the leftovers can be stored in limited amount in the form of glycogen (in your muscles and liver), but most of the carbohydrates you eat will end up stored as triglycerides, or fat, in your fat cells around your waist, hips, thighs, arms and in your cheeks!

The Paleo diet is lower in carbs,
but not necessarily low-carb

The Paleo diet is not necessarily low in carbs, but it is lower in carbs compared to the standard American diet (SAD) because it excludes grains, flours and sugars. For example, most Americans can eat over 300 g of carbs a day from pasta, rice, bread, French fries, chips, crackers, breakfast cereals, oatmeal, cookies, cakes and other baked goods… On the other hand, the Paleo diet usually provides less than 150 g of carbs a day.

Learn more with the Paleo dietitian:
Determine your personal carb target on the Paleo diet
Learn more about ketosis on the Paleo diet
Read about how your brain can function with a lower carb intake.

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References:(1) Cordain L, et al. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005; 81: 341-54.(2) Cordain L, et al. Hyperinsulinemic Diseases of Civilization: More Than Just Syndrome X. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A. 2003; 136: 95–112.(3) Nutrition & Metabolism Society. Top Ten Low Carb Myths. Nutriton & Metabolism Society website.(4) Hite AH, et al. Low-Carbohydrate Diet Review: Shifting the Paradigm. Nutr Clin Pract. 2011; 26: 300-308.(5) Phinney SD and Volek JS. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living: An Expert Guide to Making the Life-Saving Benefits of Carbohydrate Restriction Sustainable and Enjoyable. 2011.(6) Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). The National Academies Press. 2005: 275.(7) Taubes G. Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health. 2008.(8) Sokoloff L. Metabolism of Ketone Bodies by the Brain. Annu Rev Med. 1973; 24: 271-80.(9) Veech RL. The Therapeutic Implications of Ketone Bodies: The Effects of Ketone Bodies in Pathological Conditions: Ketosis, Ketogenic Diet, Redox States, Insulin Resistance, and Mitochondrial Metabolism. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids. 2004; 70: 309–319.(10) Veech RL, et al. Ketone Bodies, Potential Therapeutic Uses. IUBMB Life. 2001; 51: 241–247.

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