Carbs are one of the most difficult macronutrients to understand on the Paleo Diet. This article is designed to help you learn which are OK, and which should be avoided if you are following this diet.
What is a Carbohydrate?
Carbohydrates are simply sugar molecules that are broken down by the body in the form of glucose, or energy. They can come from vegetables, fruits, or grains. There are two types of carbs, and all carbohydrate foods fall within these major categories: complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates.
- Simple carbohydrates are basically a simple version of a sugar molecule, with only one or two parts. Table sugar is an example.
- Complex carbohydrates have a structure of three or more parts, and take more energy and time to be broken down into glucose.
What is a Paleo-Friendly Carb?
Paleo carbs are carbohydrates that are not processed, and do not contain gluten. This means that you’ll want to stay away from simple carbohydrates. Common simple carbs include baked goods, cereal grains, and baked sweets like cookies or brownies. Simple carbohydrates contain lots of processed ingredients and sugar – which some have said to be highly toxic (see this New York Times article or this recent 60 minutes segment with Dr. Sanjay Gupta for more information).
From a Paleolithic perspective, Paleo-friendly carbs come from the following sources:
Are Grains Paleo?
If you are strictly following the Paleo Diet, then grains are not permitted. No exceptions.
While some loosely-affiliated advocates are more lenient and allow gluten-free grains like rice, oats, buckwheat, and others to be eaten – the truth is: all grains are to be avoided on Paleo diet.
Paleo-Friendly Carbs #1: Vegetables
Vegetables come in two main types: non-starchy vegetables, and starchy vegetables. When I think of starchy vegetables, things like squashes and yams immediately come to mind. Non-starchy vegetables include everything else (things like dark leafy greens).
All vegetable sourced carbs are considered paleo, as they contain no processing and are naturally gluten-free. There are two different types of vegetables you should know about:
- Starchy vegetables – contain an abundance of carbohydrates
- Non-starchy vegetables – have very few carbs
Potato Classification and Sensitivity
Potatoes are not strictly considered paleo.
In addition, not everyone can tolerate white potatoes, and few cannot tolerate white rice. If you have trouble tolerating either (you will need to experiment with this), please remove them from this list and try for an alternative.
Paleo-Friendly Carbs #2: Fruits
Fruits contain carbohydrates as well as a fruit sugar called fructose. If you are someone who has struggled with gout, it is a good idea to limit your fructose intake. Please check out this list of the fruits that are high in fructose. While there are some fantastic benefits to consuming fruits (think antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals), some might contend that it could be bad for you. To learn more, I read an excellent article over at Harvard.edu and would recommend you read it: Is fructose bad for you? In general, be careful if you have a problem with fructose or you are currently having issues losing weight.
Which Paleo Carbs are the Best?
In order to determine which paleo carbs are the best for you, let’s go over some factors: adherance to paleo standards, type of carb, and nutritional value.
1. Adherance to Paleo Standards
For the most part, any fruit or vegetable is a paleo-friendly carb. As long as you avoid grains and are staying within these two food groups, you are doing great.
2. Type of Carb
Complex carbohydrates are going to be your best option here, as they are unprocessed, meaning they don’t contain artificial ingredients or sweeteners, and they inherently contain more nutrients. Simple carbs tend to have less nutritional value and have a tendency to spike insulin levels in the blood (events which we’d like to keep to a minimum, unless we are doing a carb backload).
3. Nutritional Value
If we are focus on the fruit and vegetable groups for our daily carbohydrate intake, and further concentrate on complex and natural carbs, then we’re already well on our way to a high nutritional value intake. But let’s take this to another level. Yes, I’ve done my research already for my healthiest foods book – which took me 4 years by the way – and I’d like to share my list of the healthiest paleo-friendly carbs.
List of the Healthiest Paleo-Friendly Carbs
These carbs contain the most nutrients per serving, are 100% paleo-friendly, and do not consider carbohydrate content.
- Sweet Potato
- Butternut Squash
- Seaweed (Spirulina)
- Mustard Greens
- Collard Greens
- Swiss Chard
The Highest Carb, Paleo-Friendly Food List
Generally, these foods are considered to be “starchy carbs,” because they are densely packed with carbohydrates. Also they are 100% paleo.
Tip for effectively using the chart below: if you’d like to focus on vegetables over fruits or nuts and seeds, use the search box to filter down the list. These are the most carbohydrate-packed, paleo-friendly foods. Period. The chart will provide food name, food group, serving size, carbohydrate amount, and Foodalytics Daily Intake percentage (which you can read more about in my book).
|Food||Food Group||Serving Size||Carbohydrate Amount (g)||% FDI|
|Raisins||Fruit||1 cup, packed (165g)||129.48||57.55%|
|Breadnut Tree Seeds||Nuts and Seeds||1 cup (160g)||127.02||56.45%|
|Chestnuts||Nuts and Seeds||1 cup (155g)||126.22||56.10%|
|Pears (dried)||Fruit||1 cup, halves (180g)||125.46||55.76%|
|Prunes||Fruit||1 cup, pitted (174g)||111.15||49.40%|
|Dates||Fruit||1 cup, chopped (147g)||110.29||49.02%|
|Currants (dried)||Fruit||1 cup (144g)||106.68||47.41%|
|Mammy-Apple||Fruit||1 fruit without refuse (846g)||105.75||47.00%|
|Peaches (dried)||Fruit||1 cup, halves (160g)||98.13||43.61%|
|Figs (dried)||Fruit||1 cup (149g)||95.17||42.30%|
|Apricots (dried)||Fruit||1 cup, halves (130g)||81.43||36.19%|
|Cassava||Vegetables||1 cup (206g)||78.4||34.84%|
|Tamarinds||Fruit||1 cup, pulp (120g)||75||33.33%|
|Radishes (dried)||Vegetables||1 cup (116g)||73.51||32.67%|
|Durian||Fruit||1 cup, chopped or diced (243g)||65.83||29.26%|
|Poi||Vegetables||1 cup (240g)||65.35||29.04%|
|Plantains (cooked)||Fruit||1 cup, mashed (200g)||62.3||27.69%|
|Breadfruit||Fruit||1 cup (220g)||59.66||26.52%|
|Sugar-apples||Fruit||1 cup, pulp (250g)||59.1||26.27%|
|Sweet Potato||Vegetables||1 cup, mashed (328g)||58.12||25.83%|
|Green Plantains (fried)||Fruit||1 cup (118g)||58.02||25.79%|
|Red Kidney Beans (canned)||Legumes||1 can drained solids (266g)||57.16||25.40%|
|Adzuki Beans||Legumes||1 cup (230g)||56.97||25.32%|
There you have it. For all of you Paleo Dieters, make it rain with the carbs above. Take some cassava or sweet potatoes and make some fries – or bring a bag of radishes to work. Whatever you do, stick to this list – also making sure to mix it up by trying something new every once in a while!
Have fun and as always, please share and let me know your thoughts!