Carbohydrates are a hot topic these days be it the types you choose to eat or whether you are even consuming (or not consuming) them. When it comes to a Paleo lifestyle, the relatively low-carbohydrate nature of the Paleo diet provides a plethora of health benefits. With all the talk about Ketogenic and Low Carbohydrate, High Fat eating plans, one of the most common misconceptions about the Paleo diet is that it is a low carbohydrate plan.
When embarking on a Paleo lifestyle you forgo grains, legumes and other processed carbohydrates. The Paleo diet definitely promotes an approach which is lower in carbohydrates than the Standard American Diet but carbohydrate options abound. Beyond grains, there is a world of scrumptious starches out there for you to eat. These sources of paleo carbohydrates come from real food products and are packed full of nutrients, fiber and if you choose, starches. You might have heard of these before - vegetables!!!
The question of how many carbohydrates your Paleo diet should include for your optimal health is one that is greatly debated. The answer depends on many things including your gender, health status, stress level, activity level and your goals. Some find greater benefits from going very low-carb whilst others feel, look and perform better when including higher amounts of Paleo friendly carbohydrates in their eating plan.
Some low-carb advocates have claimed that most traditional hunter-gatherer societies consumed diets that were very low in carbohydrates. These claims are false. The majority of studies have shown that traditional hunter-gatherer societies typically consume between 30–40% of their total calories from carbohydrate, though the range can vary between 3–50% depending on the population studied and the latitude at which they live.
It is important to remember that carbohydrates are NOT the enemy and a low carbohydrate diet is not necessarily the best choice for everyone. While low carbohydrate plans are undeniably valuable for individuals suffering from diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and other neurological conditions, other individuals can truly benefit from 1-3 servings of nutrient dense starches per day. Athletes in particular need carbohydrates to properly fuel and recover from intense workouts.
The Paleo diet recommends you steer clear of refined, highly processed and sugar-laden carbohydrates sources like breads (including whole grain), cereals, pasta, fruit juices, and sodas. These sugars are instantly absorbed and will affect your blood sugar insulin levels swiftly and aggressively. However, all your carbohydrate needs can be easily achieved without the need for grains.
Paleo carbohydrates are none other than those consumed by your ancestors for millions of years: Vegetables. They have a minimal impact on blood sugar and are teeming with antioxidant, phytonutrients, minerals and fiber that nourish your body.
The best carbohydrate sources are local, organically grown vegetables. Choose your starchy and non-starchy vegetables in a variety of colors to cover the full spectrum of nutrients and add taste and variety to your diet.
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Paleo Starchy Vegetables
When looking to include some delicious Paleo starches into your plan, the options are endless. A few of our favorites are:
These are possibly the most popular staple source of Paleo carbohydrate and are available in few varieties including the standard sweet potato which is orange on the inside, the purple sweet potato, and the Hannah which is a white color. The orange type is rich in of beta-carotene which lends the sweet potato the bulk of its high nutrient complex. If you are avoiding white potatoes, sweets stand in for an easy substitution method.
Sweet potatoes are good sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber may reduce blood sugar spikes while insoluble fiber has been linked to better gut health. They also have a slightly lower glycemic index than white potatoes, which can be further reduced through boiling.
Sweet potatoes are versatile and delicious baked, stuffed, sliced or made into hash. They can even serve as a ‘bread’ substitute when sliced, toasted and topped. They make delicious and savory potato salads, are quite trendy when made into chips or fries (in Paleo friendly fat of course) and are a sure winner when roasted, grilled or sautéed.
Winter squash varieties include kobucha squash (Japanese pumpkin), spaghetti squash for noodle dishes, delicata squash and the popular butternut squash. Some are slightly sweet while others take on a nutty, more savory flavor. Each one is a delicious and nutritious source of Paleo carbohydrates, especially during the autumn and winter when they are in season.
All winter squash seeds are incredibly nutrient dense and can be cooked and eaten as a snack. The plant-based chemicals found in squash seeds (phytosterols) can help to reduce LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Pretty much every variety of winter squash can easily be cubed or sliced, tossed in some oil and spices, and roasted. They are easy, delicious and make preparing meals ahead of time simple. Winter squash also holds up well in the slow cooker and make easy and versatile smooth and creamy soups when blended with bone broth, herbs and spices, and whatever flavorings suit your fancy
Red beets are the most common (and messiest) variety, but golden beets or chiogga beets (candy cane beets) are also available. Beets are a little higher in sugar, but they are also nutrient dense and delicious. The greens and stems are also edible and offer just as much nutrition as the root itself.
Beets are high phytonutrients which provide the body with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and aid in natural detoxification. They are also rich in folate content which help the brain and the nervous system function optimally. Beet greens are also a source of calcium and magnesium.
Enjoy your beets raw in a slaw or roasted with coconut oil, some of your favorite seasonings or herbs and sea salt. When following an AIP protocol, beets can make a great pasta sauce reminiscent of tomato sauce. They lend similar properties such as their red color and natural sweetness.
Cassava or tapioca is a root that has become popular as one of the most versatile Paleo carbohydrates. Cassava flour is easily one of the best flour substitutes to bake with as it takes on the purpose of wheat flour very well. It is also quite nutrient dense, especially compared to nut flours and coconut flour.
Cassava has a high protein content for a starchy vegetable. In flour form, this starch is AIP-compliant. Many flour substitutes are made of nuts which can cause reactions. It is rich in minerals including zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.
When sliced thinly and fried in good Paleo fats, cassava makes great chips. The flour can also be used in making Paleo treats and works particularly well when looking to recreate foods typically made with wheat flour.
These tropical fruits are versatile and affordable source of Paleo carbohydrates. There are a few different varieties of plantains including black, yellow, and green which each serve slightly different purposes, and have slightly different starch profiles. Generally, the greener the peel, the starchier the fruit. Riper plantains – the spotty ones, are similar to bananas in that they have a higher fructose (sugar) content.
A medium plantain offers up more than half of your recommended daily dose of vitamin C. Plantains are also a good source of magnesium and contain a substantial amount of vitamin A and vitamin B6.
Fried smashed plantains, known as tostones, are a popular South American side dish or snack. Plantain chips are also the perfect on-the-go snack when fried in your favorite fats. They also work really well on the grill, making a delicious alternative to your regular starchy vegetable side dish.
Our weekly meal selection offers a variety of delicious vegetables to suit your tastes and carbohydrate needs.
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Enjoy Your Carbohydrates
There is no real secret to incorporating some starchy vegetables into your Paleo diet. The types you choose or how much you eat is entirely up to you, your needs and health goals. These foods are all 100% paleo-friendly and can make great additions as well as provide nutrients, fiber, energy and variety to your diet. Paleo is a personalized way of eating whole, real, nutrient dense foods and does not have to fall into the ‘low carb’ spectrum. Many individuals, especially athletes and women, do better with 1-3 servings of starch per day. Try adding some into your diet and see how they work for you.