Following up on my potato question, it seemed to me like many paleos out there eat quite a bit of starchy tubers and fruit. This leads me to another question: should low-carb be deemphasized as part of the paleo diet?
There seems to be quite a bit of evidence that the carbohydrate hypothesis is false: carbohydrates as such do not cause obesity, diebetes, etc. Rather the cause may lie with gluten grains and/or fructose consumed regularly in large quantities.
If this is true, it seems like we're unnecessarily associating paleo with low-carb in way that keeps lots of people from taking it up. People think they can't do it, or they try it, get the "carb flu" and give it up. And it seems like, based on the accounts of many folks here, that many people just function better with some starchy foods in their diet.
It's often said in paleo circles that low-carb is necessary for weight loss/restoring a healthy metabolism. I'm not saying this is wrong, but is the evidence for this actually that strong? What if you just cut junk, grains, legumes, and refined sugar? Has low-carb been compared to this scenario?
I don't mean to dismiss the experience of those who do well with VLC. I'm just suggesting that it should be made very clear that paleo is not necessarily low-carb. It seems like most folks around here accept this already, but many new to the diet still think they need to go low-carb to see the real benefits. And folks like Kurt Harris and Mark Sisson push this position (all due respect- and it's a lot- to those guys).
So should we sever our spiritual bonds with low-carbers, or am I missing something?
This is how I see it these days.
ZC/VLC, on the order of 0% (if 0 were possible) to 5-10% of calories from carbohydrate: Will leave most people with somewhat less energy because of the extra burden of converting protein for the body's glucose needs, etc. Usually more difficult to do serious strength training. But many people take to it like a duck to water. Many people take to it after a period of adjustment.
LC, on the order or 5-10% to 10-15% of calories from carbohydrate: Getting enough glucose to avoid the potential problems of the first category. But for many people (half? most?) going above this level makes it difficult to avoid the "up and down" feeling of rising and falling blood sugar, and makes it more difficult to fast. Some people might feel the chronically low energy at this level, and not just the next level down.
Paleo, but not necessarily LC, on the order of 10-15% of calories to 30-45% (?) of calories from carbohydrate: Many people do just fine at this level, as long as they're avoiding gluten, dairy, seed oils, and whatever else plagues them. I would guess that people who eat at this level eat more meals per day than at the next level down, but this probably doesn't bother them. Many people cannot lose weight at this level.
HC (high carb) on the order of 30-45% of calories to 90% of calories. At this level we either have i. good reason to believe that carbohydrate is being consumed at levels inappropriate for most bodies, or at least, more conservatively, ii. no good reason to believe that eating this much carbohydrate is in any way particularly beneficial. On both views, the only thing the Kitavans show is that if you have all the rest of your dietary affairs in order you can get away with eating a high percentage of your calories from carbohydrate. (In other words, it might also be the case that a culture eating low-carb without gluten, without high fructose, etc., but still eating lots of vegetable oil would be just as healthy.) On this see Kurt Harris.
Notes: i. The boundaries between the categories are intentionally vague, but particularly the boundary between the third and fourth. ii. Really we might do better thinking about percentage of carbohydrate consumed over an entire year and not over a single day, to account for seasonal variation and to account for the presumption that the real culprit is probably chronic hyperinsulinemia.
Conclusion: I don't think paleo is necessarily low carb (certainly not VLC), but I do think that paleo is necessarily not high carb. I think there is often confusion about this because people who say "paleo is not necessarily low carb" often mean by this: "paleo is not necessarily below 100g of carbohydrate a day" (or whatever the limit would be). And the members of the other camp who say "paleo is necessarily low carb" often mean by this: "paleo is necessarily below 60% of your calories from carbohydrate a day, which is what the idiot dietary 'authorities' have been telling us to eat." So the two sides are speaking past each other. But I in any event stick to the conclusion, for the time being, that paleo is necessarily not high carb, as I have defined the terms above.
I tell people my diet has no processed carbs or sugar. That means no bread, pasta, Capt'n Crunch, etc. All my carbs come in their original form from nature (well ok, domesticated nature anyway.) I don't keep track of numbers, but vegetation is a large part of my diet.
It depends on how damaged your metabolism is. If you are obese or metabolically deranged, controlling your blood glucose by minimizing all sugars including carbohydrates from your diet is a necessity until you heal. Diabetics who self-test for feedback regularly know this already, as do bodybuilders who mostly have an empirically developed consensus on limiting carbs when 'cutting' and adding them back (and then some) when 'bulking'.
I think the first priority should be optimizing for maximum micronutrients & minimum toxins through natural, whole foods. Once you've got that down, then you can focus priority on macronutrient ratios if necessary.
I can only speak for myself that the lower carb I go, the better.
I started by eliminating gluten. Then eliminated all grains. Then came to the realization that vegetables simply don't agree with me. I'll use onions here and there and the occasional piece of fruit. But vegetables and fruits just rub me the wrong way.
If it's "work" to eliminate them, then don't. For me, it's the opposite.
If your insulin production and useage are not working properly, then you can't handle carbs well. For those people, even a few bites of potato can cause blood sugar to go too high. Those people need to be quite low carb at least until or if the body can somewhat heal itself. Lowcarb is also good for weight loss, although many do not need to go very low carb. However, VLC will take the weight off faster. The thing is, so many people these days are either overweight or have blood sugar problems. THe end result is a lot of people need to go lowcarb.
I'm not against low-carb diets. I just don't like how many low-carbers feel it necessary to blame carbs for obesity in order to feel good that they are following the right path. Taubes wrote a whole book around that idea, it seems his book is treated like the Holy Bible of low-carb. I just think it's ridiculous how so many people just deny the role of calories. Clearly these people have no other reason to be low-carb than weight loss. If they do low-carb because they believe it makes them healthy, and they find it easier to lose weight, those are good reasons. If they do low-carb because they think "carbs make you fat, calories don't matter, I can eat all I want" they are not being that smart, IMO.
Some people on the other side (30 Bananas a Day, low-fat, high carb) think the same way. That they can eat all the fruit they want and never gain fat. And when they do, they're not eating enough fruit, or they still eat a little avocado, so that's why. Sound familiar? It's like when they say you're not losing weight because you're still eating carbs and you need to lower it.
When we see people intake a lot of calories and stay slim and fit, it's because they're athletic, they're active. Not sedentary like most people who go on a diet.
If you are obese or overweight, you likely got there by indulging in a lot of high calorie stuff. The average diet of an obese person is certainly not low-carb OR low-fat. It's both high in fat and carbs. There are millions of people who lose weight on low-fat, low-carb, moderate-fat/moderate-carb, etc. If carbs were the demon sabotaging so many people, it would be self-evident by the results. We would know, in books and papers other than Taubes (who is biased to his own diet.) that it was carbs not calories that made people fat.
From my research I'd say that the Carbohydrate Hypothesis is beginning to look as intellectually bankrupt as the Lipid Hypothesis.
Take a look at James Kreiger's 5-part series on insulin that debunks virtually all of the popular low-carb tenets:
Obviously grains and legumes and most dairy needs to be cut out. I feel better on low-carb (around 50g/ day) but many people don't need to worry about gram counting-- I "estimate" :). I think a lot of people have tried low-carb and had little long term success because they cut carbs too severely too quickly. After all if you go zero carb, what else are you going to cut? If you want to make weight loss sustainable long-term, a better start would be cutting carbs slowly, and then reintroducing them slowly when goal weight is achieved.
Atkins followers have what they call the "golden shot." It refers to the first time a person restricts carbs and loses weight quickly and effortlessly. It never seems to work as well again.
low carb diets definitely have their place, but I think paleo definitely shouldn't emphasize it. That being said, even a higher carb paleo diet is lower in carbs than the SAD. Kurt Harris said gluten grains, fructose, and n-6 are neolithic agents, but starch itself isn't. And in the comments of a blog (whole health source? not sure) recently he said he was eating potatoes...
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