Unlike the ketogenic diet, paleo doesn’t eliminate carbs completely.
Rather, it simply removes grains, legumes, and refined carbohydrates that can contribute to food sensitivities, allergies, and digestive issues.
When it comes to paleo, it does promote a lower carb approach than the standard American diet, but it’s important to remember that carbs aren’t the enemy.
Some people do better with a slightly higher carb intake, while others do not.
What matters is the types of carbs you’re consuming.
Carbs To Include On A Paleo Diet
The paleo diet recommends consuming carbohydrates that your ancestors could find, which includes fruits and both starchy and non-starchy vegetables.
These foods have minimal impact on blood sugar and are loaded with antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals and fibre that provide nourishment for the body.
The best carbs to include are organically grown, local (if possible) fruits and vegetables.
When choosing what foods to eat, try to incorporate the rainbow — including a variety of colours in your diet ensures you’re getting a broad spectrum of nutrients.
- Fruits: If you’re concerned about blood sugar levels, avoid high glycemic (high sugar) fruits like bananas, mango, pineapple, and dried fruits that cause insulin spikes and blood sugar irregularities. Opt for lower glycemic fruits like berries (all varieties), apples, citrus (oranges, grapefruit), peaches, nectarines, plums, and the like.
- Non-starchy vegetables: Any vegetable that is grown above ground is generally non-starchy. This includes, but is not limited to, peppers, zucchini, cucumber, leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, celery, cabbage, eggplant, and tomatoes.
- Starchy vegetables: Most starchy vegetables are grown underground and includes things like white potatoes, beets, yams or sweet potatoes, carrot, parsnips, rutabaga, squash, taro, and cassava.
Carbs To Avoid
All carbs aren’t created equal.
The Paleo diet recommends avoiding refined, highly processed, and high-sugar carbohydrates like breads, cereals, pasta, juices, and soda, as they are absorbed rapidly and will affect your blood sugar and insulin levels quite significantly.
- Grains: Grains are a big no-no when it comes to paleo. This is because, like legumes, they’re full of gluten, lectins, and phytates that contain anti-nutrients and can cause gut issues, as well as can contribute to chronic digestive and inflammatory diseases. They’re also avoided due to their influence on blood sugar. Because grains are simple carbohydrates that break down quickly, they elicit an immediate spike in insulin and blood sugar levels. The following is are grains to avoid:
- Legumes: Technically, legumes aren’t part of a paleo diet due to their high content of lectins and phytic acid, which impairs certain body functions and nutrient absorption. This includes all beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and any other soy producs, as well as peanuts. However, if prepared correctly and tolerated by the body, legumes may be okay to consume in moderation.
- Refined and processed foods: These are foods that cannot be found in nature and include refined sugars, salt, refined vegetable oils (industrial seed oils), and artificial sweeteners. Not only are they man-made, but they can contribute to the development of chronic diseases like obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease and are pro-inflammatory. Artificial sweeteners may be calorie free and FDA approved for safe consumption, but research has shown that they can be harmful to gut bacteria to they’re best to avoid at all costs. This also includes soda pop and diet soda pop.
- Oils: canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, cottonseed, grapeseed, palm (unless sustainable and organic), soybean, shortening
- Sweeteners: glucose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, Splenda, aspartame, sucralose, Truvia, Equal, corn syrup, agave, brown/white sugar
The 7 Best Carb Choices
While there are many healthy carbohydrates that you can eat on a paleo diet, these are our top 7 picks for the healthiest.
#1 Sweet Potatoes
(21g carbs per 100g)
One of the most popular carb sources on paleo, sweet potatoes provide a large bang for their buck.
Whether it’s garnet, jewel, or Japanese, the sweet potato is loaded with nutrients, complex carbs, and fibre.
Orange-flesh sweet potatoes are a richer source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, than other versions, but regardless of the flesh colour, they’re also high in vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, and copper.
(27g carbs per 100g)
Many people think that sweet potatoes and yams are the same, but not quite.
Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family, while yams belong to the lily family and have flesh ranging from yellow to orange to purple.
Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are less sweet and have a more starchy and dry texture.
They do, however, contain beta-carotene, albeit slightly less than traditional sweet potatoes, as well as good amounts of fibre, vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, copper, and vitamin B1.
(31g carbs per 100g)
A staple in many Caribbean cultures and tropical regions, plantains are another great option for a gluten-free carbohydrate on the paleo diet.
Calorie wise, they’re very similar to cooked potatoes but are significantly more nutritious.
They contain good amounts of fibre, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6, iron, and magnesium.
(38g carbs per 100g)
Cassava, also known as yucca, is a nutty-flavoured starchy root vegetable native to South America.
While slightly higher in calories than other root vegetables, it’s also high in resistance starch, which helps feed beneficial bacteria in the gut and improve blood sugar control.
Despite containing some anti-nutrients — compounds that block the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals — cassava is a good source of thiamine, phosphorus, calcium, riboflavin, and small amounts of iron, vitamin C, and niacin.
#5 Winter Squash
(15g carbs per 100g)
Depending on the type of squash you eat, the nutritional values may differ a bit, but regardless of whether it’s chayote, butternut, acorn, pumpkin, or spaghetti, squash is a great source of carbs on the paleo diet.
Winter squash, specifically, is a concentrated source of carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids) that can be converted to the active form of vitamin A.
It’s also a great source of vitamin C, fibre, vitamin B6, copper, manganese, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), potassium, folate, and vitamin K.
#6 Taro Root
(35g carbs per 100g)
Taro root has been a staple in Asian cultures for centuries, but is now widely consumed around the world.
When cooked, taro has a starchy and mildly sweet texture that is similar to a potato.
Like cassava, taro is a good source of resistant starch, which slows digestion to prevent spikes in blood sugar and help to improve blood sugar control.
Taro is also a good source of fibre, manganese, vitamin B6, vitamin E, potassium, copper, vitamin C, phosphorus, and magnesium.
(17g carbs per 100g)
While you may not think of parsnips as a ‘typical’ source of carbs, parsnips are a highly nutritious source of carbohydrates with a slightly nutty flavour that brings a unique taste to dishes.
Besides having a hearty dose of fibre, parsnips are also a good source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, vitamin E, magnesium, thiamine, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B6.
Despite eliminating grains and legumes, the paleo diet has an abundance of other carb sources to choose from.
While not limited to these 7 options, the choices we’ve covered offer a nutrient-dense source of complex carbohydrates to provide a stable supply of energy, help regulate blood sugar, aid digestion, promote sleep, improve nervous system function, and promote optimal brain function.