How to Get Enough Carbs On GAPS

I’m hearing a lot these days of how people are developing more health problems on paleo or GAPS because they went too low carb. Sometimes it’s accidental (GAPS can easily become low carb if you have to restrict fruit or dairy), and sometimes it’s on purpose (as it is for some people who embark on the paleo diet).

Thing is, we all have different bodies with different genes and different health concerns and so our need for carbohydrates varies from person to person. A low carb diet may work well for some–but it can be disastrous for others. Before I finally cut grains out of my diet, I had been slowly cutting back on sugar and grains, which means I was cutting out some major carbohydrate foods. I had been eating far too many carbohydrates for my body, and not getting enough fat and protein, so for me this was an improvement. After I cut the last bit of grains out of my diet, however, I noticed I was craving carbohydrates, so I added more in the form of fruit and milk. I felt great.

Fruit is an obvious choice for carbohydrates in a grain-free diet, for those who can have it.

My friend had been telling me the benefits of going low carb, such as turning on your body’s fat burning engine. But I felt like I was burning the fat I was eating just fine, so I saw no need to tweak my ratio. I also read on Dr Mercola’s website about how some people need more protein and some people need more carbs. I took a quiz and found I was right in between the two, and it seemed I was eating just the right amount of carbs for my body type.

Raw whole milk, my go-to carb fix. One cup adds 12 grams of carbs to a meal.

When I started GAPS, I had to quit milk for six weeks as part of the protocol. I also couldn’t have fruit in the very first stages. I knew from other people’s experiences that it was going to be important for me to keep my carbs up to the level my body requires. I was no pro at this. I basically just added lots of carrots to my soups and had honey ginger tea between meals. Later I realized I could have added squash to my soup or eaten beets. Variety is a good thing.

Carrots can be cooked into soups, shredded onto salads, eaten with a dip, or fermented into a tasty raw snack. They can even be the sweet base for sweet treats.

If you are paleo and looking to up your carbs, there are a lot of “safe starch” choices such as yams and sweet potatoes, quinoa and wild rice, and turnips. Even the occasional white rice is considered okay.

If you are doing GAPS (or SCD), you don’t have any starch choices. You may have to get creative, especially if you have sensitivities to a lot of the allowable carbohydrates on this diet. Choices include raw milk (if you can tolerate it), higher carb veggies such as winter squash, carrots, beets and peas, the three allowed legumes: lentils, navy beans and lima beans (sprouting will make these more digestible), fruit, honey, and nuts and seeds (especially if you make baked goods with nut flour and put a little honey in).

Beets are great roasted, sauteed in butter, added to salads, and are my personal favorite ferment. They can even be added to brownies!

Most of the above foods are not super high in carbs, but for most people they will do. If your body requires an unusually high amount of carbohydrates and you have say, a bad case of fructose malabsorption (can’t eat fruit or honey) and milk intolerance, then GAPS may be very tricky for you. However, I’ve lately come to believe that eating the correct ratio of macronutrients for your body may be more important than getting all food sensitivities out of your diet. In other words, don’t starve yourself.

Sprouted beans are much easier to digest than non-sprouted, and they are still high in carbohydrates. They can be added to soups or salads.

So just how many carbohydrates are in these foods? The following list indicates grams of carbohydrates per cup of food: whole raw milk 12, beets 13, carrots 12, peas 21, butternut squash 16, acorn squash 15, lentils (sprouted) 17, navy beans (sprouted) 14, cantaloupe 16, blackberries 15, carrot juice 22. Per half cup: lima beans (cooked) 20, almonds 15, walnuts 8, sunflower seeds 14, peanuts 12, avocado 10, tomato sauce 7. Per medium fruit: apple 21, banana 27, peach 15, oranges 18. Per tablespoon: peanut butter 4, honey 17.

A favorite snack of mine in the fall and winter months. Very energizing!

Most veggies contain some carbohydrates, but not very much. For example, one medium tomato contains 5 grams. A half cup of cucumber slices has 2 grams. Put these in a salad with half a small avocado and you’re up to 17 grams of carbohydrates. Add a cup of whole raw milk and you’re up to 29. Throw a half cup of navy bean sprouts on that salad and you’re up to 36. Maybe you decide to have a honey mustard vinaigrette on that–you could be up to about 42 grams of carbohydrates.

Broccoli slaw, made with homemade mayo and honey to sweeten it. Raisins add even more carbs. Carrots could be added too.

I only need between 15-30 grams of carbs per meal (keep in mind I’m not terribly active and I don’t eat huge meals). I find that a adding a cup of raw milk to whatever meal I’m eating, then having fruit, nuts or a baked treat for a snack seems to be enough for me.

Baked treats can be made with almond flour, coconut flour or nut meals. Add a little honey, maybe some carrot/banana/apple puree, or some berries or chopped fruit.

Don’t forget you can ferment your beets and carrots, making them a quick and easy side dish that is full of probiotics. Smoothies made with yogurt, a handful of berries, and a dollop of honey can make a great carb boost. If you juice, a small glass of carrot juice or any veggie/fruit blend can carb up a meal as well.

To find out how many carbohydrates different foods contain, SELF Nutrition Data is a helpful site. Just don’t obsess over it! You’ll know you’ve gotten the right amount of carbs (and protein and fat) when you feel satisfied and energized after a meal.

Do you have any tricks for adding carbohydrates to a grain-free or starch-free diet?

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10 Comments Add yours

  1. sharpcas says:

    This is such an annoying topic between ‘traditional’ foodies and ‘paleo’ people. It’s really dumb because with both diets the amounts carbs you can eat while staying with in the diet are almost exactly the same. Except paleo people eat sweet potatoes. So if anything GAPS would be lower carb as a whole.
    I’m just at amazement of this whole discussion. Traditional diet bloggers knock paleo. But I kinda think they are the same. You either eat grains or not. And if you don’t you eat whatever is left. Most paleo people don’t say eat no carbs. Marks daily apple has a carb guide. But think of what 150 carbs a day is on gaps. and think of what it is on paleo? It’s about the same. A bunch of veggies, some fruit, maybe a glass of milk or some almonds. But like you said the key is making sure you don’t forget that. Because its true grain free diets are so easy to slip into low carb. Especially If you don’t do well with dairy.
    Great post I hope people understand that carbs are important.

    1. Lisa C says:

      I’m a little confused by your comment–at first I didn’t even think you were talking about me, but I realized you must be. The topic of this post is how to get enough carbs while on the GAPS diet, not about whether or not paleo is low carb and it’s certainly not knocking paleo (that would be dumb considering I pretty much eat paleo right now). I just said, as an example, that some people who do paleo do it low carb on purpose, which is absolutely true. I think there are more people who fall into low carb GAPS on accident, whereas if you are doing low carb paleo, you are probably doing it more purposefully–as you said, it is easier to go low carb on GAPS, whereas paleo has starch to choose from. That’s exactly why I wrote this post, because it can be tricky to get enough carbohydrates on GAPS if you don’t pay attention to what your carb foods are.

      Just be to clear, I never said paleo is low carb. That would be hypocritical because I hate when people say GAPS is low carb, when it’s not intended to be. Just had an unpleasant discussion about that on the GAPS Facebook group I belong to (a couple of low-carb GAPSters who thought it was a joke that I was posting a link to an article about getting enough carbs.)

      Anyway, I really hope you don’t think I was knocking paleo. I recognize paleo as a diet that works well for many people, and it is also a traditional diet. I couldn’t call myself a traditional foodist without accepting the paleo (or hunter-gatherer, ancestral, Masai, Inuit, etc) diet as a healthful diet.

      1. sharpcas says:

        Lol no I wasn’t talking about you. I was just rambling about the carbs topic. I guess I kinda got off track. I don’t know why I mentioned paloe

      2. Lisa C says:

        Oh good! I was afraid I had accidentally offended you.

      3. Lisa C says:

        I agree it is an annoying argument that’s been going on. People need to be respectful of others’ choices and not make generalized statements such as “paleo is low carb.”

  2. silver price says:

    There is another GAPS myth that I would add to this list. Myth: the GAPS diet works as it is written for everyone. I have found this to be completely untrue for myself and many others. Especially for GAPS people with severely impaired digestion for one reason or another, the GAPS diet can make things worse rather than better. For example, by only including monosaccharides, GAPS patients are supposed to be able to digest everything easily. However, I have fructose malabsorption, which means I can’t digest fructose even though it is a monosaccharide. So if I follow GAPS as written, I get really sick and make all of my gut issues worse because I am giving all of my bad bacteria a lot of food in the form of fructose. Other people have very serious problems with the oxalates in GAPS or the sulphur or whatever else. Anyway, now I use a lot of the ideas from GAPS without following it religiously, and I am healing. For example, I eat potatoes, which I digest really well but not fruit or honey or nuts. I am completely convinced that I could follow GAPS to the letter and just get sicker and sicker forever.

    1. Lisa C says:

      Hi silver price–apologies for approving your comment so late…it was in my spam folder and that hardly ever happens.

      I agree that GAPS isn’t for everyone, and I agree we all need to listen to our own bodies and not just assume we are having a “detox reaction” or “healing crisis” or “carb flu” or whatever when we don’t feel well on a certain diet. I find it helps to tap into one’s intuition, which I’m sure people used to be pretty good at before modern food came on the scene.

    2. Lisa C says:

      I was just reviewing this post. For anyone reading this thread, there are other gut-healing diets out there, such as the Body Ecology Diet, that you can try if GAPS isn’t for you. BED might be good for those with fructose malabsorption, since fruits play a much smaller role in that diet.

  3. min says:

    Hello, thanks for this post it’s a good one. Our ideal balance of carb to everything else sounds quite similar, though I hadn’t realised that before. I’ve been doing full gaps for a few months (after years of grain free anyway – i am sensitive to basically anything that is NOT gaps legal, so the only real change was taking out potatoes, and adding broth/fats/fermented veg/probiotic) – at the beginning I felt amazing (the effect of animal fats after years as vegetarian on my gut was incredible!), but now i am extreeeeeeemly tired. i havent been eating as much fruit as i used to either / can basically eat a whole jar of honey in one day, so thinking I am not getting as much carb as I need. I was very potato dependent before it!
    My question is though – I do really want to do the intro diet, but feel if I did the intro diet right now I would be so exhausted I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. Which is not really an option for me right now. Were you very tired on intro? Did you manage it just with loads of carrots in soups?? I think I need to get my glucose back up and feel more energetic before trying to do intro diet…

    1. Lisa C says:

      Hi min, sorry for not replying sooner. I would check with a GAPS practitioner if I were you. Personally, though, I wouldn’t start GAPS intro if I suspected my adrenals were struggling. I would address those first. But that’s me. I can’t say what your body needs right now.

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