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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?