Saturday, September 7, 2013

The myth of low carb Paleo.

It’s always interesting to see and hear conversations about nutrition. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and, to be fair, some good information too. Even within the Paleo-sphere there is misinformation. For instance, I saw a recent National Geographic show where they showcased the Primal diet as part of a way to improve your health and longevity statistics. It was cool to see that they thought of this as a way to live longer but they failed utterly when their “expert” said that nothing can be cooked on the primal diet and that you have to eat fatty, raw meat. I’ve seen this idea promoted around facebook too.

Another piece of misinformation out there regards the Paleo diet. There seems to be a pervasive idea that carbs are a no-no when eating Paleo. It’s true that most folks could probably stand to back off the carbs a bit, and that our Paleolithic ancestor’s diets were a bit stingy when it came to carbohydrate dense foods, but that does not mean that carbs are altogether bad.

There are plenty of what I call “safe starches”, that is, carb dense foods, among Paleo food stuffs. These are things like yam, sweet potato, squash, plantains and bananas and other similar food items. These items often compare favorably to non-paleo items like bread, rice and pasta in terms of the carb density.

I think of carbs like a nutritional supplement. Folks should simply titrate carbs up or down to meet their activity level. More intense activities (i.e. CrossFit, bike racing, sprinting, soccer, basketball) use the glycolitic energy pathway and require carbohydrate. Lower intensity activities like walking, or slow, heavy lift days utilize an energy pathway the derives energy from fat. On these days you wouldn’t necessarily require as much carbohydrate.

This all goes towards the idea that the Paleo Diet is not a historical re-enactment. Rather, it’s using evolution and evolutionary biology as a framework from which to ask questions. Evolutionarily novel foods aren’t necessarily bad because they’re evolutionarily novel. So, just because our ancestors may or may not have eaten on the lower end of the spectrum when it came to carbs, doesn’t mean that we have to. Especially if our lifestyle and activity patters also differ from those of our caveman ancestors.

There are examples of aboriginal peoples eating starchier diets in the research who still show no diseases of civilization like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. These people, while eating quite a lot of carbohydrate (albeit unrefined “safe starches”), are still quite lean and look and perform like athletes.

So, when you hear information about nutrition, consider the source. Then go do your homework on what else it out there. I’m always happy to be a resource for you!

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