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Healthy Paleo Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a controversial subject these days and different diets adopt different attitudes towards them.

The Paleo lifestyle is not a low-carbohydrate diet but a healthy-carbohydrate plan. A Paleo diet removes unhealthy refined carbohydrates and replaces them with whole-food sources from vegetables and fruits.

A carbohydrate is made up of sugar molecules that are broken down by the body in the form of glucose, or energy. There are two types of carbohydrate, and all carbohydrate foods fall within these major categories: 

  • Simple carbohydrates are a simple version of a sugar molecule, with only one or two parts. Table sugar is an example.
  • Complex carbohydrates have a structure of three or more parts, and take more energy and time to be broken down into glucose.

Carbohydrates are a quick energy source for your body which transforms all carbohydrates — whether simple or complex, whole or refined — into glucose. Your brain and cells use glucose as a fuel source for daily activities.

Insulin is a hormone that helps your body store fat for later energy use. If you want to control the accumulation and reduction of body fat, it is important to control insulin. This involves eating the right types and appropriate amounts of carbohydrates. Knowing which carbohydrates to eat is critical because the sources you choose directly dictate your insulin level. When insulin production is under control, weight loss and optimal health are the result.

This is why diet high in refined carbohydrate diets, whether simple or complex, is not healthy. The sources of these particular carbohydrates are mostly from grains and sugars, all of which contribute to many chronic illnesses. 

Note: there are many contributors to our poor health, and not simply excess and/or poor-quality carbohydrates.

It is important to remember that carbohydrates are NOT the enemy and a low carbohydrate diet is not necessarily the best choice for everyone. While low carbohydrate plans are undeniably valuable for individuals suffering from diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and other neurological conditions, other individuals can truly benefit from 1-3 servings of nutrient dense starches per day. Athletes in particular need carbohydrates to properly fuel and recover from intense workouts.

This can all be easily achieved without the need for grains.  The Paleo diet recommends you steer clear of refined, highly processed and sugar-laden carbohydrates sources like breads (including whole grain), cereals, pasta, fruit juices, and sodas. These sugars are instantly absorbed and will affect your blood sugar insulin levels swiftly and aggressively. 

Alternately, Paleo carbohydrates are none other than those consumed by your ancestors for millions of years: Fruits and vegetables. They have a minimal impact on blood sugar and are teeming with antioxidant, phytonutrients, minerals and fiber that nourish your body.

The best carbohydrate sources are local, organically grown fruit and vegetables. Choose your fruits and both starchy and non-starchy vegetables in a variety of colors to cover the full spectrum of nutrients. Dark-colored fruits, such as blackberries and blueberries, are packed with antioxidants, and deeply colored veggies, like carrots and kale, are loaded with vitamins and minerals.

Paleo Starchy Vegetables

Some of our favorite starchy vegetables include:

Beets

Red beets are the most common (and messiest) variety, but golden beets or chiogga beets (candy cane beets) are also available. Beets are of the more sugary sources of Paleo carbohydrates, but they are also nutrient dense and delicious. The greens and stems are also edible and offer just as much nutrition as the root itself.

Beets are high phytonutrients which provide the body with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, and aid in natural detoxification. They are also rich in folate content which help the brain and the nervous system function optimally. Beet greens are also a source of calcium and magnesium.

Enjoy your beets raw in a slaw or roasted with coconut oil, some of your favorite seasonings or herbs and sea salt. For an AIP-compliant pasta sauce reminiscent of tomato sauce, you can use beets. They lend similar properties such as their red color and natural sweetness.

Cassava Root

Also known as tapioca, this root has gained notoriety as one of the most versatile Paleo carbohydrates. Cassava flour is easily one of the best flour substitutes to bake with as it takes on the purpose of wheat flour very well. It is also quite nutrient dense, especially compared to nut flours and coconut flour.

Cassava has a high protein content for a starchy vegetable. In flour form, this starch is AIP-compliant. Many flour substitutes are made of nuts which can cause reactions. It is rich in minerals including zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese.

When sliced thinly and fried in Paleo fats, cassava makes great chips. The flour can also be used in making Paleo treats (remember to enjoy these as occasional indulgences) and works particularly well for those times when there is a need or desire to recreate foods typically made with wheat flour.

Sweet Potatoes

These are possibly the most popular staple source of Paleo carbohydrate and are available in few varieties including the standard sweet potato which is orange on the inside, the purple sweet potato, and the Hannah which is a white color. The orange type is rich in of beta-carotene which lends the sweet potato the bulk of its high nutrient complex. If you are avoiding white potatoes, sweets stand in for an easy substitution method.

A cup of sweet potato contains 377% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A. A single cup of these nutrient powerhouses can restore your electrolyte levels post-workout and help reduce anxiety with a t 448 mg. per serving dose of potassium.

Sweet potatoes are good sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber may reduce blood sugar spikes while insoluble fiber has been linked to better gut health. They also have a slightly lower glycemic index than white potatoes, which can be further reduced through boiling.

Sweet potatoes are versatile and delicious baked, stuffed, sliced or made into hash. They can even serve as a ‘bread’ substitute when sliced, toasted and topped. They make delicious and savory potato salads, are quite trendy when made into chips or fries (in a Paleo fat, of course) and are a sure winner when roasted, grilled or sautéed.

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Winter Squash

Beyond the popular butternut squash, winter squash varieties include kobucha squash (Japanese pumpkin), spaghetti squash for noodle dishes, and the small yet tasty delicata squash. Some are slightly sweet while others take on a nutty, more savory flavor. Each one is a delicious and nutritious source of Paleo carbohydrates, especially during the autumn and winter when they are in season.

Butternut squash is lower in calories than sweet potatoes with a similar taste and a good dose of vitamin A at 297% of the recommended daily value per cup. A serving of acorn squash can provide up to 20% of your daily vitamin C intake. For only 50 calories worth of pumpkin, you get a whole 3 grams of fiber which makes it a highly satiating choice that can also aid in healthy digestion.

Pretty much every variety of winter squash can easily be cubed or sliced, tossed in some oil and spices, and roasted. They are easy, delicious and make preparing meals ahead of time simple. Winter squash also holds up well in the slow cooker and make easy and versatile smooth and creamy soups when blended with bone broth, herbs and spices, and whatever flavorings suit your fancy.

No time to prepare your healthy carbs? Order from this week’s menu for meals ready when you are. See menu here >>>>>>>>>>

Paleo Fruits

Fruits are another great source of Paleo carbohydrate. They are also delicious when enjoyed at their seasonal peak.. For more on what’s in season in your area, read here

Some of our favorite fruits include:

Apples

Apples are handy because they travel well and serve as great snacks, especially when combine with a protein and/or fat (like nuts). It can also be used in many Paleo-friendly recipes.

Apples are rich in fiber and have been found to help in preventing degenerative diseases and can be cancer protective. The also contain Vitamin C and potassium.

It is important to choose organic, pesticide-free apples as the skin is particularly absorbent.

Bananas

The benefits of bananas go beyond their well-known potassium content. Bananas also contain Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and magnesium

In addition, they offer a wide variety of polyphenols and phytosterols, both of which support overall health. They are high in the prebiotic fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Green, unripe bananas are higher in resistant starch and provide a good source of the dietary fiber pectin. Both of these have been linked to a number of health benefits, including improved blood sugar control and digestive health.

Cherries

Cherries are rich in both fiber and potassium, which are important for heart and gut health. They are also high in antioxidants including anthocyanins and hydroxycinnamates, which help protect the body from oxidative stress.

Cherries also provide a good source of serotonin, tryptophan, and melatonin, which support good mood and sleep.

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Kiwi

Kiwi fruits is high in vitamin C and provides good source of fiber, potassium, folate, and vitamin E. Ripe kiwis also contain carotenoids, including lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene, which support eye health. 

The soluble and insoluble fiber, polyphenols, and digestive enzymes such as actinidin explain why kiwi has been used for generations in traditional Chinese medicine to support gut health and digestion.

Consuming kiwis daily has been shown to increase stool frequency and soften stool, suggesting it may help treat mild constipation.

Grapefruit

Grapefruit is packed with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6 and some magnesium. It has been linked to higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and lower body weight, waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), triglycerides, and levels of inflammation. Regularly consuming grapefruit may also support weight management and promote heart health 

Though grapefruit is highly nutritious, some of its compounds can lessen or alter the effectiveness of certain medications. Talk with your healthcare professional about whether you can eat grapefruit if you’re taking statins, calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, anti-anxiety medications

Oranges

Oranges are known for their high vitamin C content, providing 91% of the DV in a single fruit. They’re also high in potassium, folate, thiamine (vitamin B1), fiber, and plant polyphenols.

Studies have found that consuming whole oranges may lower levels of inflammation, blood pressure, cholesterol, and post-meal blood sugar 

Though 100% orange juice provides a high volume of nutrients and antioxidants, it usually lacks dietary fiber. Varieties that include the pulp do include some fiber, so opt for these over juices without pulp.

For more on juicing read on here.

Summing It Up

There is no real secret to incorporating some starchy vegetables and seasonal fruits into your Paleo diet. These foods are all 100% Paleo-friendly and can make great additions as well as provide nutrients, fiber, energy and variety to your diet. Remember, Paleo is a personalized way of eating whole, real, nutrient dense foods and is not always ‘low carb’. Many individuals, especially athletes and women, do better with 1-3 servings of dense carbohydrates per day. Try adding some into your diet and see how they work for you.

Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com