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I am a New Zealand registered nurse and nutritionist (Grad Cert Sci: nutrition, Massey Univ). I am a Certified Zone Instructor, and have worked teaching Zone diet principles to hundreds of clients over the last 10 years. More recently after finding that eating Paleo food choices was the "icing on the cake" health wise, I have become a Paleo enthusiast and teacher. Follow me on twitter @juliannejtaylor

Paleo diet carbohydrate list and carb counter

(If you would like these carbohydrate charts as a PDF, simply donate via paypal – at right – to get my paleo book sent to you – it also has omega 3& 6 charts and protein charts, plus 50 pages of other great practical paleo info like this)

One recurring theme in the paleo world is carbohydrate confusion. Should I eat carbohydrates if I want to lose weight, and if so how much?

There are a couple of contributing factors to this confusion:

1. The paleo diet has become viewed as a low carbohydrate diet.

This stems from the work done by Cordain, Eaton and others whose research found that the majority of paleo and hunter gatherer diets are lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein and fat than today’s diet. However it needs to be noted (again) that this may be because of the dietary availability of carbohydrates, and the higher availability of protein sources. The Kitavan diet is a widely used example of a high carbohydrate paleo diet. Kitavan people are lean and healthy.

2. Very low carbohydrate diets are widely promoted for weight loss, and the low carbohydrate trend has become entwined with paleo eating. We are taught / or under the impression by very low carbohydrate advocates that any amount of carbohydrate which causes even the slightest rise in blood sugar, will raise insulin, and will cause us to turn carbs into fat and store it.

A diet high in refined carbohydrate diets is not healthy – especially the standard western diet, where carbohydrates are eaten far in excess of requirements. The sources of carbohydrates are mostly from grains and sugar / fructose, all of which contribute to health issues. As a result of our highly disordered eating – we are eating crappy carbohydrates in obscene amounts that are contributing to metabolic disease, inflammation, overeating and obesity – we’ve put most of the blame on carbohydrates, and consequently we’ve made all carbohydrates baddies. (Let’s not forget that there are many contributors to our poor health not just excess poor quality carbs)

I’m of the opinion that most people do not need to eat a very low carb diet. Most feel better on a moderate carb diet, which is still a lot lower in carbs than the standard western diet, and more importantly if you eat a paleo diet, you will be cutting out the damaging carbohydrates. Quality carbohydrates eaten in the context of a paleo diet will be less that the standard diet. I’ve been working with a moderate carb diet for years – people still lose weight easily.

How much carbohydrate do you need to feel / perform your best?

I like the work of Paul and Shou-Ching Jaminet, who recommend about 400 grams of carb calories per day (about 100 grams net carbs) and Barry Sears, who recommends approx 1 – 1.5 grams carbs per lb lean body mass / day. I’ve worked with hundreds of people, and in my observation most people feel best at around these amounts, they have good energy, sleep well, have good appetite control and lose weight, and don’t get any of the long-term problems that many people report on very low carb diets (less than 50 grams carbs / day) It takes around 3 cups of cooked sweet potato to get 100 grams of carbs.

I regularly see people eat far less than this, and wonder why they don’t feel great. I also see many CrossFitters eating low carb diets and suffering – low energy, poor recovery, sleep problems, adrenal fatigue. CrossFit and other high intensity workouts deplete glycogen fast. If you don’t replace it you wont perform at your best.

I’ll leave it up to you to experiment on what works best for you. But I’d recommend no less than 80 grams day, and for most somewhere between 100 – 200 grams per day. If you are smaller, more sedentary, and prone to an apple shape, around the 80 -100 mark. The bigger you are, the more exercise you do, eat more. If you are lean, or tend to a pear shape – you will probably feel better with more – i.e 150 grams day or over.

To make it easy for you to get enough paleo carbs – I’ve done some charts with carb counts.

All portion sizes are approximately 10 grams net carbs. Easy.

Of course you don’t need to count carbs, but in my observation, many in the paleo world do not eat enough carbs. This is because they eat lots of volume of vegetables, but not enough of the carbohydrate containing ones.

I’ve used cup measurements as portion sizes, you can easily translate this to a volume that you can ‘eyeball’

1/4 cup = golf ball

1/2 cup = 1/2 large apple, or 1 large kiwifruit

1 cup = a large apple, or 1 small fist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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31 Responses to “Paleo diet carbohydrate list and carb counter”

  1. you need to account for fiber as well? i.e. coconut flour doesn’t offer much carbs because most of them are fiber, therefore it is not a high source of energy in the form of carbohydrate

    April 13, 2012 at 4:45 pm Reply
  2. Michaela #

    Thank you so much this is so helpful for me, thanks.

    I do have only problem with vegetable juice. I juice every morning but only leafy green like spinach lettuce, celery lime lemon, cucumber, no beet no carot, how should I count it? I drink about 32oz every day, so it is bad?

    April 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm Reply
    • Vegetable juice often contains some higher carb vegetables like carrots, if you only have green vegetables, the carb count would be less

      April 13, 2012 at 9:37 pm Reply
      • michaela #

        I do not juice carrot, but how I should count vegetable juice?
        Do you know how much carb would have vegetable juice only from spinach salad and celery 32 oz? I could not find any information on that. Thanks a lot

        April 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm Reply
  3. Great article. I find that if I go below 1oog of carbs I start to feel mentally cloudy and agitated. I also find low carbs seriously a affect my performance with exercise(Crossfit). I find 150-250g works best for me.

    What are your thoughts on white potato? I feel in the short term I tolerate them. I am not sure if there is any long term side effects though.

    Regards
    Mark

    April 13, 2012 at 10:33 pm Reply
  4. sam #

    Hi

    Thanks for great post.

    Can you write your personal reccomendation to % of fat protein and carb? What would be the perfect ratio?

    April 14, 2012 at 10:27 pm Reply
  5. FrankG #

    You wrote… “We are taught / or under the impression by very low carbohydrate advocates that any amount of carbohydrate which causes even the slightest rise in blood sugar, will raise insulin, and will cause us to turn carbs into fat and store it.”

    While this may be the impression that you have or it may even have been stated in comments by those who jump to conclusions, this has never been the position of any leading proponents of low carb eating that I have read: such as Gary Taubes. It has *always* been a question of both quality and quantity.

    To be frank (hah!) I am sick of this “strawman” position being taken that ALL low carbers say that ANY amount of carb and/or any rise in insulin is a bad thing.

    and when you write “I’m of the opinion that most people do not need to eat a very low carb diet. ” …is this addressed to healthy, lean people, what about those of us who are already metabolically damaged? Those with Type 2 Diabetes or the already obese, for example?

    Surely it is up to each of us to find out the level of dietary carbohydrate that we can tolerate?

    April 15, 2012 at 11:59 am Reply
    • I agree – we need to find out what we tolerate and what works.
      I’ve worked with very obese, and even they seem to tolerate a diet that has 100 grams or so carbs, and if of the right quality – is no problem.
      My primary goal when designing a meal plan is appetite control / blood sugar control and food quality. I also take into account personal preferences. That makes all the difference if you can stick to it.
      For those with out of control blood sugar / metabolic issues / poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, yes very low carbs may be necessary.

      And yes for the most part I am talking to people who have some weight to lose but are generally healthy.

      I think the glucose / insulin / fat theory has been percieved in a way that is unhealthy. I teach it as excess carbs, poor quality carbs being the problem, not carbs per se.

      April 15, 2012 at 5:16 pm Reply
  6. I agree, I think some people have an experience similar to mine. I found that I did better on very low carbs and thought that carbs were ‘the bad guy’ in every way. I then experimented with Atkins, thinking this must be the ultimate in avoiding carbs, and gave myself some sort of terrible hormonal imbalance – my skin was shocking, periods irregular, no energy, just a mess. It was discovering ‘The Zone’ that got me thinking in a more sane manner about ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ carbs. Also, as I’ve gotten fitter and slimmer, my carb tolerance and maybe even need for carbs has increased. At my fittest and slimmest, I could literally eat anything, but.. who needs to run for more than an hour every morning? Not me, I’d rather cut back the carbs and settle at a healthy, but non-elite level of fitness (haha)

    April 18, 2012 at 4:58 pm Reply
  7. David #

    Julianne,

    Really enjoy your posts! Good information…quality stuff.
    Found your website after perusing through the comments in Mark Sisson’s post today. I have been eating Paleo for about three years. Don’t have any food issues other than enjoy eating sugary food which I stopped since Paleo became my way of eating.

    I too run low on energy, sometimes from too little sleep (6.5 hours), maybe too many Crossfit workouts, although I’ve cut back from 4 to 3 a week due to slow recovery (maybe an age thing at 58, who knows). So, I am considering backing off protein a little and increasing carbs a little to see if this will help increase my energy and workout recovery. Also, I have a wall with trying to reduce body fat. I really don’t need to lose weight but am flabby around the waist especially after gaining weight to help increase muscle mass while lifting weights (back squat, deadlift, and military press) which are part of my Crossfit workouts.
    Any suggestions/advice for me to consider to increase energy levels and recover quickly from the workouts?

    July 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm Reply
  8. Meg #

    Thank you for this sweetheart! I assume red/yellow/green peppers are “free carbs”?

    Your blog is one of a kind! Thank you

    September 6, 2012 at 6:13 am Reply
    • Yes – they are listed under capsicum / bell peppers

      September 6, 2012 at 1:10 pm Reply
      • Meg #

        Thank you, girl!

        If you were to have more than 1 cup of the “non carbs” would you consider them a carb then?

        September 30, 2012 at 5:54 am Reply
        • No I still wouldn’t count them

          October 5, 2012 at 8:19 pm Reply
  9. maryb #

    I have had good results with aiming for 100 carbs daily: 30 for flourless toast, 30 for nightcap yogurt/fruit and the rest with fruit and vegetables. It’s been sustainable for me as I’ve lost weight and gained health. Thanks.

    October 4, 2012 at 1:54 am Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your experience

      October 5, 2012 at 8:18 pm Reply
  10. AzJean #

    I tried very low carb back when Atkins was new, lost weight but was sick with Mono for months, didn’t get well until I went off Atkins. Started on Zone later, found it well balanced, keeps me out of ketosis, controls weight and appetite nicely, + no more afternoon fatigue. More recently went gluten-free Zone, which stopped all IBS symptoms. Now Paleo Zone is sounding healthy, I’m trying to get away from processed foods. I’m finding lots of good (gluten-free) Paleo high protein recipes, but it seems like I’ll need more carbs than original Paleo. I’m trying sweet potatoes and fruits, counting carb/protein blocks, feeling good so far. Any suggestions?

    December 14, 2012 at 3:50 pm Reply
    • Try root vegetables and pumpkin for carbs, or even some fruit in moderation. I have sweet potato regularly with meals

      December 15, 2012 at 11:50 am Reply
  11. Misa #

    Hi

    I would like to know which carb is beter for body sweet potato, squash beet, or fruits that have quite amount of sugar. I have read many comments on this please let me know your opinion.

    Thanks a lot

    December 15, 2012 at 9:40 pm Reply
    • Root vegetables and squash are all similar – just enjoy. Keep fruit at 1 – 3 serves a day

      December 17, 2012 at 2:14 pm Reply
  12. NameNotFound #

    Only problem I have with ultra-lowcarb diets (<30mg/day) is that I do NOT feel hungry at all, I eat because I know I have to eat.
    Even with 3 x Crossfit + 3 x Muay Thai training sessions a week I do not have ANY energy problems, don't feel weak or have slower recovery because of that.
    People fail with low carbs because they do not go low enought, max is 30mg/day, anything above that will not work and will make you hungry and fail!
    Cutting fat from your diet only makes you loose muscle, big mistake!

    April 25, 2013 at 12:38 pm Reply
    • This may be the case for you – but as Mat Lalonde pointed out – he has seen many who go very low carb and get increasing levels of cortisol and decreasing levels of testosterone – the same combo happens with overtraining. Can you explain haw not going low enough on carbs causes the problem please – I and many readers would love to know.

      April 25, 2013 at 12:44 pm Reply
    • Allison #

      I’m guessing, but think NameNotFound means that not going low carb enough can result in hunger, which makes people abandon the diet. My Husband can only sustain his current weight loss by being in a Paleo, Ketogenic state; Not feeling hunger. He has been below 30g carbs per day for ~ 2 Months, & he is no longer type 2 diabetic. Serum glucose dropped from 135 to 124, & his Triglycerides dropped from 197 to 119. Yay!! The mystery is why his scary HDL level of 30 didn’t increase, though he rides an indoor bike for an hour ~ 2x week, & does high intensity mountain biking for ~ 2 hours, 1x week. he still has ~ 50 # to lose, & we don’t know when to cut the Statin (His ttl. cholest. is too low: 121, but he has predominant pattern b dense LDL, so afraid to just stop the statin yet. Maybe lower the dose? We don’t know of any doctors in Dallas, TX area that can help w/ this question! Any thoughts Julianne)?

      That said, I do think we all vary in response to (quality!) carb. quantity, & I can’t imagine staying in ketosis while working out a lot once most unwanted weight has dropped. Maybe the exception would be someone w/ cancer, where Keto can help.

      October 26, 2013 at 2:57 am Reply
  13. Allison #

    Julianne, LOVE this info., especially in chart form. But, what are the net carb grams on each item in the Paleo Fruit Chart? (I like that you provide them on the veggie charts). Please post! Thanks SO much! My husband was just diag. w/ type 2 diabetes, so he wants to go into ketosis for a while. He knows to avoid grains, starchy veggies & sugars, so the fruit carb count would really help. He needs to lose ~ 75 lbs., & wants to turn this type 2 around w/out meds. Any other thoughts on how many carb grams per day he should consume? Should he rely on Ketostix to gage the ketosis level? Going into ketosis is the only way he was ever able to lose a significant amount of weight (along w/ exercising) but that was 30 years ago, so we are rusty on the topic. We would appreciate Any other thoughts/ ideas! Thank you, I’m so worried about him.

    July 25, 2013 at 3:57 am Reply
  14. Donna #

    This information is invaluable!…Very clear…straight-forward and I want to thank you ever so much for taking the time to compile it and share it!..I have a question, however, about lemons and limes?..I did not see them in the fruit section…Would you have the stats on these?…Thanks again for your generous sharing of these charts..

    October 24, 2013 at 11:49 pm Reply
  15. Donna #

    Thanks!…I appreciate your ultra-rapid reply…have a lovely weekend (New, impressed follower from across the pond).

    October 25, 2013 at 9:40 am Reply

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