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Paleo 101: The good, the bad and the ugly (Carbohydrates, part II.)

In the first post on carbohydrates we’ve learnt what carbohydrates are, and that rather than completely avoiding them, we need to be aware of which ones should come on our plate, and which ones do not even deserve to be looked at. Today, we will explore closer, what are the bad carbs, who are the good guys and which carbs help to support your training and active life. 

Friends or foes?

Let’s have a look at the group of evil carbohydrates first. When reading a label and spotting sugar among the ingredients, it’s better to put it back in the shelf and silently walk away. We don’t want to upset the beast. Processed regular sugar, cane sugar and also artificial sweeteners are not our friends. Watch out for processed sugar added in foods that appear to be Paleo approved, such as deli meats, dried fruits, veggie juices. There is more hidden sugar in processed food today than you can ever imagine. That’s why it is better to cook your chow from scratch. It’s the only way to be absolutely in control of what goes in your meals.

Why is sugar something we don’t want to put in our bodies? Processed sugar spikes our insulin levels, which causes the vicious circle of sugar high, followed by terrible drop down and sugar low. That’s when one feels sluggish, tired and get unstoppable cravings, unless the body is fed with another dope of sugar. A new temporary high is introduced again leading to another sugar low, then cravings, more sugar and so on and so forth. Sounds familiar? Yes. Do we like it? No. Can we change it? Yes! Going Primal will transform you from sugar burner to fat burner, and you will beat all the above mentioned.

Now you understand, why you want to avoid muffins, croissants, wedding cakes (also b-day cakes!), candies and funky-quality chocolate bars. But what about whole-wheat bread, breakfast cereals and products conventionally considered healthy? Well… they are just a bunch of empty calories. Empty doesn’t mean that they don’t count towards your calorie intake, quite the opposite. You get an excessive load of carbs in one small portion with no other nutrients included. Not to mention that it is protein and fat that keeps us going for hours without hunger rather than carbs. There are far better and richer sources of the few vitamins you may receive through whole grain pasta or bread. Most importantly, grains contain awful lot of enemies like gluten, phytates and lectins that our bodies are not constructed to digest.

Real man eat salad aka Wise carb sources

low-carb salad

What are we left with now? Fruits and veggies! That’s healthy, right? The good news is that, indeed, fruits and vegetables are healthy Paleo approved food choices. They form the first or second level of Primal food pyramid (level vary according to the Paleo guru). Yet, depending on the individual level of activity and health/fitness goals, we eat certain fruits and veggies with moderation. Here we will look purely at the amount of carbohydrates as nutrients and healthiness is “granted” for veggies and fruits.

Fruits in general are quite high in carbs, so if the aim is losing a few centimeters around waist line, it’s advisable to avoid fruits for a while or opt for their low carb sources. Fructose in fruits counts among simple carbs, and overeating on high-carb fruits like mangoes and other exotic fruits will slow down or hinder fat-loss attempts. When I moved to the Caribbeans for several months (I only started learning about Paleo there) I actually managed to get a bit chubby from large doses of super sweet mangoes, pineapples and bananas. I loved the sweet flavor and freshness that was so different from what we get in supermarkets here in Europe. The amounts I ate, though, were not reasonable. Sticking to one serving of fruits a day for slow effortless fat loss is just fine (given that all the bad carbs mentioned above are avoided).

I recommend opting for low-carb high-nutritional varieties like berries – Primal people all-time favorites – and stone fruits. Apples and pears are on the low to medium-carb side depending on their ripeness and variety. Going seasonal and regional works well and your body will be very pleased with your choices. Personally, I eat way more fruits in summer and autumn, particularly, if I can pick it directly from the tree or bush. In that case, carb count aside, I just stuff myself with whatever is smiling at me from the branches of my parents’ fruit garden, when I go home visit. (Yes, we’re talking about fruits! Neighbors’ kids, birds and worms are to be left in the tree, although their carb amount would be super low, and hunting is primal!) Since going Primal, I realized that also my taste buds have adjusted. I no longer crave exotic fruits much and apples are my most favorite fruits together with plums and berries. All of these are easy to find, where I grew up.

Vegetables higher in carbs are starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, yams, pumpkin, squashes or beetroot. Carrots would be in medium to higher carb count group. Same approach applies as in case of fruits. If your aim is fat loss, try to eat these with moderation. However, starchy vegetables are a great source of carbs, if you are very active and want to fuel for athletic performance or you prefer a bite before/after all-out workout. They provide more stable energy than simple carbs (fruits), and would not spike insulin so much. I find a sweet potato or a plantain much more reliable source of energy before workout or MTB race than a banana for instance. Banana provides me with a nice kick at the beginning, but my body calls for refill soon, whereas with nice breakfast of plantain chips made in coconut oil, eggs and stir-fried veggies I can go on forever (starch+fat combo=priceless)! Before long endurance races I usually opt for both – breakfast as described above about 3 hours before the race and a banana right before the start to get a bit high.

Breakfast of champions. This is what I ate the morning of participating in Brussels 20 KM race - stir-fried mixed veggies with bacon, egg, sweet plantain fried in coconut oil. Yum!

Breakfast of champions. This is what I ate the morning of participating in Brussels 20 KM race – stir-fried mixed veggies with bacon, egg, sweet plantain fried in coconut oil. Yum!

We are left with what I call “salad veggies” – tomatoes, cucumbers, green leaves, broccoli, cauliflower, you name it. You can go wild with these babies; there is nothing bad about them. They are low in carbs, delicious raw, steamed, roasted, stir-fried and full of vitamins and nutrients. They provide all the nutrients you might be afraid of losing, if you avoid grains and dairy. No need to worry about the amounts eaten. Use plenty of leafy greens (the darker the better) for their precious amount of nutrients as a base for salads or bed for nice piece of meat or fish. Do not hesitate to include all colors of the rainbow. A plate with colorful vegetables will be pleasure for eyes, and the body will be thankful for getting all it needs. Different colors cover different vitamins and nutrients, so be creative and make your plate fun!

That’s it for today, guys. There will be one more post on carbs in this introductory series. I’ll be happy, if you come back! Meanwhile, live loud!




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