Is the Paleo Diet Low-Carb?

Low-carb diet and paleo diet advocates often align themselves, even though S. Boyd Eaton’s 1988 version of the paleo diet doesn’t appear to be very low-carb at all: 46% of total calories from carbohydrate.  The standard American diet provides 50-55% of calories from carbohydrate.  Paleo proponents and low-carbers do share an affinity for natural, whole foods, and an aversion to grains, milk, and legumes. 

A 2010 article by Kuipers et al (reference below) sugggests that the East African Paleolithic diet derived, on average, 25-29% of calories from protein, 30-39% from fat, and 39-40% from carbohydrate.  That qualifies as low-carb.  Modern Western percentages for protein, fat, and carb are 15%, 33%, and 50%, respectively.

Loren Cordain and associates in 2000 suggested that Paleolithic diets may have derived about a third—22 to 40%—of calories from carbohydrate, based on modern hunter-gatherer societies. 

You can make a good argument that these paleo concepts are healthy: high physical activity, nonsmoking, consumption of natural whole foods while minimizing simple sugars and refined starches.  The paleo community is convinced that grains and legumes are harmful; many others disagree.  Also debatable are the roles of dairy, polyunsaturated to saturated fat ratio, low sodium, and high potassium.  Modern diets tend to be high-sodium and low-potassium, which may predispose to high blood pressure and heart trouble—diseases of modern civilization.

It appears that the average paleo diet may have derived about a third of calories from carbohydrate: that qualifies as low-carb.

For more on the paleo diet and lifestyle, visit Robb Wolf’s website, Mark’s Daily Apple, and Archevore

Steve Parker, M.D.


Kuipers, R., Luxwolda, M., Janneke Dijck-Brouwer, D., Eaton, S., Crawford, M., Cordain, L., & Muskiet, F. (2010). Estimated macronutrient and fatty acid intakes from an East African Paleolithic diet British Journal of Nutrition, 1-22 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510002679.  Note that one of the authors is Loren Cordain.  Good discussion of various Paleolithic diets.

Eaton, S., Konner, M., & Shostak, M. (1988). Stone Agers in the fast lane: Chronic degenerative diseases in evolutionary perspective. The American Journal of Medicine, 84 (4), 739-749 DOI: 10.1016/0002-9343(88)90113-1

Cordain, L., et al.  Plant-animal subsistance ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer dietsAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 71 (2000): 682-692.

7 responses to “Is the Paleo Diet Low-Carb?

  1. Pingback: Paleolithic Nutrition: Twenty-Five Years Later | Paleo Diabetic

  2. Great blog post, this is nearly exactly what I posted about the other day. Keep up the good work.

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  7. How can it be possible?

    If they ate 3000 calories, 40% is 1200 calories from carbs. That 300g of carb.

    How does one get 300g of carbs from leaves, cucumbers, carrots? I’ve never been able to exceed 150g, my jaw gets too tired to continue.

    Unless they were potato farmers or had a bunch of fruit…