An Argument for Copious Carbohydrate Content In the Paleo Diet

Salivary amylase helps us digest starches like wheat

Salivary amylase helps us digest starches like wheat

A recent scientific paper proposes that carbohydrates—starches specifically—played a larger role in the ancestral human diet than previously thought. I’ll call this paper the Hardy study since she’s the first named author. The only author I recognize is Jennie Brand-Miller, of glycemic index fame.

A key part of the hypothesis is that our ancestors’ use of fire made starchy foods much more digestible. That’s not controversial. Wrangham thinks hominins have been using fire for cooking for over a million years. Humans, remember, arrived on the scene about 200,000 years ago.

I’m not saying I agree or disagree with the researchers. Read the paper and decide for yourself. I do feel somewhat vindicated in my inclusion of potatoes and other tubers in my version of the Paleolithic diet.


Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: The article references the Pleistocene Epoch. You’ll find various definitions of that, but the Pleistocene ranged from about 1.8 million to 11,000 years ago .

6 responses to “An Argument for Copious Carbohydrate Content In the Paleo Diet

  1. Charles Grashow

    Have you seen this?

    Click to access S2211-1247(15)00505-7.pdf

    Dietary Protein to Carbohydrate Ratio and Caloric Restriction: Comparing Metabolic Outcomes in Mice
    Carbs for Longevity, Protein for Weight Loss

    “The mice that received the high carb pellets munched away greedily and stacked on weight However, even though they were chubby, they ended up living the longest. The average lifespan of the mice increased from 95 weeks to 125 weeks as the protein:carb ratio decreased from 3:1 to 1:10 (i.e. as protein levels decreased and carbohydrate levels increased). The carb-fed mice appeared to be in better shape from a cardiometabolic standpoint, while also having healthier compositions of gut bacteria.”
    The paleo diet: You may lose weight but could also die young

    ““We show that low protein high carbohydrate diets generate the metabolic benefits of calorie restriction without a 40 per cent reduction in total caloric intake,” the paper says.”

    “A previous study of 30 diets on 900 mice at the University had found the low protein, high carbohydrate diet was the best diet for a long life.

    This diet was compared to two other diets — a diet with 40 per cent calorie restriction and a high protein low carbohydrate diet similar to the Paleo diet which the 30 diet study found resulted in a shorter life span.

    While the high protein, low carbohydrate diet resulted in reduced body fat and food intake after 8 weeks the mice on this diet had higher insulin levels and impaired glucose tolerance.”

    Your thoughts.

  2. I believe humans have adapted to high-carb successfully; however, the adaptations largely stop functioning after 40. It is pretty obvious that the middle-aged and elderly do not have the robust glucose tolerance of children and young adults.
    Since modern life usually includes lots of years past forty, I am suspicious that the high-carb advocates haven’t gotten old enough to see the utility of low-carb.
    Yes, there are people who do better on high-carb; I just don’t see very many of them. I see a lot of fat people and frail people–I don’t think any of them are low-carbers.

    • I see what you’re saying, Jim. Evolution hasn’t supplied much selection pressure to those over 40. Their kids historically would be grown and out of the cave, having their own babies. That lack of selection pressure is probably a reason we have Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease, Huntington’s chorea, and some others.

      • Yes, Alzheimers is a failure to thrive on high carb.
        But a more positive view of geriatrics would be the acknowledgment of a basal human phenotype with additional layers of youthful adaptation that cease functioning after peak reproductive age.
        For instance, just about all mammals make vast amounts of Vitamin C, yet humans (in their youth) only need 30 mg. to prevent death from scurvy. Is it possible that the human basal phenotype expressed around middle-age still requires large amounts of Vitamin C?
        None of this can be determined by doing basic nutrition research on college students and then trying to extrapolate the findings to the elderly. If you advocate Vitamin C for the elderly you are a crackpot like Linus Pauling because your idea has been shown to be false in college students.

      • I wanted to add that since mammalian mitochondria require dehydroascorbic acid, it is plausible that the elderly might feel more energetic and have better cognition if they tried heavier vitamin c supplementation, whether they eat high-carb or low-carb.
        The idea that vitamin c supplementation reduces post-exercise mitochondrial biogenesis is a two-edged sword. Maybe you don’t need a lot more mitochondria if the ones you have are working well.