Study: Paleo Dieters Should Be Eating More Carbs

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Aug 14, 2015
Outside
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"Yes, we should eat starchy food, but we need the right kind. Foods such as tubers and starchy seeds and nuts are the ones to go for."    United Soybean Board / Flickr

Paleo dieters may be wrong about not eating starchy carbs when they attempt to mimic what our ancestors ate, according to a new paper to be published in the September 2015 issue of the Quarterly Review of Biology. The study, currently available online, suggests that starchy carbs were essential to the evolution and growth of the human brain, despite the common paleo approach to a high-protein, low-carb diet. 

Previous studies connected human brain development with the discovery of stone tools, which caused humans to shift from a mostly plant-based diet to a meat-based one, according to a press release from the University of Chicago. But after taking into account genetic, physiological, archaeological, anthropological, and anatomical data, researchers believe we also have digestible carbohydrates to thank.

The paleo diet, which surged to popularity in 2011, is based on what our ancestors ate until agriculture came along. Paleo supporters believe the healthiest diet is composed of fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, polutry, and nuts and cuts out grains, dairy, and excessive sugars. (However, followers of the Paleo Diet for Athletes, an offshoot of the typical paleo program, do eat refined products during endurance sports.) Most believe the Paleo diet stemmed from a 1985 article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and some feel that it’s a way to deal with the rise in diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

But Karen Hardy, lead author of the recent study, says carbs are vital to a high-functioning brain. The key is to eat the right type and the right amount. She believes the problem today—and the reason starchy food sometimes has such a bad reputation—is from overeating heavily processed starchy food. That’s what can cause weight gain, Hardy told Outside in an email. She recommends avoiding high glycemic index starches, such as white rice and white bread. 

“Foods such as tubers and starchy seeds and nuts are the ones to go for,” Hardy wrote.

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