Good for you! You being here either means you're already on paleo or are about to, and that means you're one step closer to your health goals.
The thing is... paleo seems cut and dry (just eat like a caveman, right?), but it's easy to have those times when you think, "Maybe? Wait. What if? Hmm."
And there is no group more confusing than those pesky carbohydrates! What should be your go-to paleo diet carbs? Is there an easy list of paleo carbs you can dig into? What carbs can I actually eat on the paleo diet?
We've got the answers.
But first... let's settle something right off the bat.
Is Paleo a low-carb diet?
No! Paleo is not a low-carb diet, although it naturally promotes a diet with fewer carbohydrates.
Why? Because processed grains are off-limits, and those are the easiest source of carbs to eat.
That means no cookies. No crackers. No bread, no everything bagels, no pasta, tortillas, Special K (cereal), oats, quinoa, etc.
Basically, any refined or manufactured grains/legumes are a no go.
I know. But you're going to make it, I promise. :)
But carbohydrates are still a macronutrient... What if I'm working out a bunch and need some extra energy. What can I rely on?
While there's evidence that you don't need carbohydrates at all, there are a plethora of paleo carbs you can dig into if fat and protein aren't doing the trick.
How many carbs are allowed on the paleo diet?
Any amount, really. Paleo isn't keto, and it's important to remember that the paleo diet is a personalized diet. There's no single standard across the board for every person. Yes, it's a diet that's organized around the return to the basics, but you can adjust those basics for what you need. People with iron deficiency will need more foods with higher iron content, just the same as athletes will need more carbohydrates or food that they can burn as fuel.
And it's pretty easy to tell when you're running low on carbs or other nutrients that are converted into energy. You may feel a bit weaker, get lightheaded, have a headache, or any of these other symptoms via this list from Mayo Clinic:
- Bad breath
- Muscle cramps
- Skin rash
- Constipation or diarrhea
What carbs can I eat on the paleo diet?
You can still rely on the general rule-of-thumb of no grains or processed foods, and while we can't give you an exhaustive list of all your options (that would take a lot of pages and not be very helpful), we can steer you in the right direction with the most common paleo-friendly carbs. And remember, almost all fruits and vegetables have some amount of carbohydrates.
Paleo-Friendly Vegetables Including Paleo Starches
- Cassava Root / 1 cup (206g) = 78g carbs
- Plantains / 1 cup (148g) = 47g carbs
- Taro Root / 1 cup (132g) = 46g carbs
- Yam / 1 cup (136g) = 37g carbs
- Acorn Squash / 1 cup (205g) = 31g carbs
- Parnsips / 1 cup (178g) = 27g carbs
- White Potato / 1 cup (122g) = 27g carbs
- Sweet Potato / 1 cup (133g) = 26.8g carbs
- Butternut Squash / 1 cup (205g) = 22g carbs
- Green Peas / 1 cup (145g) = 21g carbs
- Onion / 1 cup (210g) = 21g carbs
- Lotus Root / 1 cup (120g) = 19g carbs
- Carrots / 1 cup (128g) = 13g carbs
- Beets / 1 cup (136g) = 13g carbs
- Kohlrabi / 1 cup (165g) = 12g carbs
- Winter Squash / 1 cup (116g) = 10g carbs
- Turnips / 1 cup (130g) = 8g carbs
- Broccoli / 1 cup (91g) = 6g carbs
Paleo-Friendly Fruits and Other Non-Grain Carb Sources
- Raisins / 1 cup (165g) = 131g carbs
- Mango / 1 cup (165g) = 28g carbs
- Banana / 1 medium banana = 27g carbs
- Pineapple / 1 cup (165g) = 21g carbs
- Pear / 1 cup (140g) = 21g carbs
- Blueberries / 1 cup (148g) = 21g carbs
- Oranges / 1 cup (180g) = 21g carbs
- Dates / 1 date = 18g carbs
- Apple / 1 cup (125g) = 17g carbs
- Honeydew / 1 cup (177g) = 16g carbs
- Peach / 1 cup (154g) = 15g carbs
- Coconut / 1 cup shredded (80g) = 12g carbs
- Avocados / 1 cup (146g) = 12g carbs
- Persimmon / 1 fruit = 8g carbs
And there you have it! Picking and choosing from the top of this list is a great way to target high-carb paleo meals, or if you’re aiming for ketosis you can cut these out or exclusively eat from the bottom.
Besides these go-to's, there are a few foods that are sources of everlasting debate in the paleo world. Let’s take a look...
Is Rice Paleo?
The answer: That depends. But if you do, you shouldn’t eat very much.
Again, Paleo isn’t necessarily a low-carb diet, although many people end up eating fewer carbs because of it. People give white rice a hard time because it doesn’t offer much nutritional value besides energy, and while brown rice has more nutrients it also contains phytates that can irritate the bowel system.
Purists will want to avoid rice since it’s still a grain, but you need to make this decision based on your lifestyle. Having a small side of rice before or after a tough workout could give you the energy you need to be consistent, and consistency is everything in health. Plus it’s a very cheap option, and it can offer a nice way to mitigate some of the higher costs of a paleo diet that come from relying more on meat and fish.
Is Quinoa Paleo?
Probably not. Sorry quinoa lovers. Even though quinoa isn’t technically a grain and is more closely related to spinach or beets, in order to make quinoa edible it has to be processed, which is exactly why paleo axes grains and legumes.
They’re also avoided because they contain saponins, and lectins, among other anti-nutrients, which have been shown to be harmful to the lining of a person’s digestive system as well as their immune system[*].
So in the end, while it can fall under paleo when you look at it from a certain angle, quinoa goes against paleo in practice due to its harshness on your digestive system and nutritional content.
Are White Potatoes Paleo?
Sure! In moderation, of course.
Here’s the thing, while Paleo is a dietary lifestyle with obvious restrictions in place, there’s no need to be absolutist about it.
Were hunter-gatherers eating white potatoes? No. Are they fine on a Paleo diet? Of course. Safe starches that don’t have toxins added in are a fine addition to any healthy, active lifestyle. Should half your diet be white potatoes and other starchy carbs that are packed with carbohydrates? No. But half your diet shouldn’t be any particular type of food, and you can still lose weight when eating carbs.
To get the full rundown on white potatoes and why people typically object to them, Paleo Leap has a great article.
Now that you understand a bit more about the world of paleo carbs, here are some higher-carb recipes to get you started!
Higher-Carb Paleo Recipes
- Butternut Squash Shephard’s Pie - Honestly, just saying that sentence made me so happy. How good does this recipe from Primally Inspired sound?!
- Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl - If there’s one thing everyone on Paleo has in common, it’s a fierce devotion to the power of sweet potatoes. There is an insane number of ways you can cook sweet potatoes, but this recipe from Healthy Liv is one of our favorites!
- Fried Plantains - I first fell in love with plantains when I spent a few weeks the Amazon in northeastern Peru. We had them every day, and plantains have now become one of my go-to paleo foods. They’re rich in flavor and are so easy to make. All you need is some oil and spices, and this recipe from Steph Gaudreau will get you started.
- Yam, Celery Root & Bacon Hash - It’s always nice to have food you can make in a big batch, and this recipe from Rubies and Radishes will keep you full for days.
- Roasted Chicken with Potatoes, Kale, and Lemon - Sometimes you just want to be able to stick something in the oven and go about your other tasks. This super simple one-pot meal from Gutsy By Nature has you covered.