Tag Archives: carbohydrates

Shellfish | The Paleo Diet

If you happen to have nutritional apps or software that allows you to analyze your diet or the specific foods that you eat, you can determine the exact amount of protein, fat and carbohydrate present in any food.1  Protein, fat and carbohydrate are called macronutrients and are found in both plant and animal foods.

Plant foods almost always have all three macronutrients and typically contain primarily carbohydrate (~ 60 to 80% by calories), some protein (15-25% by calories) and generally little fat. There are some notable exceptions here regarding fat in plant foods – like avocados, olives and nuts which contain lots of fat (mainly monounsaturated) and little carbohydrate. I know of almost no naturally occurring plant food which is both high in carbohydrate and high in fat.

This combination of macronutrients (high in both fat and carbohydrate) occurs routinely in almost all processed and human-made foods like cookies, potato chips, pastries, ice cream, French fries, pizza, doughnuts, crackers, tortilla chips, breads, chocolates, salad dressings, tacos, hamburgers, enchiladas, candy, sandwiches and many more. These are the ubiquitous foods of “civilization” and represent  the “comfort” or “fast” foods of the 20th and 21st century that are largely responsible for the obesity epidemic sweeping the US and the western world along with its associated health problems (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, acne, gout, cancers and others).2-4

Numerous nutritional scientists and authorities worldwide now recognize that by reducing the carbohydrate content of our diet we can lose weight and reduce our risk for the chronic diseases that plague western civilization – particularly if we reduce high glycemic load carbohydrates (refined sugars, refined grains, potatoes and most processed foods). This formula (lowering the dietary carbohydrate content of the diet) has been the strategy behind the Atkins Diet and other low carb programs for weight loss. Nevertheless, improving health and well being is not just about lowering carbs, but rather about multiple nutritional parameters which ultimately help us to maintain normal body weights and reduce our risk for disease. This approach is what the Paleo Diet is all about. Atkins and other low carb diets, popular diets failed to consider what we now know as an important element of healthful diets — acid/base balance. Cheese (a high fat, practically zero carb food) which can be a mainstay of almost all, low carb contemporary diets is extremely net acid producing in our bodies and promotes bone loss, hypertension, kidney stones and contributes to stroke risk.3 The Paleo Diet circumvents these nutritional shortcomings by allowing you unlimited carbohydrate consumption in the form of fresh veggies and fruits which are net base or alkaline yielding in our bodies and actually reduce the risk for osteoporosis, high blood pressure, kidney stones and stroke.3

Over the past two decades as I researched commonly available modern foods that should be included in contemporary Paleo Diets, I was somewhat startled to discover that not all animal foods (meat, poultry, pork, lamb, beef, eggs, fish, shellfish, organ meat, etc.) were completely composed of only protein and fat.  From my undergraduate and graduate nutritional courses, I had learned the traditional dogma that meat and fish contained no carbs and were simply a mixture of protein and fat.

Coming from my academic background in exercise physiology, I knew that all muscle tissue contained carbohydrate in the form of glycogen, a polymer of glucose, and that human muscle glycogen content could easily be increased by augmented consumption of  carbohydrates. Which endurance athlete among us has not heard of “carbohydrate loading” to improve performance?5 So the question I posed to myself was, “If human muscle contains glycogen, then why doesn’t beef muscle meat, or any other animal meat which we buy at the supermarket, contain a small or residual amount of carbohydrate in the form of glycogen?”

Virtually all of the nutritional databases1 showed fresh meat to contain nearly no dietary carbohydrate. As I researched this anomaly further, it became apparent that supermarket meats contained almost no carbohydrate for a basic physiologic reason – rigor mortis – a condition in which the muscles go into rigid contraction for the few minutes and hours after death. The fuel that supplies rigor mortis is stored muscle glycogen, and once this fuel is expended, rigor mortis resides and muscle meats contain virtually zero glycogen and hence zero carbohydrate.

An interesting sidelight of this observation is that only a very few animal foods contain carbohydrate after  death. Liver in mammals escapes rigor mortis and typically contains about 5% carbohydrate. Fish flesh contains virtually no carbohydrate. Not so for shellfish. The table below shows the carbohydrate content of various shellfish long after their death.1 Note that a number of shellfish contain a significant percentage of calories (10 – 25%) as carbohydrate including  oysters, mussels, abalone, whelk, clams, octopus and scallops.1

Shellfish | The Paleo Diet

Does this information mean that you should restrict shellfish consumption on a contemporary Paleo Diet? Absolutely not! Overall, their carbohydrate content is minimal and occurs with a high protein and omega 3 fatty acid intake – both factors which improve your carbohydrate metabolism. Shellfish are one of the most healthful, high protein foods you can consume to improve your glucose and insulin metabolism and reduce your risk for chronic disease.  Additionally shellfish are nutrient dense foods rich in zinc, B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids which improve immune function and resistance to the diseases of western civilization.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

References

1. Nutritionist Pro Software.

2. Cordain L, Eades MR, Eades MD. Hyperinsulinemic diseases of civilization: more than just Syndrome X. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2003 Sep;136(1):95-112

3. Cordain L, Eaton SB, Sebastian A, Mann N, Lindeberg S, Watkins BA, O’Keefe JH, Brand-Miller J. Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Feb;81(2):341-54.

4. Carrera-Bastos P, Fontes Villalba M, O’Keefe JH, Lindeberg S, Cordain L. The western diet and lifestyle and diseases of civilization. Res Rep Clin Cardiol 2011; 2: 215-235.

5. Cordain L, Friel J. The Paleo Diets for Athletes. Rodale Press, NY, NY, 2011.

Curb Your Hunger | The Paleo Diet

It can be challenging at first to curb the carbohydrate cravings and hunger that arises when you are adjusting to a Paleo lifestyle, especially during the holiday season. By following the tips below, you can successfully ward off hunger that some people experience when transitioning to The Paleo Diet.

Breakfast

As the old saying goes, “breakfast is the most important meal of day.” This statement is especially true for people leading a Paleo lifestyle. The high-paced life of the average American frequently leaves little time for preparing a hearty breakfast first thing in the morning. Allocate an extra 30 minutes of your morning to cook a breakfast that will boost your energy levels for the entire day.

Scrambling vegetables, cage-free omega-3 eggs, and uncured pasture raised bacon or sausage is a quick and hearty meal that will provide adequate nutrients to keep you fueled throughout the day. If you’re getting tired of bacon and eggs for breakfast consider having salmon with avocado and fresh berries to get your day started on the right foot!

Order The Paleo Diet Cookbook for a collection of breakfast alternatives.

Up Your Protein and Fat Intake

Carbohydrates are digested quickly in our bodies. Excessive carbohydrate consumption often results in a surge of glucose levels throughout the blood stream and an eventual post-carb “crash.” Fat and protein are digested at much slower rates.

Protein consumption also promotes the formation of the peptide PYY, which is known to reduce hunger and aid in weight loss. If you come down with hunger pangs around lunch time, consider adding extra grilled chicken to your garden salad, or a couple of hard boiled eggs to up your your protein and fat intake.

Snacking on nuts in moderation throughout the day will also help to up your consumption of healthy fats.

Carbohydrates for Athletes

If you regularly engage in aerobic and or anaerobic activities you may feel fatigue from inadequate carbohydrate intake. Grains, sugar, and white potatoes are not recommended on The Paleo Diet, but there are plenty of other fruit and vegetable carbohydrate sources that can boost your athletic performance by restoring your muscle glycogen levels.

Sweet potatoes are commonly recommended by many experts within the Paleo community because they slowly release carbohydrates into your body, thus preventing any significant alterations in blood glucose levels. Recent studies show that fruit smoothies also are rich carbohydrate sources that have little adverse effects upon our blood sugar levels. Turnips, parsnips, squash and zucchini also are great options to include in post workout meals. Bananas are inexpensive and high in potassium and carbohydrate. For a quick and easy pre-workout or post-workout snack consider bringing a couple ripe bananas to the gym.

Learn more about the best approach for athletes to adopt the Paleo lifestyle in The Paleo Diet for Athletes.

Kyle Cordain
The Paleo Diet Team

Gluconeogenesis | The Paleo Diet

Dr. Cordain,

Hello there. I am sure you receive a generous amount of email, so I will not waste time with small talk and hope you actually get this email. Long story short: I earned my undergraduate in nutrition from University Nevada Reno in 2003. I left the world of academia with my general understanding of nutrition and felt ready to conquer the world of unhealthy eating ha! I have been doing a bit of research on the paleo diet as well as some others. I have been attempting to try out the paleo diet on myself as a sort of experiment. I had actually stopped eating grains for the most part about 5yrs ago, so it hasn’t been that difficult. What I am ultimately wondering is whether gluconeogenesis via the use of protein aka amino acids and efficient way to rebuild muscle glycogen (well liver glycogen and then to muscles). I just don’t want to be turning my wheels in the gym. It seems like maybe my body will adapt, but I have felt so fatigued at gym. I bonk within the 1st 15 20 min. Maybe I should add more carbs but it is difficult to know which carbohydrates I can eat. I’m not going to lie, I kind of want to just go eat a bowl of dairy filled ice cream and quickly revamp my glycogen. I am sure you are busy, but any help or resources would be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Shilo

Dr. Cordain’s Response:

Hi,

Building glucose and then glycogen via gluconeogenesis is a very inefficient pathway. A better strategy is to obtain your carb stores as Joe Friel and I have outlined in our newly revised 2012, The Paleo Diet for Athletes. This book describes how Paleo foods such as sweet potatoes, yams, bananas, fresh fruit, fruit juices and dried fruit are both Paleo friendly and help to restore muscle glycogen. Additionally, we describe how to top off muscle glycogen before, during and after workouts and competition. Finally, by eliminating grains and refined carbs, you will force your body’s metabolic machinery to rely more upon stored intramuscular triglyceride (IMT) which will increase beta oxidation of IMT, which is a highly labile source of ATP during exercise. Higher muscle concentrations of IMT “spare” muscle glycogen and actually allow you additional time before muscle glycogen stores are depleted causing you to bonk. Many high level endurance athletes have successfully employed “Paleo” to improve performance.

Cordially,

Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

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