FAQs: What are good Paleo carbs to eat?

Diane Sanfilippo Carbohydrates, exercise, FAQs, Featured, Paleo and Primal, Vitamins and Minerals 85 Comments

I've decided to start a bit of a series of FAQ posts since it seems like a good idea to get some of these questioned answered up in writing to share with my readers, and for you all to share with others who likely ask the same questions of you.

So, here we go… starting it off with one I've gotten a few times this week alone:

Where Will I Get My Carbs From on a Paleo Diet?

Well, we know you're NOT getting them from grains (whole, half or otherwise!), bread, pasta, bagels, tortillas, cereal (that's right, no oats!), beans, quinoa, rice (for the most part, though some people may do okay with a little white rice here or there), crackers, cookies, baked goods or other grain-laden and typically highly processed foods.

So, where WILL you get carbs from?

PP_GuideToPaleoCarbsBelow are some handy charts of some popular and wonderfully nutrient-dense sources.

Note that these are not complete, extensive lists of carbohydrate sources from plants. That would take FOREVER to compile and the point of this post is to present you with a good handful of options that I found to be the highest per serving of carbohydrates using http://nutritiondata.self.com/ as a resource.

Is that an ideal resource? Possibly not. Is it the one that we have most easily available and can likely rely on to be pretty darned accurate? Yes. Go ahead and search their database if you're interested in finding out more about your favorite go-to vegetable or fruits. I recommend comparing 100g servings as a calibration, then look to a 1-cup serving for something of a more practical measure in your daily life.

I created these lists primarily for those of you out there who are athletes or who are looking to put on some weight with adding calories and carbs. That's not to say that carbs will make you “fat,” don't misunderstand. However, for many people, increased carbohydrate intake seems to increase their appetite as well as the physiological response of insulin, our storage hormone for nutrients. This doesn't generally support a strong weight-loss effort, however, for fueling athletic activities, as noted below, increased carbohydrate intake is often recommended, and I would like for people to have a resource so that they're not falling back on processed, refined foods and grain/legume products for their carb sources.

Click here to download my Paleo Carb Sources PDF guide, featured in Practical Paleo.

VEGETABLE SOURCES OF PALEO CARBS:

These are highly recommended for post-workout glycogen replacement to your muscles after CrossFit or HIIT style training or longer, endurance-based training. 

Item CHO g per 100g serving Fiber g per 100g serving CHO g per 1cup serving Portion Size Notes Other Notable Nutrients
cassava 38 2 78 1c= 206g Vitamin C, Thiamin, Folate, Potassium, Manganese
taro root 35 5 46 1c= 132g Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, potassium, manganese
plantains 31 2 48 1c= 154g (slices) Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Folate, Magnesium, Potassium
yam 27 4 37 1c= 136g (cubed) Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Manganese, Potassium
white potato, peeled 22 1 27 1c= 122g Not much very high, some Vitamin C
sweet potato 21 3 58 1c= 328g (mashed) Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Manganese, Magnesium, Iron (non-heme), Vitamin E
parsnips 17 4 27 1c= 178g (sliced) Vitamin C, Manganese.
lotus root 16 3 19 1c= 120g (sliced) Vitamin C.
acorn squash 15 4 31 1c= 205g Vitamin C.
onion 10 1 21 1c= 210g (chopped) Vitamin C, Potassium.
beets 10 2 17 1c= 170g (sliced) Folate, Manganese.
carrots 10 3 13 1c= 128g (chopped) Vitamin A, Vitamin K,
butternut squash 10  – 22 1c= 205g Vitamin A, Vitamin C
jicama (raw) 9 5 12 1c= 130g (slices) Vitamin C.
kohlrabi 7 1 12 1c = 165g Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Copper, Manganese
spaghetti squash 6 1 9 1c= 155g Not very many. 

FRUIT SOURCES OF PALEO CARBS:

These are recommended for pre-workout glycogen storage and as glycogen replacement to your muscles post-workout if you've completed a longer, endurance-based training session. These are not ideal for post-workout of standard CrossFit or HIIT style training.

(Note: Most dried fruits will be pretty high in carbs, I only featured raisins and dates here, but search others to find their values as I wanted to provide more fresh fruit options for you.)

Item CHO g per 100g serving Fiber g per 100g serving CHO g per 1cup serving Portion Size Notes Other Notable Nutrients
raisins 79 4 131 1c= 165g (packed) Iron (non-heme), Potassium, Copper, Manganese
dates 75 7 18* *1 date Vitamin B6, Potassium, Copper, Manganese,
persimmon 33 8* *1 fruit Vitamin C, Iron (non-heme)
banana 23 3 27* *1 medium banana Vitamin C, B6, Potassium, Manganese.
mango 17 2 28 1c= 165g (sliced) Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6
pear 15 3 28* *1 medium pear Vitamin C, Vitamin K.
apple 14 2 25* *1 medium apple Not very much- a little Vitamin C.
pineapple 13 1 21 1c= 165g (chunks) Vitamin C, Manganese
peach 10 1 15* *1 medium peach Vitamin A, Vitamin C.

 

What are some of your favorite ways to prepare some of the above-listed, Paleo-friendly carbs?

Check out some of my Paleo carbs recipes:

Pumpkin Pancakes from Practical Paleo

Sweet Potato Pancakes

Pumpkin Soufflé

Carrot Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins

Roasted Winter Squash with Coconut Butter

Butternut Squash Soup

Buttery Turnip Purée

Click here to download my Paleo Carb Sources PDF guide, featured in Practical Paleo.

Comments 85

  1. Nicely done. Very clear and to the point great for the time challenged and curious individual. How about target ranges of grams a day of carbs for optimal fat loss, maintanence, and ketosis?

    1. Targets will vary GREATLY based on the individual, their exercise habits, their insulin sensitivity, etc… All except the ketosis target which is right around 30g/day generally speaking, though that may be cycled several days on and 1-2 days “off” /carb-up in that approach to make it easier to manage. 30g is very difficult and does require a bit of weighing/measuring to ensure you’re keeping it there for most people.

      Mark Sisson talks about some targets in his carbohydrate curve, though I wouldn’t say these ranges are applicable to every person. I have many clients who have eaten VERY low carb and have not seen it as an effective fat-loss strategy.
      http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-primal-carbohydrate-continuum/

      1. quick question –

        You say some people will do fine with white rice, I have seen this around, why would white rice be better than a wild rice, brown, etc?

        Thanks!

        Bill

        1. Good question, Bill. We’ll be covering this in the podcast at some point pretty soon, but the basic info is this: the anti-nutrients/gut-irritating properties in rice are all contained in the outer portion (the bran/endosperm) and when we remove them, we’re just left with starch. Pure starch is easy to digest for most people, but some people ARE still sensitive to rice starch, so just be in tune with your body and how you handle it. For more on this I’d recommend The Perfect Health Diet and ChrisKresser.com “safe starches” are what they call them.

          Feel free to submit ?s to the podcast in the future (top of the site).

          1. Hi

            great site, great post. My only comment is on the idea that plant foods with beta carotene and other Vitamin A precursors are not technically sources of vitamin A which is found in animal foods. Also, because the conversion of beta-carotene, and other pro-vitamin A carotenoids, is much less than we previously thought, it’s ideal, in my mind to stipulate the difference between beta-carotene in plants and vitamin A in animal foods..

  2. Hey Dianne, thanks for the posts. I love your blob particularly out of all the paleo ones out there 🙂 My whole family eat with a paleo orientation. Our 8 year old is particularly active though and plays a lot of sport. Someone the other day was telling me that quinoa is not a grain, but a seed. I wondered if it would be okay to introduce occasionally for him- he seems to be always hungry, even when I fill him with those carbs mentioned above. I wondered if it was because he is so active. Would quinoa be okay if fermented overnight before use?

      1. I would not recommend quinoa for him, no, due to the high saponin content and the fact that there are better, more nutrient dense options out there. What I WOULD recommend is serving him more protein as well as more fat. If you are finding that protein is harder to afford, then fat is where it’s at! Add coconut oil or butter to his food, even olive oil after it’s cooked, too. Fat is awesome for a growing boy! Additionally, MORE carbs may actually drive his hunger levels UP… so, I’d really focus on fats and protein as the additional calories and see how that goes!

        1. no pumpkin or kabocha squash?

          1. They’re probably similar to the acorn and butternut as listed. I think pumpkin was actually relatively low, surprisingly. I’ll re-check ’em and add if I can. I don’t know that kabocha was listed in the nutritiondata.com database (fancy squash!).

  3. Thank you for this list! What do you think are the differences between getting carbs from the starchier options like sweet potatoes, vs. getting them fruits and the non-starchy vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes? I have a rapidly growing pre-teen and want to be sure he is getting enough nutrition for growth and for his sports participation. What are your thoughts on kids and growth spurts?

    1. See the above commend re: more calories for kids… I’d want to get more protein and fat into my kid if s/he was growing or playing sports, as well as lots of veggies– starchy and otherwise. Fruit is fine, too… I would just work on the veggies first.

  4. I’ve just started the autoimmune paleo diet…and all of these items are off the list for me. As soon as I eat fruit, sweet potato, or squash, my spinal arthritis (spondylitis) flares up, and I immediately experience gastrointestinal problems. Have you seen anyone start the diet this sensitive and then later tolerate these foods? My weight is really low, and without some carb in the diet, my energy levels are suffering! Meanwhile, the diet has been successful in helping me drop all my arthritis meds, so no complaining!! 🙂

    1. People can become tolerant to foods later, sure. I would definitely recommend, as I mentioned above, a significant increase in fat in your diet vs the carbs if they don’t feel great. If you are able to get your body to become more fat-adapted (looking to fat as a primary fuel source vs glucose/carbs) your energy can increase again. This can take a few days to several weeks to happen. It’s different for everyone.

      Lindsay shares your condition I believe- perhaps a chat with her is a good idea?
      https://twitter.com/#!/gone2croatan
      http://www.wildnessandwonder.com/

  5. Good to see raisins up there on the list. As Cordain points out in his book, they also have an anti-acid effect during digestion which can help post-workout as well

  6. Great, informative post Diane!

    I have read this before but am curious on how you would elaborate on it…

    why is fruit not ideal for post crossfit/hiit workouts? What if the fruit is lower in fructose – say less than 3 grams per serving?

  7. Great post.

    Personally I have oats (not paleo, I know) in my egg stir fry every morning when I have a weight lifting workout during the day. Then I eat the occasional white or sweet potato, and one or two pieces of fruit per day.

    I’d say my favorite carb source is the sweet potato. Preferably mushed with some butter and a bit of salt. It’s yummy.

    1. I get the majority of my carbs from sweet potatoes. They are packed full of vitamins and they’re filling because they’re water dense. I like to make cinnamon sweet potato fries. They’re great hot, but cold they taste like pumpkin pie.

      1. Just so you’re clear, potatoes, sweet potatoes are not considered paleo as they’re not a root vegetable but a tuber and as such contain toxins until cooked and cannot be eaten raw.

        1. The countless sources I’ve consulted on the topic consider both roots AND tubers to be “Paleo.” To that end, I would argue that most folks don’t seem to suffer gut irritation from eating the flesh of white or sweet potatoes (especially with skins removed- and yes, cooked), which is the primary goal of eliminating most “non-paleo” starch sources for those who are looking to avoid them.

  8. I would love to read a future post on pre and post-workout meal.
    By the way I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work you’ve been doing!

    You have at least one brazilian follower.

    Thank you!

    1. thought about adding plantains to the veggie list?

  9. Thanks for the info Diane. What would you say for someone who is trying to put on weight (muscle mass) for strength. I’m a crossfitter who trains hard about 5 days per week with. I feel like I’m not getting enough carbs, and I hate having to eat a lot of fruit.

    Thanks!

      1. Why are you CFing that many days a week? 3 or 4 is plenty. That’s a LOT of training. Carbs post workout is a good plan, but consider training a bit less- your return will be just as good if not better when you get adequate recovery.

        1. Purely addiction I feel if im not training then what can I be doing…..i know rest and recovery us important but when u have gone from a big budda couch potato to a not so bad looking mamma its hard……but since this post have cut back a bit fatigue is setting in but thanks heaps for all your posts I love reading them

  10. Thank you very much for the article! I will just have to live with my disappointment in finding out potatoes aren’t as awesome for carbs as many other foods!

    Do you have any recommendations for a post marathon (or other intense 3-4 hour workout)? Something easy to pack would be optimal. Reading the suggestions above I’m thinking some fats (perhaps coconut oil based treats I make), perhaps some jerky (I know not carbs, but still good), and if I get ambitious some pre-cooked sweet potatoes. I somehow don’t think my BCAA powder and whey protein drinks count as paleo, but I feel sometimes warrent a little cheating ;).

  11. I find all the health information very interesting and it’s where my life interests have been for the past 40 or so years,bringing up two children after passing through the “Hippy Seventies” and the start of health foods shops etc.along the way.I now find myself at fifty eight along with my husband to be quite healthy but also a little confused with all the conflicting information.I am presently reading and following three major names in the industry,Brian Peskin,”The Hidden Story Of Cancer”,Mark Sisson,”The Primal Blueprint”, and Chris Kresser,”Beyond Paleo”, and while it is fascinating to put it all to pracise and feel the difference it all makes I am now feeling very confused and overwhelmed.Can anyone HELP!

    1. My book will be out on August 7 and has a lot of useful, 1-page guides simply about what to eat. Start by eliminating refined and processed foods– the rest is pretty simple, just eat real, whole foods.

  12. Hi Diane!

    Thanks for the post! Several people were wondering, why fruits are not ideal for Crossfit or HIIT training but suitable for endurance training. Could you explain this, please? Thanks!

    1. It’s more about the timing of eating fruit vs starch– starch will replenish glycogen to muscles first, but fruit (fructose) needs to be processed first by your liver before getting to muscles… so it’s less ideal. If you are looking to fuel activity, eating fruit ahead of time is probably okay, whereas after exercise, starch is a better choice. If you want to use fruit for ease-of-use, a banana is a bit more starch than other fruits, so it’s a decent choice.

  13. PLEASE NOTE: Cassava produces significant amounts of Cyanide and needs careful prep to avoid being poisoned. Cyanide poisoning is not uncommon in areas where it is a staple. Sweet potato, yams and squashes are safer, acceptable alternatives…

  14. I take Greenberry shakeology daily(might switch flavor) I want to go grain AND nut free. I also want to consume 4-5tablespoons coconut oil dailu(olive oil a small drizzle usually) I am unable to eat much fruit since I developed serious digestive issues. I could problem have some berries or a kiwi once a day. There’s fruit sugar in the shakeology(I seem fine with this product) I also take 1teaspoon Celtic grey sea salt daily. Also I make bone broth which recipe is 1/2 cup lemon or vinegar every 4 cups water in crockpot it taste really strong. Ill keep using it. I want to drink 4cups daily.

    I want to not follow specific exercise plan. I want to do work out as much as I want or as little. There may be a small amount of non gluten grain in shakeology.

    I cook all fruit and veggies and blend gem very well also.

    Other than knowing what I want i don’t know how to go about doing all this in one day. Fruit I’m ok with seems to be blueberries,raspberries,probly kiwi,lemon,lime and strawberry.

    Please advise

  15. Hallo

    I would like to ask you about suggestion on pregnancy diet. Before I ate 2-3times daily, no snack, right know it is almost impossible when I do not eat every 2-3 hours I feel dizzy. Also I eat more starches squash veggies fruits. I follow WAPF diet without grains and dairy only ghee and homade raw sheep kefir (20-25 oz) daily. Would you recommend anything else. Iam skinny so no problem with gaining weight I want to do the best for me and my baby. I am just concern if 2-3pieces of fruit is not a lot plus some other starches as I have mentioned.
    Thanks a lot

    1. I would say to eat as much real food as you feel you want/need to satiety. I wouldn’t worry about too much fruit or too much starch if you have lower body weight to begin with and are pregnant. Eat up! 🙂

      1. Thanks a lot you can make post about this special advice for pregnancy. As I said I follow WAPF diet without grains but eat more starches than standard paleo. Actually I could´nt be on paleo diet too long I was loosing weight that I did not want and right know I need to gain weight not to loose thats why I might add may be even white rice. I appreciate your help

  16. Hello Diane,
    I wanted to consult something with you. What do you think of the GI of cooked carrots? Can I eat them often? I am trying to lose weight, and have been reading that many bloggers around me are saying that carrots have too high of a glycemic index when cooked, and should rarely been consumed (even for people who are not trying to lose weight). My gut feeling is that carrots are a whole food and can be eaten without these kind of worries, but I am hearing many people saying this lately, and am getting a bit confused about it.
    I would be so grateful if you could shed a bit of light on the subject for me. Sorry if it is a very basic question, I would have never thought that carrots would be a problem (perhaps with people suffering from diabetes, but not with others?).
    Thank you for your help.

    1. I don’t think anyone ever stalled weight loss from eating too many carrots, to be honest. I don’t even think they’re an issue for diabetics. Pegging carrots as too high glycemic rings of a little bit of “crazy” to me. Enjoy your carrots 🙂

      1. Thank you Diane, it is great to read a bit of common sense. One of the big paleo voices around where I live gives a lot of slack to any sources of sugar, and there are many people who are now not even eating cooked carrots because of that. I thought it was crazy, but there were so many people talking about it that I suddenly became worried.

        I will definitely continue to enjoy my carrots, Diane.

        Moving on from the carrot issue. If I am trying to lose weight, would you recommend that I avoid sources of starchy carbs like sweet potatoes, or do you think I will be fine with a medium sweet potato per day (or equivalent of cassava, plantain, taro…)? I do enjoy eating these once a day.

        Thanks!

      2. relieved to see this. i eat a ton of carrots; I don’t know if it’s the texture or what but I consume a good deal of them. had no idea there would ever be an issue with it from a GI perspective. I’m not trying to lose weight and haven’t gained weight.

  17. Diane, love your site and have “liked” your page. Have yet to read your book but it’s next on my list.

    What do you think of this site (link below) which indicates potatoes are best avoided (and lumped in with “grains/beans/potatoes”)?

    I’m asking an honest question…I do not eat potatoes, grains, or beans. And I just read your Paleo Perfectionism post on Facebook and was relieved to read it, as I do consume greek nonfat yogurt and my “cheat treat” is typically some form of frozen yogurt. I also use protein powder and don’t always eat berries for fruit; I like my pineapple, grapefruit, raisins, etc. Just sayin’ – I’m not a perfectionist by any means but wanted to know where some folks stood on this.

    http://www.earth360.com/diet_paleodiet_balzer.html

  18. Diane, love your site and have “liked” your page. Have yet to read your book but it’s next on my list.

    What do you think of this site (link below) which indicates potatoes are best avoided (and lumped in with “grains/beans/potatoes”)?

    I’m asking an honest question…I do not eat potatoes, grains, or beans. And I just read your Paleo Perfectionism post on Facebook and was relieved to read it, as I do consume greek nonfat yogurt and my “cheat treat” is typically some form of frozen yogurt. I also use protein powder and don’t always eat berries for fruit; I like my pineapple, grapefruit, raisins, etc. Just sayin’ – I’m not a perfectionist by any means but wanted to know where some folks stood on this.

    http://www.earth360.com/diet_paleodiet_balzer.html

  19. relieved to see this. i eat a ton of carrots; I don’t know if it’s the texture or what but I consume a good deal of them. had no idea there would ever be an issue with it from a GI perspective. I’m not trying to lose weight and haven’t gained weight.

  20. You might want to update white potatoes. They are not just high in C. White potatoes have more magnesium and potassium than sweet potatoes!

  21. You might want to update white potatoes. They are not just high in C. White potatoes have more magnesium and potassium than sweet potatoes!

  22. I really appreciate this as someone who is trying to gain weight while sticking with Paleo foods! Thank you so much Diane! <3

    I know your goal for this post was to provide us with the most dense Paleo carb sources, but if I am paying attention to my carb intake for the time being to find out how much my body needs, would I include sources like broccoli, kale, etc?

    Thank you!

    1. You could, but they are fairly negligible sources unless you’re eating several cups at a time. Add them and see the difference.

  23. I really appreciate this as someone who is trying to gain weight while sticking with Paleo foods! Thank you so much Diane! <3

    I know your goal for this post was to provide us with the most dense Paleo carb sources, but if I am paying attention to my carb intake for the time being to find out how much my body needs, would I include sources like broccoli, kale, etc?

    Thank you!

    1. You could, but they are fairly negligible sources unless you’re eating several cups at a time. Add them and see the difference.

  24. Hi there. My question is…what do I do about coffee? I only drink one cup a day but I am having trouble adjusting to its bitter taste without any sweetener. I have tried coconut milk and coconut oil, pure vanilla, cocoa powder…nothing is really that great!

      1. Post
        Author
  25. Hi there. My question is…what do I do about coffee? I only drink one cup a day but I am having trouble adjusting to its bitter taste without any sweetener. I have tried coconut milk and coconut oil, pure vanilla, cocoa powder…nothing is really that great!

  26. Could you please add information about daikon radish? It is readily available in Southern California. I have prepared it by boiling it with bacon fat, and it tastes like while potatoes.
    Thank you!

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  28. I figured out more new stuff on this losing weight issue. One particular issue is that good nutrition is vital any time dieting. A big reduction in junk food, sugary foods, fried foods, sweet foods, red meat, and bright flour products could be necessary. Possessing wastes harmful bacteria, and toxins may prevent objectives for fat-loss. While specific drugs for the short term solve the situation, the nasty side effects are not worth it, and they never supply more than a momentary solution. It is a known undeniable fact that 95% of fad diets fail. Many thanks sharing your thinking on this weblog.

  29. Hi there! This is such great information!
    My questions are: what food category do flax seed, hemp seed, and chia seed fit? Are they considered grains on Paleo? Also, what about maca root (gelatinized, black)? Are these ok to consume?
    Thanks for such a great site, Diane!

    1. Post
      Author
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  32. Cutting out carbs when you’re dieting isn’t necessary. You just have to make smart choices.
    What seems to work for me is, going, for example, four days on low/no carbs and then one day on medium carbs and one day on high carbs and then repeat the cycle. This allows you to still eat carbs from clean sources, without adding body fat and enables you to better utilize fat for burning as fuel, as opposed to burning carbs and muscle tissue for fuel (more about carb cycling: http://everydayhealthhero.com/can-carb-cycling-help-you-lose-weight/ ). Been using this method for about 3 months , worked well so far. Have already lost 16 pounds. I feel great! No extreme exhaustion (to the contrary, I’m feeling pretty energetic!), and my immune system is holding up so far.. The motivation comes naturally, Since carb down only lasts a few days, I always know that carb up is coming soon! AND I really enjoy carb up! .

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