Carbs in Paleo vs. Keto: The Energy, Not The Enemy
During the 1980s and 1990s, high-carb diets were widely popular, as fat was considered an obstacle to weight control. Consequently, many people adopted high-carb diets with minimal dietary fat. While low-fat/high-carb diets led to short-term weight loss, they caused weight gain in the long run as manufacturers replaced fat with sugar in their processed foods. However, even today, many believe that consuming fat leads to body fat and weight gain.
Carbs in Paleo vs Keto Diets
Eventually, a vast body of research found that low-carb diets could be equally effective for weight loss. Additionally, low-carb diets have been found to promote fat loss, reduce hunger, and regulate blood sugar levels. Consequently, the trend now leans towards high-fat, low-carb diets, as seen in the popularity of the Atkins and Keto diets. These diets condemn carbs as the enemy of blood sugar regulation and weight control.
However, the success of the Paleo diet presents an interesting question. While it can involve low-carb intake, there is no specific requirement to avoid or count carbohydrates. Moreover, many high-carb foods, like sweet potatoes, are considered Paleo. Still, because the Paleo diet eliminates refined sugars, grains, and heavily processed foods, it is lower in carbs than the typical American diet. Indeed, most of the carbs on Paleo come from fruits and nonstarchy vegetables. But it is arguably as effective for weight loss as Keto.
So, are carbs good or bad for weight loss? The answer is yes and no. You see, carbs provide energy for the body. The right kinds of carbs (complex carbs) fuel your body, support health, and support weight loss, while the wrong kind (refined carbs and heavily processed snack foods) can raise blood glucose levels and cause weight gain.
This article discusses the health benefits of carbohydrates and why a Paleo diet that typically contains a moderate amount of complex carbs is healthier than a Keto diet that stresses a high-fat/low-carb diet.
We’ll start with a description of Paleo and Keto.
Paleo and Keto Diets: Definitions
The Paleo diet primarily consists of foods that were believed to have been consumed by our ancestors during the Paleolithic era. These foods include meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit.
These are the types of food that early humans acquired through hunting and gathering, which means they do not include dairy, grain-based products, or processed foods.
The Keto or ketogenic diet is a unique eating plan that's high in fat, moderate-to-low in protein, and low in carbohydrates. The goal of this diet is to make your body start using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Rather than relying on sugar from carbs like grains, legumes, veggies, and fruits for energy, the body starts relying on ketone bodies. These ketones are produced by the liver from stored fat.
As a result, the body starts burning fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. This can lead to rapid weight loss, improved energy levels, and even improved mental clarity.
What are carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates, commonly called carbs, are sugar molecules that are one of the three main macronutrients present in foods and drinks, along with proteins and fats.
When consumed, your body breaks down these carbs into glucose, also known as blood sugar, the primary energy source for your body's cells, tissues, and organs.
Glucose can be used immediately or stored in the liver and muscles for future use.
Examples of carbohydrate foods include:
Types of Carbs
Carbs are classified into three primary types: sugar, starches, and fiber.
Sugar is classified as a simple carbohydrate, as it is swiftly broken down to provide the body with immediate energy.
Natural sources of sugar include:
- Vegetables (types of sugar include sucrose)
- Fruits (type of sugar: fructose)
- Milk and milk products (type of sugar: lactose)
Meanwhile, added sugars are present in various foods like sugary drinks, cookies, and candy. These sugars include high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and glucose.
Starch is classified as a complex carbohydrate composed of multiple sugar units that are bonded together. It is naturally present in vegetables, grains, dry beans, and peas.
It should be noted that there are two types of vegetables, starchy and nonstarchy. Starchy vegetables include potatoes, yams, and butternut squash.
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate that the body cannot easily break down.
Consuming high-fiber foods can promote feelings of fullness and reduce the risk of overeating.
In addition to these benefits, fiber-rich diets can also help prevent digestive issues like constipation and reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Fiber is naturally present in a variety of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains.
What are the benefits of carbs?
Below are a few of the many benefits of carbohydrates.
Carbs provide energy
Carbohydrates play a crucial role in providing energy to your body.
When you consume food, the carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and enter your bloodstream. This glucose is then absorbed by the cells in your body and used to create adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – a fuel molecule produced through a complex process called cellular respiration.
ATP powers various metabolic functions within cells. Although cells can produce ATP from different sources, including dietary fats, if you consume a mixed diet, your body's cells use carbohydrates as their primary energy source (1).
Remember, carbs are your body’s preferred energy source. But you can force it to switch to fat for fuel if you eat a very low-carb/high-fat diet like Keto.
Carbs facilitate energy storage.
Did you know that when your body has more glucose than it currently needs, it stores the excess for later use?
This stored form of glucose is called glycogen, and it's mainly found in the liver and muscles. Your liver holds around 100 grams of glycogen, which can be released into the bloodstream to provide energy to your body and help maintain normal blood sugar levels between meals.
It's important to note that the glycogen stored in your muscles is exclusively available for use by muscle cells and plays a crucial role in performing high-intensity exercises. Although the amount of muscle glycogen varies from person to person, it's typically around 500 grams (2).
If your body has enough glucose and glycogen, excess carbohydrates are converted into triglyceride molecules and stored as fat. This stored fat can be used as an energy source when glycogen levels are low. However, it's important to note that the body will only use fat as a last resort when other energy sources are unavailable.
So, if you primarily eat a high-carb diet of simple sugars and processed foods, your body will always use that for immediate energy and store the excess as fat. Unfortunately, you will never be able to access your stored fat for energy if you’re regularly eating lots of processed foods.
To prevent fat accumulation and the inability to burn stored fat, it is imperative to consume a whole-food diet that comprises natural carbohydrates such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, as seen in the Paleo diet. These foods are rich in fiber that slows down digestion, providing a prolonged feeling of fullness. Thus, you can effortlessly maintain a lower carbohydrate intake.
The fiber in complex carbs aids digestion.
Dietary fiber is a carb different from sugars and starches as it cannot be broken down into glucose and instead passes through the body undigested.
There are two main types: soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber is found in oats, legumes, fruits, and some veggies. It forms a gel-like substance, increasing stool bulk and softness, making bowel movements easier. Some soluble fiber also feeds the beneficial bacteria in your lower colon.
Soluble fiber has been found to prevent fats from being absorbed, improve stool consistency, increase bowel movement frequency, and reduce pain and straining in those with constipation.
Insoluble fiber, found in whole grains, fruits, vegetable skins, and seeds adds bulk to stools, easing constipation and protecting against digestive tract diseases. Observational studies have found that a higher intake of insoluble fiber is associated with a lower risk of diverticular disease (3).
Carbs help preserve muscle.
Your body has various methods to ensure enough glucose for all of its functions, and glycogen storage is just one of them.
In the absence of glucose from carbohydrates, the muscle can be broken down into amino acids and converted into glucose or other compounds to produce energy. However, this is not a healthy situation since muscle cells are crucial for body movement, and significant loss of muscle mass can lead to poor health and a higher risk of death (4).
Nonetheless, this is one of the ways that the body can provide the brain with the necessary energy even during prolonged starvation. To prevent this starvation-induced loss of muscle mass, consuming some carbohydrates like those in 8th Wonder Organic Teas can help reduce muscle breakdown and provide glucose as energy for the brain (5).
Paleo provides the carbs your body needs to preserve muscle. But what about the Keto diet? Well, it turns out that ketones are another way to reduce the breakdown of muscles, which we’ll discuss in another section below.
Carbs promote restful sleep.
Did you know that including carbohydrate-rich meals and snacks in your diet can actually improve your sleep quality?
This is because consuming carbohydrates results in an increase in insulin levels which, in turn, leads to the production of tryptophan and serotonin. These chemicals help counteract the hyperactivity of energizing hypocretin neurons, ultimately resulting in a more restful sleep. The natural carb content is one of the main reason’s 8th Wonder Organic Teas are so relaxing! Conversely, those who follow a low-carb diet often struggle with falling asleep.
Drinking milk might be a good sedating alternative if you do not like high-carb nightcaps. Milk contains tryptophan, which induces sleep, and melatonin, which helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle.
Additionally, milk contains calcium, which helps relax the muscles, and magnesium, which helps reduce stress. This combination of factors makes milk an excellent choice for promoting healthy sleep and can benefit those with difficulty sleeping.
Carbs support heart health.
It's a fact that consuming too many refined carbs can have a detrimental effect on your heart health. However, this is not the case with dietary fiber. In fact, research shows that including an ample amount of fiber in your diet can improve numerous risk factors associated with heart disease (6, 7).
Let’s take high cholesterol levels, one of the main risk factors for heart disease. When soluble fiber travels through the small intestine, it binds to bile acids, preventing them from being reabsorbed. This process prompts the liver to use cholesterol that would have otherwise been in your bloodstream to create more bile acids.
Studies have shown that taking a daily soluble fiber supplement called psyllium, which contains 10.2 grams of fiber, can reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol by 7% (8).
Additionally, a review of 22 observational studies found that increasing daily dietary fiber consumption by 7 grams resulted in a 9% decrease in the risk of heart disease (9).
Carbs can slash cancer risk.
Choosing complex carbs over refined (processed) carbs has yet another health benefit: reducing cancer risk.
Studies by oncologists have revealed that consuming sugary processed carbs and soda regularly can increase the risk of prostate cancer by three times. On the other hand, opting for complex carbs can decrease the risk of breast cancer by 37%.
But how does this work?
It is believed that the consumption of sugars and processed carbs leads to elevated insulin levels, which can contribute to the development of cancer and obesity. On the other hand, research has demonstrated that foods such as beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are rich in cancer-fighting antioxidants and offer long-lasting energy.
Vegetables that contain sulforaphane, like broccoli, have been shown to decrease the risk of lung and bowel cancer.
Nutrients from these foods are also believed to help regulate hormones, reduce inflammation, and protect cells from damage. So, eating a healthy, balanced diet with complex carbs like the Paleo diet can help lower the risk of developing cancer and other serious illnesses.
Carbs can help prevent type 2 diabetes.
Did you know that dietary fiber is a great way to regulate blood sugar levels?
Unlike other carbohydrates, fiber does not cause spikes in blood sugar. Soluble fiber even helps slow down the absorption of carbs in your digestive system, resulting in lower blood sugar levels after meals (10).
A comprehensive review of 35 studies revealed that daily consumption of soluble fiber supplements significantly reduced fasting blood sugar levels. Moreover, it also decreased A1c levels, a molecule that reflects average blood sugar levels over the past three months (11).
While fiber benefits individuals with prediabetes, it is particularly potent for those with type 2 diabetes (12).
Studies indicate that soluble fiber is a reliable and secure approach to lowering blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. To achieve optimal results, it is advisable to consume foods rich in fiber such as legumes, oats, and vegetables. Furthermore, incorporating a fiber supplement into one's diet can also be advantageous.
Are carbohydrates necessary for energy to power the above functions?
Though carbohydrates are involved in many essential processes, the body can perform most of its functions without them.
For example, almost every cell in the body can convert fat into ATP, the molecule that fuels bodily processes. Triglyceride molecules stored in fat tissue are the body's primary energy source when glycogen levels are low.
Although the brain typically uses glucose as its primary energy source, during extended periods of low-carb diets or starvation, it switches to ketones, molecules created from the breakdown of fatty acids.
Ketosis occurs when the body produces large amounts of ketones to use for energy, which is normal and not harmful like ketoacidosis, a complication of uncontrolled diabetes.
While ketones are the primary fuel source for the brain in times of starvation, the brain still needs about one-third of its energy to come from glucose through muscle breakdown and other sources in the body (13). By using ketones instead of glucose, the brain can significantly reduce the muscle breakdown needed to convert glucose into energy.
This shift is a crucial survival mechanism that allows humans to survive without food for several weeks.
For this reason, Keto diets are becoming increasingly popular for weight loss and improved mental acuity. The body can produce ketones more efficiently than glucose, meaning it can stay in a state of ketosis for long periods.
Which diet is better for energy and health, Paleo or Keto?
The Paleo diet presents a healthier alternative for the majority of individuals. It offers greater flexibility in terms of food choices, making it easier to obtain the varied nutrients that your body requires daily.
Additionally, it promotes a wholesome way of life. The freedom to choose from a broader range of food options makes it more sustainable in the long run and easier to incorporate into social events.
On the other hand, the Keto diet demands strict compliance to achieve ketosis and can be challenging to maintain. It necessitates careful planning and may not be as adaptable to diverse social situations. Due to its limited options, it may also pose a challenge for obtaining sufficient nutrients.
As such, Keto may not be suitable for individuals with busy lifestyles. The Keto diet can also be difficult for vegetarians and vegans, as it cuts out many food choices.
Frequently asked questions
What are the dangers of eating a low-carb diet?
Research shows that avoiding carbohydrates can have adverse effects on your overall health.
Popular low-carb diets like the Keto diet exclude many nutritious foods such as fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. This can result in a lack of vital nutrients like thiamine, folate, vitamins A, E, and B6, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. Without vitamin supplements, low-carb dieters are at risk of multiple deficiencies.
Additionally, low-carb diets often lack fiber and contain high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol, which can contribute to further health issues. Studies have linked low-carb diets to increased heart disease (14) and premature death risk (15).
Low-carb diets can also cause serious digestive problems, including constipation, bloating, and gas. They can also lead to dehydration due to the lack of carbohydrates, which are necessary for the absorption of water.
Can carbs cause weight gain?
Many people believe consuming carbohydrates will make them gain weight, but this is a misconception. Fat contains more than twice the amount of calories per gram compared to carbs.
For instance, one gram of fat from beef, fish, or oil contains 9 calories, while one gram of carbohydrate from potatoes, bread, or beans contains only 4 calories.
However, the healthiness of carbs can be affected by how they are prepared. Potatoes, for example, are often deep-fried in oil to make French fries, while pizza, bread, and pasta can be loaded with butter and cheese. The high-fat oils, butter, and cheeses contribute significantly to calorie intake.
In contrast, plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables contain very few calories and are mainly composed of water and fiber. By consuming a balanced diet of fresh, unprocessed foods, we can maintain a healthy weight and decrease our chances of developing chronic diseases.
Do carbs cause type 2 diabetes?
A diet focusing on healthy carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes while avoiding animal products can aid in preventing diabetes and improving management for those already diagnosed.
According to a study of over 200,000 participants, consuming large amounts of animal protein increased diabetes risk by 13%, while simply substituting 5% of animal protein with vegetable protein, including carbohydrates like potatoes and grains, reduced diabetes risk by 23% (16).
In 2006, the Physicians Committee partnered with George Washington University and the University of Toronto to conduct a study. They compared a low-fat, plant-based diet against a standard diabetes diet that restricted carbohydrates, which was the recommended approach by the American Diabetes Association (ADA) at the time. The results showed that those in the plant-based group lowered their hemoglobin A1C by 1.2 points, which was three times more effective than the ADA group.
While glucose is necessary for the body, added sugars have no physiological need and can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems. It is beneficial to avoid added sugars and heavily processed carbohydrates and follow a healthy plant-based diet. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is the best way to ensure a healthy lifestyle. Limiting added sugars and heavily processed carbohydrates can prevent health issues and provide a nutritious and balanced diet.
Carbohydrates play essential roles in the body, providing energy for daily tasks and serving as the primary fuel source for the high energy demands of the brain.
Fiber, a unique type of carbohydrate, promotes good digestive health and can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Although carbs perform these functions for most people, those on a low-carb diet or facing food scarcity may resort to alternative methods to produce energy and fuel the brain.
These alternative methods include ketosis, the body’s process of breaking down fats and using them for energy. Ketosis can be a safe and effective method to produce energy,
although it should not be used for prolonged periods.
8th Wonder Organic Teas: a Wholesome, Refreshing Paleo-Friendly Beverage
Discover the exquisite assortment of our organic tea collection, carefully blended to perfection for every season. Whether you prefer bold and strong or mellow and soothing, our teas are composed of the finest ingredients to deliver a taste that's both rich and gratifying.
Each sip of our healing tea, completed with a refreshing spritz, will leave you feeling revitalized and rejuvenated, as if you've just had a spa day cleanse for your body and mind. Our Sparkling Superfood Tea, infused with real fruit juice and ancient ingredients, is sure to fuel your body and mind.
At 8th Wonder Tea, we are committed to using only the highest quality natural and organic ingredients in our teas, with no artificial flavors, additives, or preservatives.
So, give 8th Wonder Teas a try!